The Demise of Q Magazine: Another Death Knell for Music Journalism and Print

There have been few magazines in the annals of modern music history that have been as important as Q. Naturally British (for, despite its smallness, no other country has had as much of an effect on the trajectory of popular music as England–try as Amérique le Freak might to tell itself otherwise), Q was not your average puff piece-filled slop in the vein of J-14. It was thoughtful, delightfully cynical and filled with articles that radiated the Russell Hammond aphorism, “I dig music.” The magazine’s editor, Ted Kessler, informed his readers as of yesterday, “I have some bad news about Q Magazine. The issue that comes out on July 28 will be our last. The pandemic did [us in] and there was nothing more to it than that. I have attached our final cover and my editor’s letter for context. On the plus side, we’re all available for work.” 

Of course, it’s easy to blame the pandemic on what editors have been feeling for years now: that it’s all gotten too herculean, that it’s time to give up, that there is so little reward for so much painstaking work. But all that the advent of coronavirus (and its far-reaching effects in terms of placing an emphasis on the importance of non-tactility) has done is this: solidified editors’ legitimacy in walking away. They’ve finally reached a zenith point where no one can fault them for doing so. There is no usable payoff to keeping a magazine going. Passion, sure, but when that gets snuffed out by the reality of the fact that no one is really reading (though they love to skim), it becomes almost impossible to find the wherewithal to continue.

At its height in 2001 (fifteen years after being founded in 1986 by Mark Ellen and David Hepworth), circulation of Q was 200,000 a month. Of late, that number has gone down to 28,000. Certainly not enough to seem enticing to the advertisers, themselves cutting costs as the precious economy plummets into unthinkable despair. The tragedy of Kessler’s announcement isn’t just because it signals something grim about the future of music journalism (which might eventually be reduced to a one-sentence description of a one-minute long single in the future), but because Q’s fate isn’t merely relegated to the music industry, even if its demise has definitely reflected that musicians–rock stars–might soon be as skint as the rest of us with no one to pay them (‘cause God knows there’s no money in “streams”–it was all in the touring). 

If it can happen to “institution” magazines, it can happen to any of them, at any scale of production–from your “indie-est” (like this one) to your greatest juggernaut (like anything under the Condé Nast umbrella). What’s bleaker still is the idea that, for as much as “readers” talk a good game about “loving” a publication, no one can ever seem to put their literal money where their mouth is in backing that when it matters most. And we all know that big league musicians like Bono and even Lily Allen, who have expressed sadness over the loss, aren’t sad enough to make the donation that might float the magazine a little longer.

At the same time, what’s the point? To keep the expensive nature of a magazine going, one has to be rich in their own right rather than relying on the occasional handouts of others. Alas, the rich people who own publications tend to put out some pretty banal ones (see: William Randolph Hearst, Rupert Murdoch). That’s just the way it goes because, as it is said, money can’t buy taste. And a general global poverty certainly can’t buy magazines. The ultimate frivolous “luxury” at this moment in time. 

At the end of Kessler’s final editor’s note, he remarked of Q’s uniqueness, “You won’t read this gear elsewhere, nor, alas, will you read its like again… ‘All farewells should be sudden,’ wrote Byron, but we’ve milked ours to the maximum.” So it is that another one bites the dust. In the remaining year ahead, there can be no doubt that it will be as Freddie Mercury said with “another one gone, and another one gone” until all that is left is the echo of Grimes’ theory that “we’re in the end of art, human art.” Some of us fools, however, will never seem to get the memo.

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