Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Billboard Shrinks,' By Emmanuel Legrand

Emmanuel Legrand, Billboard's former London Bureau chief, has written an eloquent post on his blog Legrand Network, which sums up what every staffer and reader during the magazine's heyday knows to be the sad truth. See the full post here. Highlights are below.

There was a time when Billboard represented the ultimate reference in the music business. It wasn’t a hit until it was in Billboard’s charts. It wasn’t a worthy story until it got the Billboard treatment. If there was one trade publication that did merit to be called ‘the Bible’ it was Billboard. You read the magazine religiously. You became part of a cult. You were devoted to the colours in the logo.

If you wrote for Billboard, you had made it. You were at the uppermost end of the trade. People in the biz at the highest level would take your calls. PRs would stalk you for a story about the acts or executives they were representing. You got invited to the best gigs and after-parties. You were part of the music biz establishment. For many of us it remains the best gig in the world. The rewards were high, and the gratification to work for such a biblical institution meant the world to those in the cathedral. You knew you were read by the most influential people in the biz – and you had influence.But that was then—when the business had some form of coherence, pre-digital disruption. And its charts, that for years ruled the world, have lost some significance and are challenged by new entrants such as BigChampagne’s Ultimate Charts.

The business side seems to almost be an afterthought and is getting less and less thoroughly covered, and since many of the magazine’s veteran writers have left, the publication has lost a sense of history and isn't capable of putting news in its context.

In the 1990s, when the magazine was edited by the late Timothy White, Billboard held on to its mission to be the business paper of reference for the industry. He was a man of passion who understood the business and he would challenge his troupes to provide the best stories before anyone did.

Since it was acquired a year ago from Nielsen by a private equity group, the magazine has been re-tooled. But mostly the job of the new owners has been to get rid of fat wherever they could, cutting into editorial resources, where little fat was left.

How long will it take before the print edition will be confined to the history of trade press? If this happens, it will definitely mark the end of an era. But let's hope we won't get there. As Woody Allen once said, "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

That could quite nicely sum up Billboard's future...