diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 01, 2009

I did something unusual at the news-stand on the way home from work. I didn't buy a copy of Time Out magazine. I have done almost every week for the last umpteen months, but this week I thought I'd give it a miss. And am I missing it? Not yet.

Time Out's been evolving lately. They moved all the food and shopping chunks nearer the front, which is great if you like boutiques and burritos, but I don't. They started a sports section a while back, including a bike bit, but now they've cancelled it. They slimmed down the letters page to a Twitter-length parody of itself. They removed the splendid "Big Smoke" section altogether, the front bit that used to have all the quirky London stuff, and shoved it onto the internet as a web-only exclusive. And they cut the total number of pages in the magazine, down to about three quarters of what it used to be, which is a cunning way of raising profit without raising the cover price.

The magazine still provides a fine summary of arty openings, comedy nights, clubbing venues, film times, gigs (especially gigs) and theatre reviews. But I don't do a lot of that sort of thing, and £2.99 a week every week is a lot of money just to find out the details of stuff I don't really do. Plus it's all available online, innit, for free. Arty openings, comedy nights, clubbing venues, film times, gigs (especially gigs) and theatre reviews. OK, so the web doesn't provide the detail or convenience that the printed page affords, but I reckon that's a price worth paying for not paying a price.

One of the main reasons I carried on buying Time Out for so long was for page 36. There (or thereabouts) (in the About Town section) was a weekly list of London 'events', some of which I might otherwise have missed. If there was ever a "Barnet Kite Fair", or a "Covent Garden Sausage Challenge" or a "Mayor of London's 4×4 Festival", this is where it would have been listed. And I much prefer a printed list of events to an impenetrable online database, because I can scan for what interests me rather than having to delve in search of hidden treasures. But for £2.99 a week, nah, I'll take my chances with the free website...
A quick review of Time Out's Around Town online events database: The front page has a useful selection of imminent highlights and weekend what's-ons, which is good. There's a list of "most viewed" events (which is surely rigged, because there's a More London event in the top 5 every single bloody week). Crucially, what happens if I use the search engine to find events happening this Saturday? Aha, there are a manageable 29 to look through (which is tons more useful than the bloated list that the Visit London website churns up). And Time Out's "ends on" date is a nice touch for winnowing out the special from the regular. But some of the "ends on" dates are completely spurious - for example the National Theatre Backstage Tours definitely don't end on "Sep 29 2010", it's just that the Time Out database insists on inventing an end date. Most importantly, are any of the 29 events on this list events that I'd never have spotted otherwise and would really like to attend? Er, no. Ah well.
Time Out's recent modifications are at the instigation of new editor Mark Frith, ex of Heat magazine, who wants to boost circulation by making the magazine more popular. He's keen to edge deeper into the more-profitable mainstream, and this means pepping up the listings with a few more bulky features, top columnists and celebrity-focused interviews. "I don't want people buying the magazine just because it tells them what's on at the cinema at the weekend," he says. "I want it to be their favourite magazine." For some Londoners, perhaps, nu-Time-Out might be exactly that. But I fear Mark's going to need to find a new reader to replace me, because I think I'm taking Time Off.

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