Monday, September 24, 2012

When London was a mystery and Time Out had the key

Time Out goes to free distribution this week. I wish them the best of luck. It might work. If it doesn't it's difficult to see where they go next. According to The Times, "circulation as a paid-for title had almost halved since its late-Nineties’ peak of 110,000". I suspect that if it really was selling 55,000 copies a week on the news stand they wouldn't be making this move.

I was talking about music and media at the Reeperbahn Conference in Hamburg last week. One of the things I tried to get through to a younger audience is just how the communications revolution of the last ten years has made it difficult for us to remember the world before that revolution, when there was still such a thing as scarcity.

No title benefited from that scarcity quite as much as Time Out. In the golden era of Time Out, which went from the mid-70s to the 90s, if you wanted to know what was on at your local cinema or whether that film you wanted to see was on somewhere else, you went to Time Out. If you needed the phone number of the Hammersmith Odeon box office, you went to Time Out. If you wanted to know who QPR were going to be playing at the weekend, whether you could get a ticket and where the nearest tube was, you went to Time Out. If you wanted a vegetarian restaurant in East London, you went to Time Out.

It pulled off lots of coups in terms of design and journalism but beneath the surface it operated as a sort of alternative telephone directory. That's what made it sell. I can't remember the last time I looked up a phone number on paper and called it.


  1. In the late 80s I worked at a small arts venue in rural north Devon. And, yes, we had a subscription to Time Out. It was the best guide to to what was going on in film, music and fringe theatre; half our programme was booked based upon its recommendations...

  2. In New York they had The Village Voice. I've not been for a while so don't know if it is still available in paper form. Listings magazines still exist where I live and can be found readily in pubs, bookshops, TIC's etc; they're like modern day fanzines.

  3. We were in New York in April John, Village Voice is still going - it's a freebie though. Don't know if it's always been that way

  4. No, it used to charge. It's just in the process of being sold - again - this time to a management buyout. When Time Out was at its height one magazine mogul told me that Tony Elliott used to let all the big companies buy him lunch and tell him how much they were prepared to pay for it. He never took the money but he always left the restaurant with a skip in his stride. Can't help thinking he wishes he had done.

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  6. (oops)

    Thoroughly enjoyed rewatching the excellent Six Feet Under (bear with me) but there's a scene near the end in which a doctor's immediate attention is needed, and they look up his number in the phone book. While watching a drama that in many ways feels modern, that was something of a wrench.

    As for Time Out, good luck to it – the Twitterati seem to be enjoying it this morning – but you fear for it because its main selling points, listings information and opinion, are now flung at you from all angles.

  7. Time Out also became more about consuming/shopping and less about politics and issues over the years, which marks another change in London too.