By Colin Crummy
Iconic teen title Smash Hits! closes this week, leaving a question mark over the future of the teenage magazine market — and whether the axeing could save its closest rival, Top of the Pops.
Last year, the BBC title’s then publisher, Alfie Lewis, suggested it would be "useful" if one of the competition dropped out of the fiercely tight market.
Its current publisher, Duncan Gray, said Emap’s decision to close Smash Hits!
must have been a "really tough one", but said the BBC had no plans to close Top of the Pops.
He added: "We firmly believe that digital properties will enhance and complement TOTP magazine and vice versa. It’s also an excellent opportunity to develop cross-media opportunities for advertisers."
Emap said the 28-year-old Smash Hits! brand would continue as a digital radio station and music TV channel, after the magazine’s closure was announced as a result of falling ad revenue and the rise of digital media.
Commentators blamed the music industry for taking the personality out of pop music, and suggested that teenagers simply didn’t read teen magazines any more.
Miranda Sawyer, who worked on Smash Hits! in its late-’80s golden era, said that the market had changed beyond recognition, but that the magazine "just wasn’t as good" in the end.
"When Smash Hits! was strong it could deal with anything," she said. "It had a really strong ethos; you could put anyone in, whether it was Bros or Margaret Thatcher. When Smash Hits!
didn’t have such a strong identity, it didn’t have the confidence to deal with the music."
Dominic Williams, press director of Carat PR, said that the market wasn’t redundant: "They’ve not closed the ‘Smash Hits!’ brand. Magazines in the sector have got some major media channels to tap into — with mobiles, online and TV, there are so many ways of consuming media. They just need to change and they need to do it quickly."
Pop writer Peter Robinson said that the era of the pop magazine wasn’t dead, but the reader base had shrunk.
He told Press Gazette: "There were four key phases of Smash Hits!: covering all music in an accessible way from 1978 to 1986; covering mainly pop music in an accessible way from 1987 to 1994; covering pop music mainly aimed at teenage girls from 1995 to 2000; and then finally being a teen girls’ magazine with a bit of pop music in it. The latter two are played out and won’t work; both the former have potential [as magazines] or have at least not been unsuccessfully launched in recent years."
The last edition of the loss-making music magazine was due to be published on 13 February, affecting 10 staff, who were told of the closure an hour before the official announcement on 1 February. One said it was: "A real shock, though not a complete surprise."
Editor Lara Palamoudian is to work on a new project, according to Emap, while the company said it was "doing the absolute utmost" to get jobs for the remaining nine staff members.
Online music communities live on, but…
… FURTHER PRINT FORAY MOOTED
On smashhitsforever.com, ex staffers and fans of the magazine have posted their condolences at the demise of the title, as well as wondering how it once convinced Brother Beyond to grace the cover with fruit on their heads.
The site is part of popjustice.com, set up in 2000 by journalist Peter Robinson and billed as a direct descendant of the Smash Hits! template.
There is speculation that Popjustice may now become a print publication or that Popworld, a magazine derived from the Channel 4 programme, may be revived after a short print foray under the helm of ex Smash Hits! editor, Gavin Reeve, in 2002.
Robinson, whose site acts as an online community with a highly active fan forum, said: "I think the difference for pop is that online communities mean that you don’t need Smash Hits! to feel part of it all, which was one of the magazine’s real pluses in its heyday."