The House that Quincy Jones Built (and destroyed) : The Rise and Fall of VIBE Magazine
Disclaimer: This piece was originally used as an academic piece before being published into a full article. I've interned for VIBE Magazine and still work closely with some of the members there. It's all love, admiration, and respect for the "House That Quincy Built".
As a child, one of the most adventurous trips that one can take is going to the grocery store. The intended pit stop made by your parents turned into a full out expedition for any wondering child who’s interest was to play with the latest toys rather than see what items Mom needed for dinner. From personal experience, I enjoyed playing with toys at the grocery store, but the feeling of reading/scanning through magazines was second to none. The artistry of each cover had it’s own personality, the vast selection of magazines made it easier for me to pick and choose, and most of all, you’re educating yourself whether you buy the publication or not.
The magazine stand became (and still is) one of my primary places I visit when going inside of a drug store but as I grew older the stands became smaller, the vast selection of magazines began to decrease and the overall experience of reading different publications became limited. Growing up, I’ve seen magazines come and disappear. One magazine whose cultural impact was profound but abruptly exited the print business was VIBE Magazine.
From a personal standpoint, VIBE has played an instrumental role into the way I read music publications and it was the first publication to give me a chance in my career. I remember my mother and aunt introducing the magazine to me at an early age and I was mesmerized by their message behind the brand. They boasted the emergence of African-American artists and did it in a fashion where it oozed out creativity and confidence that meshed well with a sense of edginess. VIBE differed from XXL and The Source because it’s stylistic approach towards music gave it crossover appeal, even though it centered its target audience towards African-Americans. VIBE was the voice of a new generation and their work echoed throughout the industry, but where did VIBE go wrong for them to have their legacy silenced years later.
Legendary music producer, Quincy Jones created VIBE Magazine in 1993. VIBE couldn’t have come at a better time, it’s modern perspective on urban culture and it’s thick and broad print size gave readers the notion that it’s more than a magazine, they were collector’s items and they were. Their issues were made to not only to be archives, but they were timepieces. Their covers gave detail to a moment where one can reflect on how things were during that time. The overall set-up of the publication was prosperous and it showed in their advertising, and the size of their staff.
In the 8th Anniversary Juice Issue of VIBE (released in 2001), the masthead was split into two pages, one side for editorial and the other for advertising/circulation. The editorial positions ranged from Editor-in-Chief to Hollywood Correspondent to Beauty and Accessories Editor. On the sales side, they had departments from Southern California to Europe. This showed that the health of the brand was great, and it was apparent because both the content and advertising gave the issue nearly two hundred-sixty pages. At the time, VIBE was making monthly issues, so for them to deliver a hundred to two hundred pages on a monthly basis also shows how well they were doing.
The advertisements was a vital key to their success because of how many ads were being ran and how their clientele fit their readers. In this issue, there were twenty-seven pages of advertisements before seeing any editorial material from VIBE. Their clients ranged from Ralph Lauren to Target to L’Oreal. This combination of brands just shows the publications versatility to how they appeal to their readers. Also, its advertisements did use the tone of being towards African-Americans, but it didn’t limit the VIBE brand to that. It broaden its horizons and collaborated with brands that helped them crossover into mainstream society.
VIBE continued this practice into the new millennium, but as time went on you would see slight changes into their clientele, the publication size, how many times it would be published, and their mission as a brand at the moment. After a strong decade and a half, VIBE started to lose its touch and spark with readers in the late 2000s/early 2010s. What once had readers raving over what controversy was happening in the music industry was now getting pressed in other publications other than VIBE. Publications such as Complex, Fader, and XXL started to overshadowing the successes of VIBE with their continued innovation to the reader in print and online, and they gave something to readers that made them come back for more, (which VIBE lost site of.)
In the December 2012 issue of VIBE, the length of the magazine is right under a 100 pages and the feeling of the magazine just gives off the impression that “yes I have this issue from this month, but I’ll forget about it when the next issue releases.” The timelessness of the product vanished and it showed in the layout of the material. This is probably due to the compressed size of their staff at the time. The masthead is one page and it’s split into half, where you can view from both the editorial and sales sides. The positions from both angles were generalized to a limited selection of editors, publishers, contributors, and producers. The sales department also minimized to only West Coast, Detroit, East Coast, and Midwest sales. Compared to the Juice Issue mentioned before, this issue only featured 6 advertisement pages before seeing any material related to VIBE. Their international audience was no longer interested, the clientele of their advertisers worsened and it was apparent that this publication was descending.
In Winter 2014, VIBE released their last print issue and they took their magazine exclusively online. It was the end of an era, but it could’ve been prevented. According to the life cycle chart, VIBE was in the stage of “Adulthood” during its prime. It had a strong following, along with the idea of furthering music culture, and carried that attitude that we were the best, due to their creativity and edginess with their art direction. As time went on and the staff changed, so did the mission statement. They started to lose the drive to go against the grain with their covers, playing it safe with their editorial content, and they never advance their method of introducing new aspects of music to the table. Being a forefather of hip hop publications, VIBE lost it’s way in the tech age and tried to keep up in a race where they couldn’t compete. The potential that VIBE had was tremendous but it’s lack of pushing the envelope and furthering the culture hurt their chances of existence. Their influence remains prominent because of the way they made magazines into timepieces, but what hurt them was that they lost sight of that in the long run.
Magazines are just like people, as they get older they must continue to grow and advance themselves into become better. VIBE Magazine was iconic for those who remember it’s presence but the thing is that VIBE could’ve continued it’s legacy if it had the same outlook they started out with.
In loving memory and admiration, rest in peace VIBE Magazine (1993 – 2014).