diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Today after 54 years of publication the last copy of Time Out magazine hits the streets.

It's unfortunate timing, given today sees the worst rail/tube strike in decades so there'll only be a fraction of the usual audience to pick up a copy. Fortunately it's possible to download the magazine for free these days, should you know where to look, so you can grab yourself a complete souvenir pdf wherever you may be and keep all 88 pages for posterity.

It's a hefty magazine for a freebie and they haven't skimped on content for the final issue, nor let it get too downbeat. The theme of the features near the front of the magazine is the future of London, with an emphasis on people rather than predictions, and after that come all the usual listy bits. If you'd actually seen a copy recently you might have some idea what those usual listy bits are.

The first edition of Time Out (12th Aug - 2nd Sep 1968) was a lo-fi A5 pamphlet with a cover price of one shilling. It kicked off with three buildings worth visiting (The Royal College of Physicians, St Pancras station and the Monument) and very brief lists of book and record shops. It included subject headings that would linger through the years (Jazz, Ballet, Theatre, Cinemas, Exhibitions) but also some wonderfully niche topics that didn't (Lectures, Puppets, Marches, BLUEish films). The first restaurant in the Food category was The Stockpot in Hogarth Place which was offering kidneys in red wine for 4/6d. Groups to see at London gigs included Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Marmalade and Free. The London Museum at Kensington Palace was hosting an exhibition called 100 Years Of Jigsaw Puzzles. The Classic cinema in Stockwell intended to screen three days of Ronald Reagan B Movies. Issue One is a wonderful snapshot of its time, well deserving of nostalgic scrutiny, and you can see the whole thing on the Time Out website.

But times change, so not only does Time Out no longer need to list late night chemists in Bayswater, it no longer needs to exist at all.

The first big stutter came in 2012 when Time Out switched from a paid-for magazine to a skimpier freesheet. People simply weren't stumping up the £3.25 cover price for information they could find online, however good the articles at the front, so it became a handout with a much wider circulation paid for mainly by advertising. A lot of sections were lost or slimmed down in the changeover, and the writing style became chattier with an emphasis on small easy-to-read gobbets rather than full-on listings. The pandemic twice put the magazine on hiatus, lockdown having destroyed its raison d'être, and most recently publication has slipped to fortnightly with the penultimate edition dated June 7-20. Issue Number 2631 is simply labelled 23 June 2022.

They've got the Mayor to be the last guest columnist, which is a smart move because you can actually imagine Sadiq buying a weekly copy back in the day. The final street to be placed under focus is Kingsland Road E8, confirming that Dalston stayed hip and trendy to the end. The big feature on "a fresh generation of activists, artists and partystarters" is fundamentally diverse. A spread on beavers, water voles and rewilding is interleaved with a pair of adverts for Sainsbury's. In the centre, in what might once have been deemed a pull-out section, is a 16 page Summer Ideas special sponsored by a taxi app. The word count remains high enough to fill a journey. And the very final review on the very last page is a thumbs up for a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant in Leyton, which seems an entirely appropriate way to bow out.

Because I've analysed several copies of Time Out I can bring you this table showing how the magazine's content has evolved over the last 15 years. It includes a 2007 edition I wrote an article for, the two editions either side of the paid for/freebie divide and also the final issue out today.

12 Sep 2007

196pp, £2.80
20 Sep 2012

124pp, £3.25
25 Sep 2012

80pp, free
23 Jun 2022

88pp, free
Intro stuff19 pages15 pages8 pages15 pages
Things To Do9½ pages5½ pages4 pages5 pages
Film17 pages12½ pages4 pages3 pages
Food & Drink8 pages3½ pages2½ pages3 pages
Art5 pages4½ pages3 pages3 pages
Theatre/Dance12 pages10½ pages3 pages3 pages
Music11 pages9 pages4½ pagesnil
Classical3 pages3 pages½ pagenil
Clubs/Cabaret7½ pages5½ pages3 pagesnil
Comedy3 pages4½ pages2 pagesnil
LGBT2 pages1 page1 pagenil
Shopping9½ pages5 pages2½ pagesnil
Time In/TV18 pages8 pages2 pagesnil
Books2½ pages1½ pagesnilnil
Classified9 pages2 pagesnilnil
Sport/Health5 pagesnilnilnil
Travelnilnilnil4 pages
Adverts55pp (28%)38pp (31%)29pp (36%)32pp (36%)

The ongoing theme here is of decreasing breadth and general thinning out. This was always a likely outcome when the number of pages halved, but the number of separate sections has also imploded over the years. Classified ads and book reviews didn't survive the change to freesheet and neither did TV listings, a cause for which Time Out fought so defiantly in the 1980s. The need for theatre and film listings faded away once we could all find out what was on where without printed assistance, and concerts, clubs and comedy nights have gone much the same way since.

Meanwhile 'Travel' is the one category that's gone in entirely the opposite direction as Time Out has increasingly encouraged us to leave London, often to another city or country they now have a base in. Urging readers to take a sleeper train or fly to Costa Rica brings in a bigger slice of advertising revenue than directing folk to a comedy night in Ealing. I should add that not all of the 'nil' categories are entirely absent, for example this week's Things To Do section includes a full page of Pride events and the summer pullout has two pages on music festivals. But Time Out hasn't been attempting to be definitive for years, merely 'curating' a few things in a few categories in the hope they tickle your fancy.

The writing style's changed too, and not for the better.
You like Time Out? Of course you do. You adore the way we sort the wheat from the London chaff, rising above the noise and hype to recommend and highlight only the tastiest dishes, crispest pints, weirdest (in a good way) exhibitions and, uh, least-boring plays. Our jokes amuse and delight you. Your friends consider you clued up about culture, trends and vibes because you frequently pass off our opinions as your own. And we’re fine with that. Really.
Time Out London will continue to generate content after its physical presence expires but you'll need to consume it in different ways. This week sees the launch of a daily Time Out email newsletter which they hope you'll sign up for, allowing them to fire leisure nuggets and sponsored content into your inbox on a regular basis. There's also a full page advert in the final magazine inviting you to look out for 'Time Out's first digital cover' on Instagram next week, although this sounds like a limp excuse to get you to click through onto their website, where of course the dripfeed of events-based news will continue. I note that a lot of the content on Time Out's Instagram account appears to be either froth or clickbait, sometimes both, and I fear this may be the ongoing direction of travel.

As Londoners' time out has changed over the decades, so Time Out has changed too. The latest generation to be out on the town no longer wants a pint, a film and a gig, it wants food, an experience and something shareable, and is perfectly happy to get its stream of leisure ideas onscreen. So as the printed magazine vanishes into a cloud of digital content, best remember how good it used to be and give thanks for all the marvellous things Time Out directed us to over past decades which otherwise we'd have totally missed.

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