'No Depression' Music Magazine Folds For the past 13 years, No Depression has turned its readers on to music not heard on commercial radio. But this week, the publishers of the magazine announced that the May-June issue will be their last. Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock talk about how their magazine has fallen victim to a vastly different landscape in music retail.
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'No Depression' Music Magazine Folds

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'No Depression' Music Magazine Folds

'No Depression' Music Magazine Folds

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For the past 13 years, a magazine called No Depression has turned its readers on to music they'll probably never hear on commercial radio. Call it alternative country or Americana or roots music.

Well, this week, the publishers of No Depression announced that the May-June issue will be their last. The magazine has fallen victim to a vastly different landscape in music retail, in what the publishers call a downloadable world.

No Depression took its name from this Carter Family song from the 1930s.

(Soundbite of song "No Depression in Heaven")

CARTER FAMILY (Song Group): (Singing) I'm going where there's no depression.

BLOCK: But the magazine focused on new artists such as Neko Case.

(Soundbite of song "Thrice All American")

Mr. NEKO CASE (Singer): (Singing) I'm wanna tell you about my hometown.

BLOCK: And Josh Ritter.

(Soundbite of song "Right Moves")

Mr. JOSH RITTER (Singer): (Singing) Am I making all the right moves.

BLOCK: Pretty much all of the ads in No Depression were from record labels, many of them indie labels. With record sales way down and budgets that'd been slashed, and the cofounders of No Depression - Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock - concluded they couldn't survive. Grant Alden begins.

Mr. GRANT ALDEN (Cofounder, No Depression Magazine): There are two big models for making a magazine right now. One of them is to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. And the other was to sell a small number to a devoted band of readership who were joined in a very specific kind of interest. And unfortunately, the advertising community that shares that interest doesn't have any money, and doesn't look like it's going to have any money in the foreseeable future.

BLOCK: Peter, how much were ad revenues down?

Mr. PETER BLACKSTOCK (Cofounder, No Depression Magazine): It was around 30-40 percent, and was looking to be worse than that as we went on, our projections - you'll never know for sure but it did not look like this was just a storm that we could wait out until it rose again. Our concern was that it was going away and the bulk of it probably was not talking(ph) back.

BLOCK: How did you describe the kind of music that you were going to really focusing on when the magazine started out?

Mr. ALDEN: We described it as alternative country, which was kind of tongue in cheeks since we started it in Seattle. And previously, I have been associated with the (unintelligible) movement as a music critic and an editor. And so it was meant a bit as a joke, and it was also meant to describe music that was built around country, but not by people who came from country music.

BLOCK: Peter, is this right? That when you started out focusing on alternative country that you kind of took a poke at that, too. I think on your cover you said alternative country, whatever that is.

Mr. BLACKSTOCK: Yeah, and my dad was responsible for that, basically. My father had been in a situation where his friends or colleagues would ask him what his kids were doing. And my dad would say, well, Peter started a magazine that's covering alternative country whatever that is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACKSOTCK: Because my dad had no idea what it was.

BLOCK: You know, I'm looking, right now, at the January-February issue of No Depression and there's a cover story on the singer Shelby Lynne doing a Dusty Springfield songs. There's an article in here about Norwegian bluegrass and the African-American banjo tradition. And the great thing about having this land on my mailbox every two months is that it might be that I'd find a really long article about somebody that I already knew but I learned a whole lot more about.

But also, that there were just be a ton of people in there whom I would never find or hear about. And I imagine that's what most of your readers valued in that, too.

Mr. ALDEN: We think so. It certainly what made it the most fun for us. It's no fun writing three cover stories a year on the same artist as some of the big national magazines have to do.

BLOCK: Peter, what do you think?

Mr. BLACKSTOCK: Yeah. It was - I think, It was a balance for us to try to bring in people that were familiar and people that were totally unfamiliar. I mean, I think some of the things that we're most proud of that we've done were putting an artist like Little Miss Cornshucks on the cover.

BLOCK: Little Miss Cornshucks?

Mr. BLACKSTOCK: She was a jazz singer in the '40s and '50s who heavily influenced many of the much bigger names that came in right around the time of Billie Holliday or Aretha Franklin or people like that. And one of our writers, Barry Mazer, dug into this and found just a long and very interesting story that I don't think any other magazine would've bothered to dig into and present, much less put on its cover.

BLOCK: Well, I gather the plan is to expand your presence on the Web. And I would think that could work to your advantage. I mean, you're a music magazine and the Web is a great format for being able to actually, you know, read about music, but also hear it obviously. I mean, could this end up being, in some way, a good thing, giving you more access to more people, too?

Mr. ALDEN: The problem I have with the Web is it doesn't seem like a good home for a 10,000-word story on Little Miss Cornshucks.

BLOCK: Hmm.

Mr. ALDEN: And I don't know where that story gets told if magazines like ours can't survive.

BLOCK: You think the appetite for long-form journalism on the Web just isn't the same?

Mr. ALDEN: I don't think the reading experience works. The data I've seen shows the people won't turn the metaphorical page and go to page two on long articles on the Web. And those aren't long by our standard, those are 2,000-word pieces or 1,500-word pieces. I don't think the medium is receptive to long pieces of complicated prose.

BLOCK: Well, Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, thanks so much for talking with us. Best of luck.

Mr. ALDEN: Thank you.

Mr. BLACKSTOCK: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock, cofounders of No Depression magazine. The 75th issue coming out in May, will be their last.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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