The death of printed media

While rummaging through my growing list of South African labels on discogs, it occurred to me that there was a certain long-running institution and indeed even important reference whose online presence had managed to elude my radar: Top 40 Music Magazine.

That’s because it is no more. It has ceased to be.

In a previous post I lamented the death of physical music carriers as our music purchasing and listening habits are progressively being overtaken by downloadable MP3 or similar formats (he writes, while listening to some recently-ripped audio tapes). It’s therefore a logical progression to do the same about a music magazine that disappeared from the shelves in April 2002.

Like most printed media, Top Forty (as it was later known) was apparently unable to maintain its readership and advertisers (“the business of news”) in the huge wake left by the impact of the big, bad WWW on the transfer of researched and edited information in the shape of magazines, newspapers, books and any other media made of dead trees and ink. With entire libraries of books available in digital format online or downloadable to your Kindle, it comes as quite a surprise that the internet (which originally was text-only) hadn’t actually saved more forests sooner.

It seems that we’ve only just reached a point that devices with internet access have saturated our lifestyle to the extent where it becomes sheer ludicrous to buy the morning paper on the way to the office because, well, by the time you’ve sat down with your coffee at your desk and booted the computer that newspaper is already out of date.

It’s old news, hardly worth the paper it’s printed on.

In this day and age of RSS feeds, citizen reporting via Twitter, and musicians interacting (in-)directly with their audience via MySpace, it’s clear as mud that there’s very little function, purpose and future left for traditional printed media — especially those catering to readers in the dynamic IT sector who already spend most of their time online or, as is the case here, that of a periodical in the particularly fickle music industry.

Top 40 Music Magazine

Allow me then, if I may, to relate my little story about Top 40 Music Magazine and how it came to be of such relevance — even though it has ceased to be:

One sunny afternoon, early in 1985, on the way home from school I walked into the CNA that existed at the corner of Pretoria and Twist Streets in Hillbrow to buy a blank cassette. The tape chosen was a 60-minute BASF LH Extra 1 (since replaced by CD), and when I went to pay for it the cashier unexpectedly gave me a free copy of the current issue of this new magazine called “Top 40”. And it was rather good. There wasn’t anything like it that wasn’t imported.

And so it went: Every month I marched into a CNA to buy some blank tape and collect the free magazine issue you got when you made a “music purchase”. And one day the promotional gig ended: No more freebies, I had to buy the magazine. Which I did. Every month. For some years, until I figured it was more convenient to just go ahead and subscribe. Which I did. For some years until… oh, I reckon about the mid-90’s — around the time the BBS bug had bitten and my attention had shifted online.

Some years after that I even went stupid and tore up and discarded the bulk of that huge stack of over a hundred issues which had accumulated. The last issue was purchased around Y2K.

The irony in this little anecdote is that I wish I hadn’t tossed the bulk of those magazines.

I really regret it now.

In the previous paragraphs I candidly stated that there’s little practical purpose for a monthly music magazine but today those remaining issues, those hard copies… they’ve become little short of invaluable tools and reference for discogs research, especially when you consider what little information on the musical, social and, to a lesser extent even political heritage from that tumultous time period in South African history is to be found online… verbatim, unedited, unsanitised, and most certainly politically-incorrect.

The trough of no valueAnd as far as I’m concerned, it is that very same “flawed” and dated content of the remaining magazines which has already emerged on the other side of “The Trough of No Value” because it represents an insightful snapshot of the zeitgeist that captured who or what was hot and relevant in a given month of the years a mere two decades ago and, of course, the predictions that did or didn’t materialise.

And much of this information you simply cannot find online.

While research has led me to the fact that the magazine went online around 2002, the exact “when and why” has eluded me until I hunted down and contacted several of the past editors, publishers and other contacts, all of which were most co-operative, helpful and, dare I say, even eager to air out some of the dirty laundry that allegedly led to the publication’s ultimate demise — which has now been summarised on discogs.

And there you have it: Archivability.

Magazine scan by, graph by James Bishop

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