After eighteen years at the forefront of online music journalism and criticism, Pitchfork has finally decided to cement itself as a purveyor of a quarterly print magazine. Last night, Pitchfork held a launch party for the third edition of its glossy imprint, The Pitchfork Review at Housing Works Bookstore in Soho. The event featured all of the trappings of what we could expect from such an event — readings about music and feelings from Pitchfork staffers and an acoustic set from Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls. The event was simple, but one striking thing seemed to linger in the air last night, and it had nothing to do with the poignant readings or Dee Dee Penny’s earnest folk songs. The real question was, and still is, why the hell is Pitchfork deciding to do print in 2014?
We all know the story: declining revenues and landmark layoffs in the newspaper and magazine industries, all predicated upon the rise of the digital-first media landscape, have made printing any kind of magazine, let alone a niche indie music publication, troublesome. SPIN stopped being a magazine in December 2012, and Rolling Stone has only really been saved by its legacy and prestige. So it’s ironic, and seemingly more than a little counter-intuitive, to forge a glossy, high-end magazine in the age of digital disruption.
“It’s definitely an experiment, and we’re kind of trying to see if we can extend what we do online into the print realm and to see if it’s sustainable,” said Editor-in-Chief of Pitchfork.com, Mark Richardson.
But each issue of The Pitchfork Review is different from their online edition–there are no new album announcements or hot new artist advisories peppered throughout the book. Each issue is dense, artistically packaged and full of in-depth features, personal essays and musings on contemporary music. The Pitchfork Review is intended for shelving, so readers can skim the pages throughout the years.
“It was never intended that this was going to be some mass-market huge thing,” Richardson added. “The magazine costs money like a book costs money, it’s really high-quality, so I guess it’s kind of like a boutique idea.”
Brandon Stosuy, the website’s Senior Editor, noted the limitations of running a daily music website and how venturing into print could alleviate the repetition of things like continuous album premieres. “There are certain things in [the print publication] that wouldn’t work on the site, like a longer piece on specific artists that are less topical, or things that are more like music history or apply to some older musical movement,” he said.
In some ways, Pitchfork’s foray into print is also a way for staffers to step back into their youth, when they ran and wrote for music ‘zines in junior high and high school. “I started a zine in seventh grade,” said Stosuy. “So I guess in a way we’re kind of going way back to where we started from.”
We wish Pitchfork the best of luck.