MRR RIP FAQ
(Originally published in MRR #432, May 2019)
What the hell? Why is MRR ending run as a print fanzine?
Here’s the truth: Maximum Rocknroll hasn’t been solvent as a magazine in well over a decade. In other words, we haven’t made enough money simply through doing the magazine to cover our ever-rising costs (rent, postage, printing, etc.); in fact, we’ve been operating at a stark loss. In that time, we have hustled to produce other kinds of projects that can generate revenue — e.g. the Los Crudos discography and other records, the archive project, merch, shows, etc. Through it all, all remained stubbornly committed to the monthly fanzine despite ever-increasing financial duress and frustratingly decreasing print sales. Between 2005 and 2018, revenue from the magazine nearly halved. Yet in that same time, postage, printing, and rent costs have all increased substantially. We’ve figured out every possible way to cut costs — we’ve found cheaper printers, sublet parts of the compound to renters, and reduced the print run significantly — but our yearly losses have been steep.
The numbers say it all: between 2005-2011, despite all our work to cut costs, the magazine was published at a loss of about $10,000/year on average. Between 2012–2019, that number was a loss of about $20,000/year on average. Like virtually every other print publication in the world, the print run of the magazine has also suffered in the digital age. At its height in the mid-’90s, the magazine printed about 30,000 copies a month. In the early-to- mid-2000s, we printed about 10,000–15,000/month. By 2010, that number was down to 5,000–7,000. In 2017–2018, that number has decreased to 3,000/month, with worse sell-through than ever before.
These numbers represent an ugly truth, but also in some ways a beautiful one: we’ve made things work over the past several years because punks the world over have been generous enough to donate their time, money, and art to MRR because we have all believed in the project. Los Crudos entrusted us with their discography and let us reap the rewards of their music. In the past decade, we received almost $80,000 in loans and donations. We’ve also raised funds for an ongoing archive project, which we are carrying out unabated despite the end of the print fanzine. MRR has always been a labor of love, but it was never meant to be a vanity project for only a fraction of punks around the world to be able to afford and read. With such low print runs and high costs, it is time to reimagine what Maximum Rocknroll can and should be going forward.
How the fuck did this happen?!
This decrease in MRR’s print run is the product of several factors. The utter collapse of the indie magazine distribution network, decreasing sales across print media, and the dramatic increase in postage costs (particularly international postage) have all played a part. We’re not the only print periodical to suffer over the past several years; the fact that we are one of very few such publications remaining is a testament to the difficulty of maintaining a print periodical as well as MRR’s dedication to the form.
We survived our move from Mordam distribution when they started to work with major labels in the early 2000s. We survived the collapse of Big Top Distribution, the last true indie magazine distributor in the United States in the mid-2000s. We survived the end of several large stores that sold hundreds of issues of the magazine a month. We survived the death of several punk distros. We’ve even survived the fact that the cost of one issue of MRR outside of the U.S. is now $20-25 due to postage, killing much of our international distro network (not to mention being prohibitively expensive for most punks the world over). Yet the cumulative effect of all of these changes has been deleterious for our overall financial well-being. Despite it all, we have kept plugging away, and have stayed committed to keeping the cover price and ad prices as low as possible. 2018 brought with it serious financial deterioration for the magazine; subscriber, advertising, and distribution numbers all dropped precipitously in this time. We all knew one day the end would come, yet despite this an untold number of shitworkers have put their everything into keeping the print magazine afloat. Today we face the inevitable future. We realized we must adapt or die, and we are choosing to adapt.
Why don’t we just move somewhere cheaper?
It’s no secret that the astronomical rise in rent in the post tech-boom Bay Area has had brutal effects on all kinds of subcultural projects, to say nothing of actual people who live here. Maximum Rocknroll is no exception to this rule. For the past twenty-plus years, we have been paying rent on a space in San Francisco. MRR HQ has stored our gargantuan archive, served as our base of operations (every review written in-house!), and housed most coordinators and several shitworkers alike. In the last several years, rent on MRR HQ has increased significantly. This has been the case despite our working diligently to offset costs through downsizing our space by bringing in subletters, and negotiating with a (relatively) sympathetic landlord for better terms. (We’ve actually been paying below-market value on our space because of our favorable rent agreement and through constant negotiation.) As early as the mid-2000s, some MRR coordinators started to look into a move that might help us cut costs—most likely to a space in Oakland. The reality has been that rent, especially on spaces large enough to house MRR, are rising exponentially everywhere in the Bay Area; we’ve found that we’ve been priced out of the area altogether. At best, if we moved, we could save a small fraction of what we now pay in rent, and this fraction, unfortunately, is not enough to offset our increasing losses.
Why don’t we just publish quarterly?
The catch-22 of having to pay monthly rent is that our ability to do so hinges on producing a monthly magazine. Publishing less frequently brings down our costs, but it also significantly brings down our revenue. Publishing quarterly would hurt more than help in terms of paying rent and dealing with other monthly costs.
What’s going to happen to the house and the people who live here? And what about the records?!
By the time you read this issue, MRR (and all of the people associated with it) will have moved out of the compound that we’ve called home since the mid 1990s. The MRR archive—including the record collection—is being temporarily and safely stored at an offsite location.
Are we in debt? How will we pay it back?
Happily, we’re not in debt, although this hasn’t always been the case. At various points in the past fifteen years, we’ve been tens of thousands of dollars in debt to various folks for various reasons, running the gamut from friendly no-interest loans to fucked up distributor bullshit. We’ve managed to pay back anyone to whom we’ve owed money; we’re not leaving anyone in a lurch.
I still want to be a part of MRR. Will I have the same role I had before? If my role is obsolete now, how can I participate?
We’re all pretty broken up about the end of MRR-as-we-know-it, but we’re also excited about what’s to come. We also still really need shitworkers both old and new to be part of the project. One of the exciting things about MRR going forward is that what we do in the future doesn’t have to be beholden to the past. In other words, we can create a vision for what Maximum Rocknroll should be in 2019 and beyond. To that end, if you’re based in the Bay Area we’d love for you to be part of our home crew. If you’re based outside of the Bay Area, there will be more ways than ever for you to get involved. We need people who want to help us re-imagine the project. We still need writers, editors, interviewers, columnists, and more. We’re also continuing with MRR Radio, which has been on the air since 1977. The archive project—including digitizing parts of that archive—remains a major project and will need new blood. Longtime shitworker and former distro coordinator Martin Sorrondeguy is working on a Maximum Rocknroll book, which will hopefully see the light of day soon and which needs shitworkers to get involved.
You guys fucking suck.
So you’ve been saying since 1982. Now’s as good a time as any for you to make your own fanzine (or band or website or show space or record label or book or…) and show us how much better than a bunch of politically correct record snob elitist humorless poseurs your shit can actually be.
Can we do a bunch of huge benefit shows, or something like that?
One of the open secrets at MRR is burnout; every coordinator has experienced it, to put it hastily. Those who would have the energy to put on benefits get tired of doing it. We all have jobs in addition to the work we do at MRR. At some point, nobody wants to backline this type of band-aid effort to keep afloat.
Why don’t we just become a nonprofit?
That doesn’t change the print climate of this century—although there are a lot of confounding factors that got us here, us not being a non-profit was never a huge aspect of it.