Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

No Depression? Let's Hope So

No Depression is a magazine I expect few people outside the music world have heard of. With its "roots," "Americana" focus (if I'm not mistaken, and I may be, it avoided the "alt-country" tag), it was always a touch corny for my taste. But it was a serious, professinally edited magazine that covered a sector of semi-popular music that gets far less ink in the general music press than its achievement deserves even if you think you hear too much of it on NPR. It lasted 13 years. And now it's shutting down. After the jump, an email from publicist Traci Thomas that includes both her kind words and the magazine's own account of its history and current dilemma. Both are informative and eminently sane. This is a portrait of arts journalism in a field where foundation support and status-conscious individual backers are basically not a factor.

February 19, 2008
Contact: Traci Thomas 615-664-1167


SEATTLE, WA - No Depression, the bimonthly magazine covering a broad range of American roots music since 1995, will bring to an end its print publication with its 75th issue in May-June 2008.

Plans to expand the publication's website ( with additional content will move forward, though it will in no way replace the print edition.

The magazine's March-April issue, currently en route to subscribers and stores, includes the following note from publishers Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild as its Page 2 "Hello Stranger" column:

Dear Friends:

Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.

In the thirteen years since we began plotting and publishing No Depression, we have taken pride not only in the quality of the work we were able to offer our readers, but in the way we insisted upon doing business. We have never inflated our numbers; we have always paid our bills (and, especially, our freelancers) on time. And we have always tried our best to tell the truth.

First things, then: If you have a subscription to ND, please know that we will do our very best to take care of you. We will be negotiating with a handful of magazines who may be interested in fulfilling your subscription. That is the best we can do under the circumstances.

Those circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March-April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.

The longer answer involves not simply the well-documented and industry wide reduction in print advertising, but the precipitous fall of the music industry. As a niche publication, ND is well insulated from reductions in, say, GM's print advertising budget; our size meant they weren't going to buy space in our pages, regardless.

On the other hand, because we're a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve.

That community is, as they say, in transition. In this evolving downloadable world, what a record label is and does is all up to question. What is irrefutable is that their advertising budgets are drastically reduced, for reasons we well understand. It seems clear at this point that whatever businesses evolve to replace (or transform) record labels will have much less need to advertise in print.

The decline of brick and mortar music retail means we have fewer newsstands on which to sell our magazine, and small labels have fewer venues that might embrace and hand-sell their music. Ditto for independent bookstores. Paper manufacturers have consolidated and begun closing mills to cut production; we've been told to expect three price increases in 2008. Last year there was a shift in postal regulations, written by and for big publishers, which shifted costs down to smaller publishers whose economies of scale are unable to take advantage of advanced sorting techniques.

Then there's the economy . . .

The cumulative toll of those forces makes it increasingly difficult for all small magazines to survive. Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that's what's happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses.

ND has never been a big business. It was started with a $2,000 loan from Peter's savings account (the only monetary investment ever provided, or sought by, the magazine). We have five more or less full-time employees, including we three who own the magazine. We have always worked from spare bedrooms and drawn what seemed modest salaries.

What makes this especially painful and particularly frustrating is that our readership has not significantly declined, our newsstand sell-through remains among the best in our portion of the industry, and our passion for and pleasure in the music has in no way diminished. We still have shelves full of first-rate music we'd love to tell you about.

And we have taken great pride in being one of the last bastions of the long-form article, despite the received wisdom throughout publishing that shorter is better. We were particularly gratified to be nominated for our third Utne award last year.

Our cards are now on the table.

Though we will do this at greater length next issue, we should like particularly to thank the advertisers who have stuck with us these many years; the writers, illustrators, and photographers who have worked for far less than they're worth; and our readers: You.

Thank you all. It has been our great joy to serve you.


No Depression published its first issue in September 1995 (with Son Volt on the cover) and continued quarterly for its first year, switching to bimonthly in September 1996. ND received an Utne Magazine Award for Arts & Literature Coverage in 2001 and has been nominated for the award on several other occasions (including in 2007). The Chicago Tribune ranked No Depression #20 in its 2004 list of the nation's Top 50 magazines of any kind.

Artists who have appeared on the cover of No Depression over the years include Johnny Cash (2002), Wilco (1996), Willie Nelson (2004), Ryan Adams' seminal band Whiskeytown (1997), the Drive-By Truckers (2003), Ralph Stanley (1998), Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint (2006), Gillian Welch (2001), Lyle Lovett (2003), Porter Wagoner (2007), and Alejandro Escovedo (1998, as Artist of the Decade).

Grant Alden,, 606-776-2383
Peter Blackstock,, 360-471-1295
Kyla Fairchild,, 206-789-5807

Traci Thomas / Thirty Tigers
1604 8th Ave. South 2nd Floor
Nashville, TN 37203
Wk: 615.664.1167
Cell: 615.473.6687

Tags: news, publications


By howard mandel on February 21, 2008 8:20 AM

Essentially the same circumstances resulted in the demise in print form of Mississippi Rag, the long-running mag covering traditional jazz, and with increases in US postage probably threatens publications I've worked for such as Rhythm (formerly RhythmMusic) and SignalToNoise (though that one's currently in expansionist mode -- how does publisher/editor Pete Gershon do it?). Other periodicals covering "marginal music" (American roots, world music, jazz and classical are marginal, not fundamental?) must be at risk, too. Will readers migrate to the websites or issues put out in pdf form? And most important to writers and photographers: Will online-only publications pay contributors as the print versions did? Robert Christgau is right that grants and funders are not known in this realm. Does the NAJP have ideas about addressing the problem, or are arts journalists just going to watch this happen, helplessly? If we're to go with the flow, at least let's build platforms that allow professionalism on the web to assert itself as worthy of and able to attract financial support.

By Edward Newton on September 21, 2008 9:13 AM

Along with with all No Depression subscribers, I was as they say "Poleaxed" by the awful news. I am grateful for transfering my subscription to "Maverick" it'ok particularly for the comprehensive lists of Artists and Venues.

Yours Faithfull,
E. Newton

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