Music magazines: A revolutionary new medium for the iPod generation - print

Every technological breakthrough is a big opportunity, writes Mat Snow

It's only when you have to persuade a board of directors to invest in the multi-million pound launch of a music magazine that the fundamental foundation of success in this sector becomes glaringly obvious: every successful mainstream music title has sprung to life off the back of a technical innovation in music consumption.

It's only when you have to persuade a board of directors to invest in the multi-million pound launch of a music magazine that the fundamental foundation of success in this sector becomes glaringly obvious: every successful mainstream music title has sprung to life off the back of a technical innovation in music consumption.

The weekly warhorse New Musical Express got its start thanks to the launch in the 1950s of the 45rpm vinyl single; Rolling Stone rolled off the back of the deregulation of FM radio in the US which opened the airwaves to playing non-stop 40 album tracks; Smash Hits exploded thanks to the cheap and mobile Sony Walkman, with new technology moving the pop video to centre-stage as a promotional tool for new music; Q's rise was practically index-linked to the CD boom; the magazine I edited in the 1990s, Mojo, and its rival Uncut, owed their success to Amazon and the availability of obscure rock records to buy online.

So when we find ourselves amid the biggest change in music consumption since Edison's phonograph for business dictation was so lucratively hijacked by less high-minded entrepreneurs to record and reproduce music for the masses a century ago, how come the music magazine market presents such a picture of stagnation?

It is the revolutionary rather than evolutionary nature of music downloading that is making it so hard for the existing music titles to keep up. Whereas the century-long progress through music-carrying formats - wax, shellac, vinyl, tape, silver disc - gave the consumer no more trouble than upgrading the hardware, while the producer was secure in the ownership of the industrial process by which music was delivered from artist to listener, this is not the case now.

The new music consumer still needs hardware, but today's generation-on-the-go is most likely to listen to it on an iPod or similar player, which liberates him and her from home base, just as the mobile phone has done. Beyond that, the music has no physical dimension other than the space it takes to store in the memory. Ding dong, the disc is dead.

For the producer, the revolution has even more impact: with music directly transferable from the artist to the listener via the internet, the music industry's future in manufacture and distribution is looking doubtful, leaving a rump of functions based around bankrolling, grooming and marketing artists and repertoire. Whereas music consumption has boomed in recent years thanks to the download revolution, paradoxically the music industry has suffered. The reason is simple: the new consumers have not been buying but stealing the music.

For the existing music magazines, once solid ground is shifting under their feet: no discs engraved with music; fans who steal rather than buy; the core advertising base staring into the abyss. How can a music magazine talk to the new generation - gleefully guilt-free pick'n'mixers - while still addressing the previous generations of loyal investors in high-priced CDs and artistic careers? And without alienating the music industry advertisers whose livelihoods are being eroded by that often light-fingered download generation?

The mission is perhaps not impossible - in the UK both NME and the relaunched Q are now courting downloaders to join their still CD-centred world - but is a whole lot easier if you start off, as we have, with a blank page. Rip & Burn launches on 30 September, a magazine with no readers to lose, but a generation to gain.

We know that downloading is not an add-on activity to CD-buying but increasingly a replacement, with young music fans who have never bought a CD. We know that the album as the basic currency unit of music is in decline: with millions of tracks available to download legally or otherwise, why waste time and sometimes money on filler when there is no shortage of thriller? In Q, NME and the rest of the music press, the continued focus on the new album considered in its totality speaks less to a rising generation who want, first and foremost, to be guided to the best bits.

We know that those same fans' impatience with the slow-burning or second-rate is reflected too in their attitude to information: for the attention-deficit generation, life offers too many competing attractions not to get straight to the point.

Again, this is quite a cultural hurdle to leap for a music journalist community weaned on the traditional primacy of the personality writer, through whose taste and literary style the world of music is refracted. That is not to say that the download generation doesn't value knowledgeable guidance on what's hot; they just don't want clever-dick older-brother lectures.

Our job on Rip & Burn will be to share our passion for great music in cyberspace - and movies, DVDs, games and gadgets which cross-breed in the online world - while guiding the fan through the virtual megastore of downloadable tracks.

Why a magazine and not a website, though? Unlike a clunky desktop or even laptop computer, it is inexpensive, accessible, tactile and above all mobile - a piece of old technology that harmonises with the cutting edge of the new listening experience. No wonder my board of directors said yes.

Mat Snow is editor-in-chief of 'Rip & Burn' magazine, which launches on 30 September

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