R.I.P Real Groove Magazine

Much like Pulp magazine last week, the finish of Real Groove was barely more than a byline when it was addressed in the New Zealand Herald, but to a whole lot of loyal readers, it was always much more than that. And so on Friday came the terrible news that Real Groove’s 196th issue featuring Leonard Cohen which is out now, would be it’s last. The magazine lasted 18 years and began as a free publication under the helm of Real Groovy Records before being taken over by Tangible Media, which also owns little-sister publication, The Groove Guide.

And it will be The Groove Guide, which survives all of this. The press release politely refrains from pointing out that one of New Zealand’s great publications is dead, instead angling Real Groove’s demise as a merger with The Groove Guide. The latter publication will get a makeover in mid-November; expanding into a larger format periodical to focus on pop-culture aspects such as fashion, movies and games.

Some of us celebrate our 18th birthdays as somewhat of an entrance into adulthood, and even though Real Groove moved from growth to growth long ago, it recently reached a time where it felt anew. Perhaps in part it was due to the tightened up layout (the latest issue also showcases a new look for the magazine), but it was in large thanks to editor Sam Wicks, who had the arduous job of taking over from Duncan Greive a year ago.

Wicks took inspiration, criticism and advice from all corners to make sure that the magazine he put out was a quality product; one that would be relevant to the newcomers while not leaving the dedicated readers behind. As an editor new to the role (he previously worked as the music producer for Radio New Zealand National) he saw the potential for the magazine between the lines, and it’s a pity he didn’t get to take it further.

Just thinking about running a magazine in today’s economy seems daunting. Duncan Greive has written a particularly poignant and heartbreaking recollection of his time as editor over at Deadball which is a must-read, and among other things, he explores how hard it can be to attract advertisers to a magazine like Real Groove.

So, where to from here? The Groove Guide’s new look could reflect a direction that other publications may be forced to head in. They’ve proved, and hopefully will continue to prove, that it’s possible for the publication to exist with no cover charge and it wouldn’t be surprising to see other magazines, zines and boutique publications pop up and head in the same direction. In Melbourne there are some quality music and culture periodicals that come free of charge; Beat, Impress, 3D World, Cyclic Defrost and more are popular publications over the Tasman, and perhaps we’ll begin to see a similar rise of street press-like magazines here.

Still, New Zealand’s scene isn’t as burgeoning as Melbourne’s, and all of those publications above feature full-page advertorials of upcoming festivals and international tours that New Zealand often misses out on.  Then there is the other side of the coin – many of those publications pay their contributors very little or nothing at all (I’ve been told it’s often a lot less than the little that writers get paid here). But as Greive says in his post, “if the new publication can retain the best of each publication’s writers and pull advertisers along with it then there’s no reason to think it (The Groove Guide) can’t be sustainably successful.”

Hopefully the change will convince more of the great writers at Real Groove to find other outlets to get their voices heard because without the magazine, we’re losing many unique and exceptional contributors.  The latest and last issue of Real Groove (featuring Leonard Cohen on the cover) is on sale now.

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