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“Q deserves to live”

Mic Wright has published a typically opinionated post on Q Magazine, which he used to write for and which may have published its final issue.

Q has been around since the mid-1980s, and that means it’s been a key part of my musical life since the time when music felt like it was the only thing that mattered. It was, and is, a wonderful magazine featuring some incredibly talented writers. But like many magazines, it suffered from a series of really terrible decisions that did permanent damage to the brand.

Wright:

When the history comes to be written — if it is ever written — the villains of the story will be execs. Suited and booted bastards who have no real interest in music, no understanding of its effect beyond graphs and demographic data. They were the ones who killed the music magazines with a late-90s and early-00s obsession for creating scenes arbitrarily and pumping out list after list after list. They — and their supine editor-in-chief minions — were the ones who spent thousands upon thousands on cover shoots with ‘stars’ that everyone hated.

For me, Q became inessential in the early to mid 2000s when its reaction to the rise of online competition was to make the core product terrible. Instead of the great journalism I loved so much, journalism that made you excited about hearing new music or rediscovering music you thought you knew, the magazine became a collection of lists. It wasn’t quite “32 bands whose singers are quite tall”, but it wasn’t far off.

As I wrote back in 2004:

Q has fallen into the trap of thinking that the number of reviews (and lists, and songs) is all that matters, so an issue with 137 album reviews is much better than one with 122. It’s a trait shared by many other music mags too, many of which have reduced the per-review word count to enable them to squeeze more reviews into the same space and put the all-important “we review everything!” claim on the front cover.

[monthly music magazines] should do what online media can’t do: provide readers with access to big-name acts and tell interesting stories. It could also dump the dross, and instead draw people’s attention to the music that’s worth bothering with – the four- and five-star records, not the two- and three-star ones.

The shallow, list-based approach lasted for years and the magazine shed thousands of readers. Things started to get better in 2009 when Paul Rees became editor. Me again:

I’d hate to see the freelance bill, but Rees seems to have looked up the Big Book of Good Music Writers, hired them, and given them enough space to do something interesting. The result is a magazine that’s as good as, if not better than, it was in its heyday.

And it’s even better now.

Wright:

Q over the last five years under the modish captaincy of Ted Kessler, ably assisted by a gang of old and young lags, and a freelance pool that has become more diverse with each passing month, has become genuinely brilliant. The final issue, if it is the final issue, is a masterclass in writing about right now alongside genuinely powerful reminiscences of scenes and people gone by. Q deserves to live. I hope it gets a rescue deal like MixMag and Kerrang! before it, because to go beneath the waves because of an unprecedented economic crisis would be a tragic end.

I’ve been Very Online since the 1990s, but I’m still a great believer in the power of magazines: I buy digitally rather than print these days, but whether it’s Cosmopolitan or Q, Total Film or Time, magazines deliver something valuable that even their online equivalents can’t. It’s not just the writing; it’s the curation, the presentation, the lack of distraction. Online reading is a speedy shower. Magazines are a luxurious bath.

I’ve quoted Q co-creator David Hepworth before: a new issue of a good magazine feels like getting a letter from a friend. Q has felt like a friend for almost all of my musical life, and I’ll be very sad if I have to say goodbye.