Condé Nast buys Pitchfork, but for all the wrong reasons
On Tuesday morning, the New York Times reported that Condé Nast, the media behemoth that publishes Vogue, The New Yorker, and other filler between advertisements (just kidding, The New Yorker rocks), bought Pitchfork Media. Best known for its inanely precise rating system, pretentious taste and some truly fantastic writing, Pitchfork has been the home of independent music criticism since 1996.
For Condé Nast, the move makes a lot of sense business-wise. They get a self-sustaining and profitable media company with a significant web presence, a quarterly in-depth music magazine and live events, namely Pitchfork festival in Chicago and Paris.
For Pitchfork, the move makes a lot sense business-wise. They get more money (presumably) to do what they do best-discover up-and-coming artists and give them the opportunities to succeed. Or as Ryan Schreiber, Pitchfork’s founder and CEO said in a statement,
Their belief in what we do, combined with their additional expertise and resources, will allow us to extend our coverage of the artists and stories that shape the music landscape on every platform.
So what’s the issue here? It’s apparent that this is a mutually beneficial relationship, and I believe deep down in my naive heart that Schreiber and the rest of Pitchfork that have voices in such matters would reject any offer that didn’t truly help the company in their core efforts. Condé Nast saw this acquisition as an opportunity to compete with various other music publications, most obviously Rolling Stone, but also Noisey, Vice Media’s music vertical. The issue can be found in the third paragraph, last sentence of the Times article, in a quote from Fred Santarpia, Condé Nast’s chief digital officer where he states his takeaway from he deal:
It brings “a very passionate audience of millennial males into our roster,” he said.
Me reading “millennial males” pic.twitter.com/HFno0wAUBm
— Jia Tolentino (@jiatolentino) October 13, 2015
Ok. Although I don’t have access to Pitchfork’s analytics, I know that the independent music community mostly consists of young, mostly white guys. So yes, Santarpia is in some ways correct when he says that Pitchfork will bring an “audience of millennial males into our roster.” Still, there are two inherent problems in this assumption. First, in his statement, Santarpia is suggesting that buying out Pitchfork was not just for their A+ #content, but also for their audience, which presumably skews young and male. However, that leaves out a significant number of readers who identify as female and guess what! also have a sincere appreciation for music criticism. I really thought a lot about this, I didn’t want to come off as some young and idealistic journalism major who read a sentence and then saw it blow up on Twitter and decided aha! better write a think piece on this! (side note: I never want to be that person)
Women are a huge part of Pitchfork’s staff and readership. We’re totally about reaching all music fans everywhere. — Ryan Schreiber (@ryanpitchfork) October 13, 2015
That’s the founder of Pitchfork voicing his opinion on the matter. Second, and even though this would be a pretty absurd statement regardless, The Pitchfork Review (the quarterly print music magazine) is edited by a very talented music journalist named Jessica Hopper and besides having a great name (haha sorry guys) she is a professional who I (and so many other journalists) greatly admire. Besides writing a pretty awesome memoir and also one of my favorite articles of all time, she gained some attention outside of the music media bubble this summer. She tweeted:
Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t “count”? — Jessica Hopper (@jesshopp) August 24, 2015
The responses, if you haven’t read them, are not just repulsive, but also not surprising if you’re a “gal/other marginalized folk” that are active in the music industry, journalism or both. So when Santarpia says that Pitchfork media will bring the “millennial male” demographic over to One World Trade Center, it proves Hopper’s point that if you’re not white and male, you’re often cast aside (at best) in these industries.
In my expert opinion (I’m a semester and a half away from a B.A. in Journalism that makes me an expert right?) (this is a joke), I think the Pitchfork becoming a Condé Nast property isn’t necessarily the end of the world; media consolidation is pretty much one of the only profitable ways to do journalism in 2015. Pitchfork will most likely remain as independent as they have been and still create the quality music criticism with the pretentiousness that we have come to expect since 1996. However it’s doubtful that Santarpia is the only man with considerable power in the publishing world that believes those words. It’s a toxic and incorrect belief. Music has the power to connect different people with different backgrounds. Music has the power to give a voice to the marginalized. By describing a music publication’s target demographic as “millennial males,” it devalues the power of music that makes it so special and ignores everyone else who makes up the music community, whether they’re fans, musicians, writers or all three.
said “millennial males” three times into the mirror & a dude with an ironic tee showed up to tell me he’s a feminist who watches broad city
— doctor pilot (@pilotbacon) October 13, 2015