Guitar World -- The Video

Welcome to a special edition of Magazine Rack, in which I will review a DVD.

Settle down, people, settle down. We're not talking about "Jackass III" or the third season of "Weeds" here. This particular DVD is a legitimate product of the magazine industry. In fact, it just might be its future.

According to an article in the business section of the May 26 New York Times (what did you do with your Memorial Day?), Guitar World magazine has shaken things up by finding a way to sell DVDs on magazine racks. Basically, the publisher wraps a DVD, a cardboard insert and an instructional booklet in plastic, so the whole thing looks like a magazine, except it costs $10. It's in this spirit of innovation and the dumbing down of America that I introduce DVDs to Magazine Rack. Who knows, maybe next week I'll review a bar fight.

Of course, music and culture magazines have long pasted DVDs or CDs inside their pages. But this package inverts the equation -- lots of DVD (about two hours) and almost no print product. The only thing magazine-like about it is the instructional booklet, which is actually just a few pages of sheet music.

No pricey paper + no whiny editorial staff = publishing Nirvana. The kicker? Since their 2005 debut, the DVDs have significantly outsold Guitar World magazine. So yeah, you can bet other publishers are taking notice.

As a decent amateur guitarist myself -- you haven't heard the first four bars of "Crazy Train" till you've heard 'em played by me -- I have learned a lot from magazines like Guitar World. As opposed to magazines like Writer's Digest, guitar pubs deliver real, actionable lessons one can use to practice his craft. They also provide tons of sheet music, which is pretty expensive stuff in the real world.

So the question is, does the DVD deliver the Guitar World experience as effectively as the print product? One would think so. After all, instructors on DVD have several advantages over those in print. One, you can hear them, which is good for the teaching of music. Also you can watch their fingers, which is a heck of a lot better than trying to interpret tiny dots on a page.

Unfortunately, the instructor on this particular DVD -- a coolly disinterested rocker dude whose qualifications include access to his mom's basement and a camcorder -- doesn't really take advantage of the visual aspect. The camera faces him directly and never changes angle, so the viewer can't actually see where his fingers are being placed; it's all just a cloud of knuckles. This is frustrating, to say the least.

It's also not clear whom this DVD is intended for. The instructor starts out by teaching the most basic chords, which leads me to believe this is for the absolute beginner. But he forges ahead too quickly to be useful to anyone without some guitar knowledge. Hence I imagine most people watch this thing with one hand on the remote, constantly freezing the action to try and see where the instructor's fingers are, essentially turning it into a magazine on TV. It's hard to really define irony, but Guitar World may have just done it.

On the upside, there really is no substitute for having sound when learning an instrument; anyone who's ever tried to learn a song he's never heard can attest to that. And a magazine can do its best to tell you what a fake harmonic is supposed to sound like, but there's no substitute to hearing it done correctly. For that I give the DVD concept a +2.

There is also no advertising on the DVD, which is nice, but it does make me wonder how they plan to make money off this thing. Solely from the $10 cover price? Why not knock it down to a more manageable $5 and throw in a few D'Addario ads? Or are they afraid a professionally produced commercial would cast a light on how amateurish the rest of this thing looks?

Which leads us to the obvious problem: there is no shortage of instructional DVDs on the market already, and I imagine some of them are quite good, with production values that far exceed what's presented here. (Honestly, I was being generous with the "mom's basement" comment. I can't imagine a decent mother who would allow her son to keep any room in her house looking like this, even if he is 40.)

So while DVDs-on-the-magazine-rack are an intriguing idea -- and they are clearly working for Guitar World so far -- I can't imagine them having much of an impact until someone puts a little more effort into them. Personally, I don't think it will be long before someone does. In the meantime, I'll take my guitar magazines -- and their jackass instructors -- on paper.

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