Massive Shake-up at Billboard Magazine; Top Editor Fired…

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Billboard’s been around for more than 100 years, but that storied pedigree isn’t paying the bills anymore.

Which is why a major shakeup is afoot: as of today, Billboard owner Guggenheim Partners has fired editorial director Bill Werde, with Hollywood Reporter boss Janice Min taking over.  As part of the shake-up, Ross Levinsohn will no longer be managing a suite of Guggenheim publications that include the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

“The company has decided to move the brand in a more consumer-focused direction, and Janice Min has proven herself excellent at this approach to trade journalism.”

In a note to Digital Music News, Werde confirmed the departure and pointed to some serious changes ahead.  “It’s been a rewarding eight-year run for me at Billboard—five+ as editorial director,” Werde emailed.  “I’m first and foremost proud of the team we’ve built and the growth we’ve shown.  And it’s been an amazing seat from which to watch the entertainment business evolve.  The company has decided to move the brand in a more consumer-focused direction, and Janice Min has proven herself excellent at this approach to trade journalism.  Guggenheim Digital has expressed interest in me working to develop some new ideas within their framework of companies, and I look forward to applying an entrepreneurial approach to the entertainment and media realms.”

Sources to Digital Music News had been pointing to instability around Werde for years, and Billboard itself has resembled a warzone of layoffs and battered morale at times.  In that environment, Werde was rumored to be actively seeking a new gig (something he angrily denied to Digital Music News), though ongoing profitability challenges, waning subscribers and slipping relevance seem to have ultimately forced the dismissal.

The numbers are weak and eroding.  In a post Wednesday morning, the New York Times pointed to a modest paying subscriber base of around 16,500, citing BPA Worldwide stats (that’s down from 40,000-something in the 90s).  The Hollywood Reporter, face-lifted by Min, has a subscriber base in 70,000-range, though that number isn’t producing a profit.

Werde is well-liked in the traditional music business, but maybe that’s the problem, especially in such a brutally disrupted and quickly-changing industry.  Then there’s the very annoying issue of publications like Hypebot and yours truly, Digital Music News.  Both are scrappy, far smaller pubs that have been leading important music industry debates and punching well above their weight for years, with Billboard assuming a distanced, stodgy, and old-school-friendly stance.  Perhaps Billboard’s decision to relentlessly cheerlead big labels and established executives has pushed the publication into a state of semi-relevance, a predictable result for a safe, neutered, and risk-averse editorial approach.

16 Responses

  1. Jim Bob Forskin

    He had terrible taste and was a clueless corporate drone. The reporting on Billboard Biz is brain dead. It is all a reflection of how brain dead the ruling class is in what is left of the old school.

  2. guest

    industry friendly is right. His last article about the grammys was a prime example

  3. Spoken X Digital Media Group

    Just tally up the consolidated leverage across the spectrum and administer unprecedented financial and emotional destruction for generations to come. . .

  4. Yves Villeneuve

    I don’t know if he was behind it but Billboard was/is predominantly in favour of anything R&B related. Not to forget its past attempt to eliminate Rock from their music genre sales categories for a year or more.

  5. guest

    Arrogant beyond belief. Couldn’t happen to a better person.

  6. Anonymous

    “Then there’s the very annoying issue of publications like Hypebot and yours truly”

    I wouldn’t mention Hypebot in this context; I find it slow and closed and boring beyond belief, not unlike Billboard.’s Music Business Articles, on the other hand, is fast and often pretty furious (it’s a bunch of news links, primarily posted by an anti-pirate and a pro-pirate, kapow…).

    That and DMN is a nice combination.

      • The Other White Anonymous

        Gearslutz is unreadable. The writing could be Pulitzer-ready but the formatting is nauseatingly BBS.

        • Anonymous

          Wait… you can not read the most popular musician’s site in the universe, but you can read Digital Music News though it repeatedly violates every single typographic law known to man? 🙂

  7. Jean B.

    Please Paul just stop posting made up spin click bait stories sent to you by Jeff Price about his wanna be clone startup that he convince u is somehow actually relevant “news” and this won’t happen to DMN too. It true Billboard is basically People magazine these days w/ no real substance. Stay away from the J. Price trap and you won’t share this fate in the long run my man .

  8. Danwriter

    “…I look forward to applying an entrepreneurial approach to the entertainment and media realms.” Translation: “I’m going freelance.” Welcome aboard. Sharpen your knife.

  9. Anonymous

    Old school boys club quickly coming to a close….see: HITS Magazine.

  10. stephen Aristei

    I believe that the mag started going down hill when it stopped looking like a trade rag and started trying to look like US & People Mag…….If they wanted to mag to be taken seriously they would first stop making it look like a “consumer/press release oriented rag”…..Then get serious and in-depth on their reporting or simply be a “trade press and hype rag, like Cashbox and Record World became…….But to focus on “consumers” more? This will kill it even faster. It is as if they are leaning on that MTV- Everyone can be a rock star mentality that permeates our industry today and has helped dismantle all the “buffers” that made it a “trade” and a business. Isn’t this akin to MySpace, re-designing itself – the result of which was the creation of one of the must confusing and useless sites of the world? I miss having a relevant trade…..but I am hoping that as Billboard continues to shoot itself in the foot, and bleed to death that the “Digital Music News”, will become the next “real industry trade” that earns and demands “creditability”! This dumb move on the part of Billboard should inspire Digital Music News to start moving forward, taking from the past that worked and forgetting all of this “stylized crap” that catches the eye of the “wannabees” !

  11. Ysen Jin

    Paul, you have a fine publication – but let’s back off the “scrappy indie drove Billboard down” thing, as quite frankly, that’s insane. The thing that drove down Billboard is the (lack of) music BUSINESS. There are no opportunities because there is no place for the “professional” musician anymore. They can’t earn enough to pay the car payment, let alone make a living. With the new networks that do not adhere to the royalty system, with theft more prevalent than ever, with millions of untrained musicians and artists who have music software and think they are “ready”, there is simply no reason to think music can still be a “profession”. A true performer can still find a club gig (that used to be the place one started); but there is no music “business” that has anything to do with music or creativity any longer, hence no magazine that charts it. You CAN still go by the old rule, to make a million bucks in music (start with 5M).

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Please don’t dismantle my narrative. I helps me get up in the morning 😉