Friday, December 15, 2023

This Mine Has Played Out: Goldmine Magazine In 2023

Bruce Springsteen on the cover of Goldmine magazine, winter 2023

I have quite a few rockcrit colleagues who write for Goldmine magazine, so I apologize in advance for stepping on any toes with this rant. Receiving and reviewing the winter 2023 issue of the long-running collectors’ zine, however, I feel that as the publication approaches its 50th anniversary, that it may be time to retire Goldmine to the old magazine resting home.

Goldmine was launched by publisher Brian Bukantis in September 1974 in the Detroit suburb of Fraser, Michigan. Bukantis’ agenda for the bi-monthly newsprint tabloid was to service the growing rock ‘n’ roll record and memorabilia collectors’ market. Early issues of Goldmine covered rock, country, blues, and soul music with artist interviews, discographies, and album reviews. One of the main features, however, were the seller’s ads, which offered albums, 45s, zines, and books by mail order from what would become a regular group of trusted sellers.

By 1977, both the magazine and the collectors’ market had grown to the point where Bukantis could take the publication monthly. I met Brian at a record convention in Detroit in 1979 and stayed in touch with him and editor John Koenig through the years. I wrote for Goldmine occasionally during the 1980s and ‘90s, and also contributed artist interviews and album reviews to similar publications like DISCoveries and Record Auction Monthly during both publication’s brief lifespans. At some point, Bukantis sold Goldmine to Krause Publications, a specialty publisher of price guides and other materials for collectors and hobbyists; it was a good fit. Krause later bought DISCoveries and folded it into Goldmine.

During its tenure as Goldmine’s owner, Krause did away with the magazine’s tabloid format in favor of a standard 8.5” x 11” magazine format largely printed on newsprint with color covers. In 2002, Krause was purchased by F+W Media, the New York City-based publisher of Writer’s Digest and other magazines. Goldmine continued more or less as it ever had, until F+W was bought out by a private equity fund, which continued expanding via purchases of other publications until F+W was saddled with debt and bought by another equity fund. The end-of-the-line came for F+W when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2019. The publisher’s assets were sold at auction, and Goldmine was bought at a discount by something called Active Interest Media (AIM), an equity fund-owned publisher of “niche enthusiast magazines.”

A year later, however, AIM dumped a number of its publications before being sold off itself. Goldmine ended up in the hands of the Project M Group, LLC which was formed in 2016 by CEO Enrique Abeyta, an investor and entrepreneur, and COO James Welch. Project M has been on a buying spree since its founding, gobbling up publications like heavy metal magazines Metal Edge and Revolver; Alternative Press magazine; and the BrooklynVegan music website. The first thing the new owners did was move Goldmine from Wisconsin to Brooklyn, and change the publication to a glossy, full-color 9” x 11” square bound format with better paper quality and ostensibly more content. With the change in appearance came an increase in the cover price, which had held at roughly $6 per month for years. Still, at ten bucks for a better zine, it was worth it…

The changes didn’t stop there, however…while the cost of an annual subscription stayed the same at $29.95, the frequency of the magazine was slowly reduced. What was once a bargain has become much less so, as the number of issues published each year dropped from twelve to six to the current quarterly publication schedule. The mail order ads, which had already dwindled to a handful of longtime advertisers, were finally eliminated altogether in favor of advertising for Goldmine’s online store. Record and book reviews were moved online and axed from the print edition altogether. Issues started featuring multiple covers, a gimmick no doubt inspired by Marvel and DC Comics’ long-standing practice of separating fans from their cash. Photos of the covers are also available to purchase and, given the email pitches that hit my in-box at least once a week, Goldmine seems more interested in selling me anything but the magazine.              

Back to the winter of 2023, and the new issue of Goldmine hit my mailbox with a thud. This issue has almost nothing that I’m interested in reading…with feature stories on Night Ranger and Foghat, the publication is touting new projects by two bands that even a lot of avid fans stopped caring about 40 years ago. There’s something on a guy that took a lot of photos of Bruce Springsteen, an excerpt from Bernie Taupin’s autobiography, and the obligatory three articles on The Beatles ‘cause they released a new song or something…for years now, Goldmine has never missed an excuse to put the Fab Four on the cover to help move some copies to its aging boomer readership. If not for Dave Thompson’s regular and welcome “Grooves” column, there’d be nothing I’d want to read.

The previous issue was similarly-vacuous and light on copy, and I blame both the magazine’s editor and the parent company. The Project M Group seems less interested in publishing a good magazine than in creating a “lifestyle” company by luring readers to the web store where you can buy records, books, t-shirts, photographs, and even stereo equipment. In the meantime, they’ve left editor Patrick Prince to continue steering the Goldmine ship. I have no beef with the editor – my infrequent dealings with Prince have been pleasant through the years, but he’s been the editorial overseer for better than ten years (2010-12 and 2015 to now) and he doesn’t seem to realize that any new music has been made since 1979.

The magazine’s editorial focus is long-past stale, and focused on a ridiculously-narrow slate of classic rock artists from the 1960s and ‘70s. Yo, Patrick, do you know what young vinyl fiends are collecting these days? Punk, new wave, and heavy metal bands from the 1980s and ‘90s! You couldn’t tell it from the last couple years of the magazine. Whereas the original Goldmine offered diverse coverage of musical genres, the current incarnation offers little beyond the same old tune, which is as tired as my arthritic knees. I love classic rock and blues music, but I get deeper coverage of bands I know and those I don’t from zines like Ugly Things, Maggot Brain, The Big Takeover, and even British music rags like Vive le Rock.

Goldmine has some talented and insightful writers on its freelance staff, folks like the aforementioned Thompson, Martin Popoff, Lee Zimmerman, Gillian Gaar, and Bill Kopp, among others, but I don’t believe that they’re being used to their full capabilities – especially since the zine has axed Zimmerman’s indie release column (a source of new music for a lot of us) along with the review section that frequently hipped readers to new music. An editorial change of course is needed, or else I don’t see Goldmine making it far beyond its 50th birthday.

Tucked in the pages of the winter issue is the publication’s circulation statement, which to the experienced reader signifies a publication in dire straits. Goldmine prints and circulates less than 6,000 copies of each issue, most of them sent to subscribers. They seem to have all but given up on newsstand circulation, which represents just a few hundred copies of each issue. This, my friends, is not a recipe for a successful regional publication, much less a magazine with a national profile. The record collecting field is wide open right now, and opportunities abound. This “mine” has played out, though, and unless Project M Group discovers a better editorial blueprint (Yo, Enrique, pick up a copy of the U.K. zine Record Collector), Goldmine will too soon wander into the publishing graveyard…


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