Schwann Inside Shifts Focus



As of the November 2001 issue, Schwann Inside Classical and Jazz will be taken off the newsstands and distributed exclusively to music retailers. After 14 monthly issues as a consumer publication offering in-depth coverage of both the jazz and classical-music worlds, Inside will be redirected to take on a merchant focus. Publisher Ali Crawford says “new editorial content will be designed to help retailers make purchasing decisions and assist their customers in choosing classical and jazz music selections.”

The move is the latest change at Schwann since it was acquired by Valley Media in 1996. Since then, Schwann Opus, a guide to classical composers; Schwann Spectrum, a guide to popular music; and SchwannArtist, a guide to classical performers have all gone from quarterly to annual publication. In addition, Schwann launched the annual Schwann Popular and the bimonthly Schwann DVD Advance. Schwann also offers an online database of all musical recordings available in the U.S.

Valley Media, principally a distributor of audio and video home entertainment products, has been experiencing financial difficulties of late. It was nearly delisted by Nasdaq last spring and posted a net loss of $29,500,000 at the close of the last fiscal year. As a result, Schwann had been operating under a hiring freeze. However, Dan Ouellette, jazz editor at Schwann Inside, says the decision to restructure the publication itself came out of the blue. “We were assured the whole way along that Schwann Inside was something that people really liked at the top management. It was a publication that was growing, the content was good, the art direction was getting better…the whole concept for the magazine was getting better and we were getting very positive feedback.”

Financially, the publication was also doing well according to Ouellette, with each issue either breaking even or turning a small profit. Remarkable given the niche magazine was just out of its first year. That profit level may even rise after the restructuring, but Ouellette points out that in the scope of Valley Media, it will be a mere “drop in the bucket.”

Lew Garrett is the Executive Vice President at Valley Media to whom Schwann ultimately reports. He reiterates that the magazine was never in any financial trouble. “The publication has always done well,” he says. But all the same Valley Media made the decision to shift its focus. “Sometimes you have to position publications just a little differently to reach the intended target audience, and we felt we had a better target audience with the trade than with the consumers. The issue was simply how much appetite did we have to nurture it to the point where we felt it would be a home run. It was gaining acceptance, but we think we have a little faster track to our ultimate goal of the kind of publication that we were looking for in the first place I guess.”

Pleading pressing deadlines, classical editor Ted Libbey was unable to comment on the situation for this story, however Ouellette characterized the announcement as “especially upsetting” since he and Libbey had worked so closely on developing the concept for the magazine and “had a vision for the future of this magazine which was cut off.” Furthermore, they were informed of the decision during a planning conference call for what turns out will be the final consumer issue in October, so there was no opportunity for the editors to be involved in any sort of strategizing for the magazine’s future.

Garrett says the shift “had its genesis over the past several months,” and explains: “We just felt that was a more accurate description of what the magazine was really turning out to be. That was just a reaction to the marketplace.”

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it,” Ouellette says. “I can tell you for a fact that if they do have editorial content, it won’t be anything close to what Ted Libbey and I were able to do with the kind of writers we had.” Garrett says the makeup of the new editorial content is still being ironed out.

Despite the unlikely pairing of the classical and jazz fields, Ouellette found that people were beginning to notice what was happening at the magazine. He admits that even he wasn’t convinced at first that the magazine’s concept would work. Along the way, though, he found that people were usually intrigued. “There’s a marriage there that has really intrigued a lot of people, so I think it was of value and I think we were doing a good thing to try and make those connections.”

“We could have only gotten better,” Ouellette laments. “Not enough people knew about Schwann Inside to make as big a difference as it could have, but then again we were just a burgeoning magazine trying to get on the radar screen.”