Raymond Roker, publisher of URB magazine, reflected this week on the demise of his print publication, which he says is being suspended, at least temporarily, in favor of a digital version. "At this point, print should be seen as a complement to digital," he writes, "not the other way around."
URB started in 1991 as a newsprint magazine covering Los Angeles' burgeoning DJ culture. Raves were the story du jour at the time, but even then the magazine forged and reflected a crossroads of hip-hop and clubland. Everyone from Moby to The Roots to Doc Martin graced early covers. Through nearly two decades of challenges from the likes of Sweater, Industry Insider, Revolution, Mixer magazine, BPM, and even a publication called Yrb, URB stood its ground and survived while those others didn't. Now only XLR8R remains. (Fellow survivor Remix is more specialized -- focused on bedroom producers -- and, frankly, I haven't seen a physical copy in ages, although its site is still offering subscriptions).
Roker points to the inevitable but complicated transition to online, a specter faced by just about everyone in print (witness the recent closing of Cande Nast magazine Gourmet). It's true -- our scene was quicker than most to adopt to digital tools, both in its music production and in the consumption and reading habits of its fans. While 10 years ago you absolutely needed to fork over $10 for a British Mixmag or grab a less-expensive URB to figure out who was hot in DJ land what their Top 10 tracks were, that notion today is laughable, isn't it? I mean, not only can you find out what a DJ in Ibiza played last weekend, you can download the set. Richie Hawtin is Tweeting his set list as he plays live. Information is instant. Waiting a month to find out what a DJ was into two months ago seems ridiculous in this info-stream world. How to monetize it, I have no idea. I also think, though, that this thing that I'll call electronic dance music has outgrown its underground digs. This stuff is now owned by the mainstream. It's hard to slice it up anymore as a lifestyle when it seeps into everyone's life in one way or another.
Says the Roker:
"Friday, on Twitter, I quipped: 'If every DJ I know can ditch vinyl and go MP3, we [URB] can go Web and just pull the print out for tribute sets.' What I meant was that we no longer wanted to be tethered to legacy media while everybody else was all-digital, all the time. Print magazines, which may remain a great medium for special occasions, are becoming the vinyl DJs in an MP3 world: often admired, but definitely behind.
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