This isn’t the first time this has happened.
When Yahoo! Music UK closed in September 2011 it was the first time since the 1990s that my weekly commentaries on the British charts had no permanent home on the web. The interregnum was happily temporary, Bill Lamb the editor of the Top40 section of about.com offering to pay for the weekly updates to be posted on his pages. And so it has been for the past four and a half years.
For various reasons that arrangement now has to come to an end as the site re-focuses on the American market. Hence my rather oblique note at the end of this week’s piece that it is to be the last one to appear on that site. And understandably I’ve been flooded with people asking via email and social media just what happens next.
For now I don’t have a straight answer to that question. Naturally in an ideal world I’d make a flying leap to another high profile music website and be the core part of their weekly offering just as I always have. But such outlets are few and far between and even the ones that exist are struggling. Online readers have an insatiable demand for content, there are an infinite number of ways to present that content and yet the people who can adequately monetise this and make it worthwhile to even produce in the first place are minimal in number. I can pitch until I am blue in the face, but most of the time the answers will be along the lines of “sorry, I’ve just got no budget to pay for contributors”. But they can’t have me for free. I’m the only person for whom I’ll write for nothing.
I also have to question exactly what relevance I have. Once upon a time I was practically the only person offering up a weekly summary of British music movements and its impact on national culture, explaining who was heading up the charts and why. But now I’m just a secondary voice. After years of my complaining that they were not doing so, the Official Charts Company themselves engage fully with the public, running a website packed with archives, trivia and news. Plus their own weekly summary of who made Number One and why. Yes, it is a brief headline summary only, but for the casual reader that is all that is needed.
The days when I could say I was truly influential, when columns would receive visitor numbers in the tens of thousands, dwarfing most other pages on their host site, are long gone. To jump to another commercial outlet would risk succumbing to what I once branded Depeche Mode syndrome. A legacy act playing to wide acclaim to an ever-diminishing choir without ever necessarily adding new followers.
But on the other hand I’d be foolish to stop, particularly when the passion for the material and the drive to communicate that led to me popping up on usenet all those years ago. A weekly chart column is core to my own personal brand, if you will, and I’ve got a near quarter of a century legacy propping that up. I want people to buy the books I write, to consider me an authority on the history of popular music. It is the reason I’m still invited on TV and radio shows to talk after all. I have no desire any time soon to throw that away.
So the good news is I’m going nowhere, even if for the moment I have nowhere to go. There are plans in place to give James Masterton’s Chart Watch UK a brand new home and a proper showcase for both the latest chart news and perhaps 23 and a half years of archives that sit like hidden jewels on several cloud backup services.
Watch this space as they say. For now there is at least a ready made page on this site, so as of Friday 20th May you can read the latest column on the Chart Watch UK page at the top of this site. Even if I won’t receive a penny for it.