Covid-19 brings a halt to the the publication of Total Tattoo. Yayo investigates.
Total Tattoo was one of the UK’s biggest and most respected tattoo magazines. Now it has halted publication; a victim of Covid-19. But with tattoo magazines on the decline and paper publishing in crisis can it ever be resurrected? Yayo sent out former Total Tattoo contributor Matt Haddon-Reichardt to find out if the magazine is as dead as a dodo or if it can rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
On the 24th March Total Tattoo made this very sad announcement on Facebook:
“TOTAL TATTOO UPDATE!! TOTAL TATTOO UPDATE!!
Due to the recent situation with shops closing and the entire country in lock down we have been forced to take the drastic decision to suspend production of Total Tattoo magazine until further notice - something we never thought we would have to do in our entire 16 years of publishing. We understand that this may be disappointing for many of our loyal readers, but any subscriptions will be carried forward and we will endeavour to fulfil any orders by post. The current issue will remain on the shelves for one more month and both current and previous issues are available to download from https://pocketmags.com/total-tattoo-magazine.
We sincerely hope you are all safe and well. Hopefully this will be for a very short time, as we are heartbroken over this decision and cannot wait to get back to what we love doing as soon as possible!”
One of the finest tattoo magazines I have ever had the privilege of working for, has succumbed to the economic pressures of Covid-19. Many industries and business have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak but tattooing has particularly suffered. After all tattooing cannot offer home deliveries, virtual tattoos or operate while sticking to social distancing rules.
If anything it is perhaps the tattoo magazines that are best suited to keep working during the outbreak. After all they can be delivered by mail, sold in supermarkets and be bought in digital format. But print publication has been suffering for years. With the rise of social media and the move to the primary source of information and entertainment being the internet people just aren’t buying magazines. While many seasoned tattooists love a magazine many younger tattoo artists and collectors just shrug their shoulders and admit they don’t ever think about buying them.
"Tattoo magazines in particular have suffered with the rise of smart phones."
Tattoo magazines in particular have suffered with the rise of smart phones. Tattooing is such a visual medium and magazines only have so much space for images. The likes of Instagram offer a near limitless and immediate supply of images, of fresh clean tattoos and gorgeous tattoo models. Cost is a big factor and many people are now so used to getting content for free that paying for the price of a cup of coffee just to look at some pictures of tattoos seems alien.
Sexual politics also has also had a role to play in the demise of the tattoo magazine and I firmly believe it contributed to Skin Deep Magazine folding. Total Tattoo have adopted a more progressive approach to its covers. While Skin Deep stuck to the formula of slim, conventionally beautiful female models biting her lip and pulling at their pants, Total Tattoo opted for less sexually suggestive covers. They and even took the step of being the first print magazine to feature a transsexual tattoo model on their cover.
"They and even took the step of being the first print magazine to feature a transsexual tattoo model on their cover."
The old vanguard would shout “well what’s wrong with being sexy?” and the answer is nothing. The issue at hand is power and control and if only female models can go on the cover and these models have to adopt a provocative and suggest demeanour then the balance is simply wrong. I’ve always respected Total Tattoo editor Perry Rule and he has done a brilliant job dragging tattoo magazines out of the gutter and into the 21st century. He has worked hard to make Total Tattoo a more enlightened and progressive magazine. But perhaps this and the shift to a smaller print format, was too little too late.
Those who write for the trade have long been aware that tattoo magazines have not only been struggling with sales but also struggling with advertising revenue. After I conducted an interview with Miss Veronica Blades and got her on the front cover, Veronica was the first Trans model mentioned above, I had to wait months to get paid. The fact is there is a serious cash flow problem at Total Tattoo and it centres on advertising space. With the internet dominating and being able to use algorithms, cookies and other tracking data to tailor adverts, magazines simply could no longer get away with charging hundreds of pounds for a half page advert. Facebook and Youtube can be seen by millions. I ask you, would you advertise in a magazine read by a few thousand people in the UK or opt for a global online market?
Another factor that is worrying many companies and retailers is if lockdown will affect our shopping habits long term. Back when magazines were trendy they were as much an impulse buy as they were a regular purchase. Waiting for a coach, train or plane I’d always buy a magazine to read on my journey but my subscriptions to any form of print were few and far between. Now with more and more people relying on the internet for goods and services those moments of impulse purchase are gone. Even before Covid-19 I can’t remember the last time I wondered to the corner shop for a pint of milk and a paper; I’m not even sure if we have a corner shop in our village anymore.
Tattoo magazines function as an image sharing medium is not only where they have taken a hit from online publishers and social networks; news is another area where they have missed the boat. I remember turning on my phone one morning to hear the sad news Zombie Boy, Rick Genest, had died. I heard this from BBC News long before I read it in the pages of Total Tattoo. Blogs such as this one, and their links to social media, give an immediacy to information sharing. They also act as the weapon that has slain the gate keepers; the almighty ogre that is the editor.
"Would you advertise in a magazine read by a few thousand people in the UK?"
I’ve always loved writing and always found it a privilege that people will publish my work. The grandson of a miner who grew up in a rough town at an underperforming schoo,l I am proud that I can make money from my words. But getting anything printed was always at the behest of the almighty editor. It didn’t matter how well you wrote, what scoop you got or what palms you greased, if the editor didn’t like the cut of your jib you were out in the cold. Over the years, as a freelance writer who has never under contract, I fell fowl on more than one occasion to the power of editors. Disagreements ranged from the puerile, such as betraying their loyalty by working for a rival magazine, to the serious of issue of being under paid so the editor could pocket part of my fee paid by the publisher. Thankfully Total tattoo didn’t operate such immature and underhand tactics. Now we are all publishers and blogs, vlogs, social media and video sharing sites have enabled the tattoo industry to do without the egos of these Ogres of print. To get our work published we no longer need editors; and without editors do we need magazines?
This isn’t to say Total Tattoo cannot come back from the Covid-19 outbreak. If they can find a way to cover costs that doesn’t rely on advertising and accept that profit may no longer be the long term goal, the name can live on and still have a voice in the modern industry. I hope that tattoo magazines make a bounce back. I’ve loved writing for them and I love reading them. There is nothing like nervously thumbing through old back issues while your tattooists preps their work station. That moment of anticipation before the joy of pain.
A final thought from the author: "The Covid-19 outbreak will be remembered for many things not least the death of the tattoo magazine. I just can't see the big names coming back from this, particularly when individual artists and studios are now turning to the likes of YouTube, Instagram and Tik Tok to promote their work. Under Kirk's leadership the Yayo blog has done a fantastic job, bringing up to date news, features and articles free of charge to the world. So while it might be sad the big name magazines have gone a brave new world of tattoo journalism is opening up."
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