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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

This is the anti-Toblerone issue. It’s the opposite of making the chocolate package the same size but the contents smaller and with some of its teeth missing! This one is a few pages thinner than usual, but the feature content is actually bigger. The reason is simple – there’s a lot less advertising. December is always a difficult issue, and recent downturns in the general economy aren’t helping. Next month – the Critics Poll issue – I imagine it will be back to the familiar size.

Visiting English Folk Expo, it was nice to hear people from the hard-working core of the folk ‘industry’ making a point of saying that they couldn’t imagine what it would be like without our constant help and enthusiasm, filtering and spotting and promoting all the good stuff that would otherwise be lost among general info overload. And the grateful artists who told us that we were the only place who’d reviewed their record and played it on fRoots Radio, and what would they do without us? It’s lovely to hear how much our efforts are recognised and appreciated. 38 years and rising!

However, I was also more than a little annoyed by a stream of people in the preceding week asking if they could put their features on line for free (or worse, doing it without asking), or wanting a free copy so they could use a review. None of these were people who had ever supported us with advertising, and clearly it didn’t occur to them that they could buy – or encourage others to buy – a copy. Then there was the band to whom we’d given a big introductory feature which secured them an agent and subsequent tour, who then proceeded to advertise that tour in another magazine using a photo from their fRoots shoot – but not with us… Head, desk.

Our unique, specialised, small-scale and very human folk and roots music community has always been a musical eco-system where every part depends on the others or it all falls over. We are always supporting artists, labels and promoters, and many appreciate this; anyway, advertising to such a targeted audience as our readership also has its own rewards. (“My partner hates you,” somebody told me at a recent gig. “Every time an issue comes out I go and buy more CDs!”)

But right now there’s less coverage for this music in the mainstream than there has been this century. And even within our sphere it’s slowly decreasing: for example Mike Harding just stopped his post-BBC podcast and France’s Trad mag just closed. Drip, drip. Oh, but look – Facebook are altering their algorithms so that soon only paid posts from musician’s pages will show up in feeds. Fancy that. ‘Free’ becoming a mirage.

What is clear is that fRoots urgently needs a new model that’s fit for purpose, especially financially (because we’re always in a big, energy-sapping hole). Plans are evolving to ensure fRoots can continue as this vital physical resource and catalyst for the whole scene, but in better shape under a refreshed team (yes, I want to retire and hand the reins to others). Our online appeal to readers is still running, but expect a major public crowdfunding campaign to kick in this month to achieve this. Whatever support everybody can give in spreading the word will be really vital. It’s not just for us…

Ian Anderson

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