After years of falling sales amidst online competition, London’s first and best city guide, Time Out, finally switched to being a printed freesheet this week. The original Time Out magazine, with all kinds of listings for London including protests under ‘Agitprop’, was first published in 1968 by Tony Elliott, and had a print run of around 5,000. It offered advice on teen pregnancy, coping alone, racism, loneliness, sexual health and many other topics affecting young Londoners.
It had begun as an alternative magazine sitting beside underground press titles in the UK, but by 1980 it had dumped its original collective decision-making structure and its commitment to equal pay for all workers, leading to the foundation of a competing magazine by former staffers, City Limits, which was pretty dreadful and mercifully died.
As Time Out’s former radicalism vanished, it settled down as the most complete guide to events in London ever assembled, keeping track of the hundreds of fringe shows, galleries, gigs and happenings that occurred in the city every week. Finally, though, it dumbed down further, losing most of its good writers to become a celebrity-driven shopping-and-shagging mag, concentrating on expanding the brand worldwide.
The last stage in the ignominious collapse of the London edition has been the new free version, which is – to put it bluntly – utterly shit. The new paper is a fraction of its former size, with snippets of dated gossip, celebrity trivia and a handful of reviews dotted around adverts in ugly layouts that appear to have been designed by inexperienced ADD-afflicted teens. Now it will be handed out at stations with all the other PR mags.
I was in one of Time Out’s very first letters pages, and was in the final one last week – in between I wrote a column for the magazine for five years. Some of the individual sections had erudite, original thinkers producing genuinely innovative articles. It’s truly the end of an era that saw a decline in TO’s often brilliant journalism to its nadir as a PR-driven giveaway containing virtually no real journalism. Worst of all, there are no listings for London. So what’s the point of it even existing?
RIP TO – a great shame, and a shameful waste.