In August, Junk magazine released its last issue. The four-year old Malaysian music mag announced on its website that it was discontinuing its print version, having recognised that social networks were doing a good job in delivering the same message, and was instead focusing on its website, as well as events and concerts. It was a muted farewell, and one that took place with little fanfare.
Quick disclosure: I was a contributor with Junk for a couple of years. And I’ll be the first to admit that the content didn’t always achieve premium standards. So as I scanned the comments that accompanied the blog post, it was hard hard to dispute many of the jibes. Yes, in its latter years Junk did try to cater for a younger crowd, and it certainly made no secret of its emphasis of photos over words. “The quality of the mag has dropped drastically over the past couple of years, overall impression is that Junk is looking more and more like a teeny bopper magazine,” said a commenter named INOONI. “Good riddance. Come back with more quality please.”
Of course, to pin the demise of Junk’s print version on a lack of journalistic quality is to demonstrate a rather gross ignorance of the present state of the global magazine industry in general. Put simply, it is a crappy time to be a magazine. Tighter company budgets have led to less advertising spending, while fewer people actually bother buying or subscribing anymore—no shocker given the perpetual gush of information available online. Combine these drying revenue streams with unrelenting printing and operating costs, and it is clear that trying to keep a print publication afloat in this century is tougher than keeping Lindsay Lohan away from crack.
And indeed, the music mag scene has not been spared from the fracas. In the past two years, reputed American rags like Blender, Vibe and Paste all shut down. It’s even tougher locally, where English-speaking publications like Tone (founded in 2000, disbanded in 2003) have to duel with a narrow market base, competition from better-funded and more experienced international titles, and a general bias against most things homemade. Meanwhile, online platforms like blogs and social networks have steadily ascended into their current status as the primary sources of music news. Nobody wants to wait one month to get their scoop on Paramore’s world tour when they can just read Hayley Williams’ tweets.
So, having scanned the pile of decimated pulp, and tipping a hat to the new music 2.0 establishment, you have to wonder: do we still need a magazine like Junk anymore?
The steadfast answer: absolutely, unreservedly, yes. For one, social media alone just doesn’t cut it. Sure, it has the unrivalled power to discover and hype a new song, band or trend. But as Malcolm Gladwell controversially pointed out in a recent New Yorker article, its low-risk, low-commitment premise makes it a lousy platform for any kind of lasting engagement. How many 140-character blurbs can you write about Tenderfist before it’s time to fawn over Kyoto Protocol? How many “likes” can the next Yuna garner before the same “likers” relocate to the next Inch Chua?
Magazines, on the other hand, can immortalise an act and herald it far above the din. The fact remains that good music will always need a champion, because good music cannot find listeners on its own (especially not in our scatterbrain culture). And while social media has become the king of the “have you heard that band?” realm, it will never displace music magazines as the chief curators. Sure, the blogosphere buzzed about Arcade Fire months before Pitchfork dropped its 9.7 review. But it was precisely that 9.7 which triggered the band’s journey towards global consciousness. How else we would have learned that Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were worth torrenting? Who else could have endorsed Vampire Weekend as a band worth shelling out S$80 for?
But more significantly, we still need Junk magazine because we have a struggling underground music community that needs to be heard, documented and tended to. Yes, Malaysian indie is traversing in a somewhat dormant state now, as was pointed out last week. But together with the rest of Southeast Asia, the scene remains among the most exciting in the world today. And every promising music scene needs an active voice to chronicle those teething moments and keep the conversations going long after the feedback fades out. In like fashion to how NME was present during those early, ramshackle years of 70s punk, we need Junk to capture whatevertheheck is happening in our flimsy, disparate music family today. In sickness or health, we need a priest to help nurture our indie flirtations into full-fledged rockstar bliss.
So, Junk magazine, farewell to your print version. Business sucks, fair enough. Switch mediums, go ahead. Clean up your act, help yourself. But please, don’t stop being a magazine. Heaven knows, as does some brilliant but unheard act out there, that we need you.
Written by Chris Chew