Soon enough, The Village Voice will no longer be found among the colorful distribution boxes around the city bearing the gifts of free print. The publication announced today that will stop producing the print edition of the weekly that it has offered for free since 1996.
No specific end date has yet been set.
“When The Village Voice was converted into a free weekly in an effort to boost circulation back in 1996, it was at a time when Craigslist was in its infancy, Google and Facebook weren’t yet glimmers in the eyes of their founders, and alternative weeklies—and newspapers everywhere—were still packed with classified advertising. Clearly a lot has changed since then,” said Voice owner Peter Barbey in a statement. “That business has moved online—and so has the Voice’s audience, which expects us to do what we do not just once a week, but every day, across a range of media, from words and pictures to podcasts, video, and even other forms of print publishing.”
In the absence of a print publication, the Voice also plans to focus some of its energies toward partnerships and events, like the Pride Awards it launched this year.
Barbey, whose family’s retail business fortune can be traced back to 1899, purchased the Voice in 2015, during a low point for the publication’s legacy and staff morale. The move was met with cautious optimism, but Barbey’s brief reign has also been met with some amount of criticism, particularly from staff past and present.
In June, past Voice writer penned an open letter to Barbey as he entered negotiations with union members on a contract renewal. The changes to the previous contract that management proposed included a reduction in benefits, like fewer sick days and the elimination of two weeks paid leave to care for a new child, and the elimination of the publication’s affirmative action policy.
Among the signatures on that letter were New Yorker theatre critic Hilton Als, New York Times co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis, New York magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, novelist Colson Whitehead, Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer Jen Doll and other well-known names too numerous to mention.
It makes sense. The publication started by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer has had more than six decades to build its impressive legacy.
What happens to that legacy now?
Many are mourning the end of the print publication, with some equating the end of print edition to the end of the publication itself. The Voice’s website, it should be noted, has been making audience gains, with the publication reporting a 47 percent month-over-month gain in July.
The story of the Voice today is also part of the story of the struggling alt-weekly in the general sense, a group of publications that has experienced declining circulation, ad revenue and dwindled ranks.
Barbey doesn’t see this as the end, if you go by his statement. “The most powerful thing about the Voice wasn’t that it was printed on newsprint or that it came out every week. It was that The Village Voice was alive, and that it changed in step with and reflected the times and the ever-evolving world around it,” said Barbey. “I want The Village Voice brand to represent that for a new generation of people—and for generations to come.”
But in this case, it will be action, not words, that matter.