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Bob Guccione Jr. Returns To 'Spin' Magazine, 'Hungers For The Day' Of Social Media Attacks

Bob Guccione Jr. this year returned to Spin -- the music magazine he founded in 1985 to shake up music journalism -- as a creative adviser. Publishing Insider recently caught up with him to hear his thoughts about Spin's 35thanniversary, and how to reinvent the publication as music fans follow their favorite artists on social media, while streaming algorithms replace radio for music discovery.

Guccione in 1997 sold his interest in Spin, which has changed hands several times since then. It stopped running a print version in 2012 as audiences shifted to digital media, and carried on as a webzine. Private-equity firm Next Management Partners this year boughtSpin from Billboard-The Hollywood Reporter Media Group with a plan to revive the brand.

Meanwhile, Guccione has pursued a variety of publishing ventures. In 2017, he started the website Wonderlust to enliven travel writing in the same way he sought to jolt music and culture coverage with the launch of Spin. As the founder of a magazine that took aim at market leader Rolling Stone, which had evolved from counterculture roots into the commercial mainstream, Guccione has a long history as a disruptor.

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Publishing Insider: Now that you've been back at Spin for about six months, this time as a creative adviser, you've already made an imprint by redesigning the website with a cleaner layout for its 35th anniversary. How did those changes come about?

Bob Guccione Jr.: I redesigned the site that was inherited from Billboard, which was a messy, unattractive blog format. I said, "It has to have energy and excitement and sexiness and all the heat that you want in pop culture." It not only has to have the energy that we once had, but it also has to apply to modern culture. You can't just try to repeat what we did 30 to 35 years ago. And Jimmy Hutcheson [CEO of Spin owner Next Management] agreed with that, which is why he brought me in.

PI: When Spin was founded, music magazines were a main intermediary between performers and their fans. Hasn't that gatekeeper role been diminished when fans can follow their favorite artists on social media?

Guccione:This is something that I brought up early on to Jimmy. I said, "You have to understand, today we're competing with the subjects we cover." Every artist -- major to minor -- is a media company. They have an Instagram media platform plus other social media that number in the millions and even tens of millions of followers. Most meaningful artists' Instagram accounts are bigger than just about anything any print magazine ever achieved.

What's always been the role of good media that works is to be a sensitive curator. By sensitive, I mean able to sniff out a great story, a great narrative, great commentary, something that illuminates an artist or a subject. Fans want to know what other people qualified to comment think. You want to read what somebody thinks about the thing you like.

PI: Where does Spin fit in?

Guccione: Let's not compete in a battle we cannot win. Let's get back to the legacy of great journalism at Spin where writers had their own opinions. Opinions that weren't shaped by the marketing needs of the record label. We were constantly being bashed by labels. They'd call up and scream at us. And I said, "You know what? We don't work for you. We work for the readers." That has to return, and this is true for all digital media.

The modern media has shifted to where the subjects actually are their own voice amplifiers. Artists who have Instagram accounts with 10 million followers know it's a significant business that has to be run like a business.

I'm trying to help Spin shift back to great journalism, reporting, commentary, irreverence — I want to bring irreverence back — and humor about the culture that's our fingerprint, rather than copy the fingerprint of the artist who's broadcasting their own information.

PI: What about "cancel culture" and boycott movements that appear almost overnight on social media? Can Spin still be edgy and provocative?

Guccione:I'm hungering for the day when social media attacks us. There is no clearer indication that we're not doing our job if we're not pissing people off.

I once gave a talk at the Folio Show in New York in which I discussed how I used to get death threats. I laughed at them. I was young, and I was, well, stupid. But I said in the speech that I missed that. In those days, it meant the journalism was important enough for people to care that much. That's what we should be doing now, though I'm not looking for death threats. I'm 65 now, and just got Medicare. I don't want to die, and you can quote me on that.

The reason the media is so dull, including the way it was at Spin a year ago, is because everyone is so scared of the cancel culture. I used to get calls to boycott Spin from religious right groups. And I used to say, "Well, that's entirely your prerogative, but two things: one, almost nobody in your audience even knows that Spin exists; number two, after you say that, everyone will know that Spin exists and a lot of them will be intrigued. So, please do it!"

PI: With many emerging artists sharing music tracks on platforms like SoundCloud or Spotify, what are your thoughts on discovering new talent, keeping pace with the culture and identifying trends?

Guccione: It's vital. For 10 years, Spin has been irrelevant, but the wonderful thing about media is that it's changeable. A lot of people don't realize that. It takes work, it takes effort, it takes inspiration, but it's all changeable. To become relevant, you have to have a personality. You have to have the courage to go out there and cover the culture honestly.

Part of Spin's DNA had always been discovering new artists. It's not like we had a scouting network, like we were a baseball team and finding all these great players. It was that we were open to suggestions. With new artists, that is definitely part of what we're going to do. The phrase that I like to use is: "Open the aperture."

The artist that we just put on the site is called UPSAHL. She's 20 years old, very good, very driven -- she's great -- but she didn't show up on the radar of Spin. I assigned a writer who did a great interview, and it reminded me of the early days of when we did a great interview with a young, ambitious, sexy woman called Madonna. She wasn't completely unknown, but nobody knew she was going to be the biggest thing in the world. And it's just being open to somebody's story. I want to do more of this, because it's a way of becoming relevant again.

Editor's note: This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

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