Blender magazine folded last week, placing Cleveland-based Alternative Press indisputably in the Top 3 glossy monthly music mags.
The independently owned AP consistently ranks second in book-store sales, behind Rolling Stone, above Paste and far beyond Spin. It doesn’t have the size or cachet of Rolling Stone or Spin, but it has the best track record for breaking bands, especially since the millennium turned. It has single handedly owned the Warped Tour generation and has served as other mags’ tip sheet, breaking bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. In the late ’80s, AP also caught the alternative wave before there was a word for it. The magazine even got hip to Metallica relatively early — the band graced the last gatefold cover in 1988.
As Rolling Stone and Blender downsized, AP held its own. Blender’s February issue had a mere 76 pages, down from 120 a year earlier. AP’s had 120 — down just eight pages from its February 2008 issue. Founder/president Mike Shea says newsstand sales are down 7 percent, well below the industry average that’s closer to 35 percent. AP’s circulation is holding steady at just under 300,000. While Blender cover photos alternated pop stars like Lil Wayne with “celebrities” like Tila Tequila, AP kept ferreting out emo and punk up-and-comers like A Day To Remember. Shea says they’ll remain on course. (Full disclosure: this writer has contributed to AP here and there.)
“I don’t think [Blender’s demise is] going to mean much for us, in all honesty,” says Shea. “Because we’re a niche magazine that caters to a certain kind of crowd. And Blender was everything to everybody, and it was more pop than anything else. Does it mean we’re going to get some ad dollars out of it? Possibly. Does it mean we’re going to get subscribers? I doubt it. The reader was totally different.”
Another reason the Cleveland magazine can compete with New York- and Chicago-based pubs: the good ol’ fashioned blue-collar work ethic. Blender’s masthead listed 37 positions for just editors, online producers and publishers, including six staffers specifically designated to handle copy. AP has 14 people for comparable positions, with one copy editor. Music magazines and newspapers collapse and downsize left and right, though AP hasn’t made any staff cuts. (Somewhat curiously, it hasn’t had an influx of offers from would-be writers.)
Of course, Shea says the magazine’s future is bright. But even the haters are grudgingly acknowledging its strong hand. In its South By Southwest music festival coverage, the erudite Village Voice noted that the AP showcase had the rowdiest line and declared: “Try not to act surprised when Alternative Press is the last music magazine standing.” — D.X. Ferris