“Alternative Press” Considers Cutting Review Section, Eating Own Shoe For Dinner

Oct 27th, 2008 // 12 Comments

Most critics have a love-hate relationship with album reviews. On the one hand, they’re an absurdly limiting format, forcing you to find things to say about albums you don’t care about, limiting your thoughts on albums you do care about, and requiring a bottom-line consumer reccomendation that might not really encapsulate your honest feelings. On the other hand, in these hard times for music scribes, record reviews are the one unique service we can provide that the public always seems to want. Which is why it seems crazy that Alernative Press was considering removing album reviews from its print edition.

After noting that “The reviews section is consistently one of the top three most-read sections of AP,” music editor Scott Heisel mentions that Vibe has cut its album reviews and now runs them only on the mag’s Web site, on the logic that “…in 2008, the most passionate conversations about music revolve around singles and remixes and playlists and who’s downloading what from where and how.” This, he says, raises the question of if “Rolling Stone, Spin and Blender [will] follow suit,” and discussions have been taking place at AP as to whether they should do the same. He then opens the question up to readers, who overwhelmingly come out against the idea:

An essential to any MUSIC MAG is a record review section. I carry my AP around with me for a few days and comb through every page, and I read every review for every CD. If the reviews were moved to the website, I honestly would not even read them. I don’t have the time to scroll through your website for something that I thought I paid to have sent to me so that I could cart it around with me. To even consider getting rid of a section that is one of the top three features in AP is ludicrous.

the internet would definitely be more convenient, however, I’d be less likely to read because I’m hardly on the website. it takes a lot for me to check updates on a website frequently.. unless I’m sent an e-mail or something. I prefer the reviews in the magazine, I’m much more prone to actually read them. I like the exclusivity of getting my info from the physical magazine before everyone else rather than a website that every single person with internet connection has access to in three clicks of the mouse

Taking it out of the magazine is absolutely crazy. What is a music magazine without a section to let readers know about the cd before making the purchase? I for one would like an opinion on a cd I like or may not like. If it HAS to changed, then take albums that are popular among readers and review some in depth, quality not quantity, right?

This is heartening to anyone dismayed by the diminishing prominence of reviews in non-music mags, and there are some pretty serious flaws in Heisel’s logic, mainly in the idea of comparing Vibe and AP. Vibe has sections that focus on non-music topics like style, and the musical logic about the current emphasis on singles, mix tapes, and online interactions applies almost exclusively to rap at this point. AP, on the other hand, consists almost entirely of music content, and there aren’t a lot of Thursday fans talking about mix tapes online.

Ultimately, it’s hard to understand the logic behind AP cutting its reviews section, since they’re such an integral part of the current readers’ perception of what the magazine should be–which is another reason why it’s hard to see how that move would result in a net gain of readers. The only benefit would be the money saved by an overall decrease in the magazine’s page count, and while that’s understandable, it’s also a little depressing.

43% blogged. [Scott Heisel of Alternative Press]

  1. sXenester

    Scott Heisel’s a douchebag.

  2. Poubelle

    This makes me feel slightly guilty for all the times in high school that I used to skim AP’s reviews without actually buying it. But only slightly.

  3. Al Shipley

    I haven’t read AP in 10 years, but when I did read it regularly, the main appeal was that they ran tons of reviews in every issue. I don’t know if the reviews section has changed or been reduced much over the years but it seems incredibly wrongheaded for them to abandon that part of the magazine.

  4. qyntellspitbull

    But how will I know if the new Rufio CD is 4 stars or 5 stars?

    And seriously, I know Scott and like the guy.

  5. chaircrusher

    I used to write reviews for AP, and I wrote at least 100 of them. Back then, they still covered music other than the aimed-at-the 11-17 demo, indie-punk bands no one takes seriously anywhere else.

    Our review word limit was 100 words, which is actually more difficult to write than a 300 word review. In fact, I usually wrote 250 words and then spent way too much time stripping it down to its haiku-esque bones.

    I stopped writing for them because I worked for 18 months without getting paid. Then, out of the blue, at least 3 years later, a check for all my reviews showed up.

    Now I somehow am on their courtesy subscription list, and I try and read it, but find no bands I care about, and many bands I’ve never heard about. As an over-the-hill hipster I dutifully read those articles, only to realize that the band in question sounds like the 32768th reincarnation of Green Day, and that they really enjoyed playing second stage on the Vans tour.

    If you look at how AP started out, it’s the perfect nightmare scenario as envisioned by the people originally founded the magazine.

  6. Anonymous

    @chaircrusher: Yeah, I agree with you on that. Then again, I agree with that theory about every band I read about on BrooklynVegan, Stereogum, etc. It’s just another variation of folk, irono-dance pop, etc.

  7. Anonymous

    They could probably save more money if they just stopped writing about music altogether. That plan hasn’t let MTV down.

  8. CultureBully

    Absolutely Mike – the biggest mistake is the idea that what makes Vibe successful is what would make Alt. Press successful (or RS, Spin, etc). Same goes for something like metal (which AP used to touch on briefly when I read the magazine) – the transition just isn’t there – the readership is completely different between the genres in focus.

    Eliminating the review section because another not-really-similar-yet-shelved-relatively-closely-at-Borders magazine does so is kind of like cutting off your arm because your cousin’s brother gets compliments on his sleeveless shirt.

    That makes sense, right?

  9. Michaelangelo Matos

    Vibe has sections that focus on non-music topics like style, and the musical logic about the current emphasis on singles, mix tapes, and online interactions applies almost exclusively to rap at this point. AP, on the other hand, consists almost entirely of music content, and there aren’t a lot of Thursday fans talking about mix tapes online.

    I think he’s talking about homemade mixes, not hip-hop mixtapes, but even if that weren’t the case I’d say you’re wrong about this. It doesn’t apply exclusively to anything.

  10. Lucas Jensen

    @sXenester: Scott is really nice.

    I would hate to see AP’s review section go because that’s where they cover music that’s more diverse than their aggressively pierced cover artists. I can see a lot of emo/metal kids getting into some other types of stuff from that section.

  11. Anonymous

    Why can’t they reveiw singles? Is that illegal, or just too hard?

  12. RaptorAvatar

    When I used to read AP, the reviews were probably the best part. Ultimateley, you do sometimes only find out which mall screamo record is the best to have come out that month. However, they covered so much stuff that it was always worth a look. Plus, and this is just one of my soft spots, they tended to give ambitious aggressive records a way fairer hearing than most other publications. However, if print really is that crushing an expense, why not move everything but a handful of spotlight reviews online, make each review a little bit more writer friendly (100 words is, as has been mentioned above, a truly miserable number to aim for) and see if they can put some heat on pitchfork?

    @fna: Depressingly true.

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