Big Punisher the rap singer famously weighed 700 pounds at the time of his untimely passing several centuries ago. This achievement, unequaled by rappers of his time or since then, made true the statement that this onetime government-named Christopher Rios had more heart than would-be rivals in the game because it later was revealed that his heart was three times the size of a normal human’s, a Grinch-like feat that alongside his body of work enshrined eternally Big Punisher’s non-player status.
Would Transworld Skateboarding have enjoyed similar canonization had the Tracker-birthed publication evaporated at the height of its Sears-catalogue engorgement? The future of the past unoccurred is but a shadow out of time and a colour out of space. However, a confluence of worldwide economic tightenings, growths within internet page browsing, and the collective lines of ethernet speed snorted by Youtube uploaders, hard/softgood manufacturers and Pro Spotlight-eligible pros themselves seems over the past decade to have exacted a fleshy toll upon the World’s Number One Skateboard Magazine*.
TWS has hovered slightly above the 100-page mark in recent months, roughly same for The Skateboard Mag. Days when colourful and pro-endorsed hair gels and the dairy industry trade group balled for position alongside Baker boards and decades-old urethane concerns seem to have faded, with some choosing instead to pursue unique clicks and views on Quartersnacks.com and the Slap message-boards, while a new vanguard of more-virtual board outfits slings merchandise straight off white-labeled web blog platforms. It is a departure from the heady days of 2003, when TWS’ 20th anniversary issue boasted four different covers enveloping 408 pages; ads for Seek, Artafact, Germ and Fuze; two separate spreads featuring Toan Nguyen and one with Anthony Pappalardo backside tailsliding a hubba.
In recent weeks, Palace made several ripples for having an ad in TWS at all — which when you think about it is an uneasy look, re: one of the better-selling (and better-conceived) board companies of the day sort of deigning to show up at the party. Elsewhere, magazine ads taken out by Supreme and Fucking Awesome similarly have been seen as a novelty. While the remaining big three mags experiment with placing print content online in various forms, recent jumps from print to digital for Skateboarder and Slap ominously withered on the vine.
Worse, print publications increasingly appear locked in a slow-burning battle against a posse of nimbler websites able to post clickbaitable content willy-nilly without regard for print deadlines, touring schedules and the lassoing of press-ready adverts. In a broadening competition for the thumb-scrolling consumer of skate-related text blocs, this corner of the pasture has earned some coups: Jamie Thomas last month confirmed to Jenkem Mag recent rumors that Zero and Fallen would move to Dwindle, about a week after the site put up a thoughtful interview with recently-out photog Sam Maguire and a few months after they got Paul Rodriguez to run down the model for his board company. EXPN.com some months back interviewed Ty Evans on his post-Crailtap plans and earlier this month got Chris Cole on the record about quitting Zero (though without bothering to call him on press-release linguistic exercises or his statements to the contrary a few months ago).
Transworld the other day did land Habitat treehugger-in-chief Joe Castrucci on the company’s future with a heartwarming video to boot, though Jenkem the same day posted an interview with rider-wrangler Brennan Conroy that featured a shade more industry laundry aired.
The websites do not offer products for sale to coax revenue from lucrative zones such as airport bookstores and the remaining Barnes & Nobles. But they seemingly hold an advantage in being able to regularly crank out buzz/worthy list items. They’re also able to occasionally capitalize on the print mags’ own content, such as Nyjah Huston’s comments regarding girls and skating, which subsequently were walked back. They can freely post up more-lengthy items that don’t readily lend themselves to photo-powered features, like Muckmouth’s endlessly entertaining and entertainingly endless ‘Back in the Spotlight’ series and Jenkem’s Big Brother-worthy interview with ‘Tyler’ the skated-in sock enthusiast, or the more meditative feature on Tony DaSilva’s post-Foundation pursuits.
TWS and TSM and Thrasher could move similarly and sometimes do; witness Transworld’s own recent scoop, catching up with a fresh-out messageboard darling Jereme Rogers. You’d imagine though that they’re more constrained with the machinations of producing an actual physical product every four weeks, the expenses that go alongside supporting staff photographers, designers, writers and ad-sales officials. It has rightly been said that print magazines’ role these days includes some gatekeeping, and that a photo or interview in a magazine means more and lingers longer in the collective consciousness, and they have maintained as the de-facto locales for hosting and posting serious ‘internet’ video parts. But one worries how long this persists when the every-four-years generational shift skews more and more toward informing itself via mobile phones and whatever vaporous, cloud-infused technology may lurk just over these brave and binary horizons, for instance a floating monocle that allows the wearer to surf a web and look at his or her phone through the other/opposite eye.
Thrasher remains relatively fat and seems kind of insulated to all of this, having harnessed its SOTY award as a magnet for exclusive campaigner video parts, shifting KOTR toward a WWW serial and generally tethering its fortunes to the same winds of extreme whimsy that have lifted the boats and market shares of Anti-Hero, Independent, Spitfire and Vans over the past half-decade. For better or worse, how many TWS or TSM logo shirts do you see on dudes outside the page that bears the subscriber postcards?
What does the ‘culture’ if it can still so be called lose without mags of record, available to impressionable groms as they wander their junior-high libraries and kill time while their moms peruse supermarkets? As the multinational footwear vacuums of Nike, Adidas and Converse briskly hoover up teamriders, should we similarly consider the vision of a future centered upon one or two print mags and a host of bootstrap-pulling, internet-based contenders? How have the dwindling number of skate magazine pages affected the photographer ranks, and will an honest living be makeable should the pendulum of publication shift squarely to the internet? How much do the board/shoe/etc companies themselves, nudging their teamriders toward cultivating flighty Instagram followings, bear responsibility for shifting eyeballs away from the printed page?
*Billed more recently as ‘Skateboarding’s Finest’