Friday, October 8, 1999

Drummer Magazine: End of an Era

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #114, October 8, 1999)

But the Mr. Drummer Beat Goes On

PHOTO: Recently chosen in San Francisco are, left, new International Mr. Drummer Fraser Picard and, right, new International Drummerboy Woodie Barnes. Both are from the Mid-Atlantic region. (Many thanks to Mister Marcus, legendary San Francisco leather columnist, for supplying this photo.)

PHOTO CREDIT: “Mister” Marcus Hernandez

San Francisco recently held its annual leather bash which culminated in the International Mr. Drummer contest on Saturday, Sept. 25, and the Folsom Street Fair on Sunday, Sept. 26. By all reports this year’s contest was a rousing success; it was a crowd-pleaser and, according to Drummer Magazine editor Robert Davolt, the basket auction raised $7,000 for the winners’ travel fund. But even as the new International Mr. Drummer and Drummerboy (see accompanying photo) were being chosen, the magazine that started the contest, and gave it its name, was nearing the end of its run.

Publication of Drummer has been sporadic for some time now; the magazine has been for sale, but no buyers have come forward. The International Drummer contest has been sold to Mike Zuhl of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at this writing negotiations for the other Drummer assets are continuing, but the outcome of it all will probably be that Drummer Magazine will no longer be published in its current form. It seems to me a rather ignominious end to what was once the leather magazine against which all others were measured.

Leather publications (and, to a certain extent, all gay publications and all publications in general) have been experiencing lean times recently. But how can a leather institution like Drummer, which has been around for years and which has been so instrumental in shaping our whole concept and culture of leather, be on the brink of extinction?

Here’s a history lesson about a seemingly unrelated topic: At the dawn of the 20th century most homes had pianos in the parlor, and people bought sheet music at the local five-and-dime store so they could play the popular songs of the day. The music industry made money from the sales of sheet music, and a song’s popularity was measured by how many copies of the sheet music were sold. Then the phonograph became commonplace, and the popularity of a song was measured by how many phonograph records were sold; sheet music sales took a nosedive from which they’ve never recovered. Along came radio, and (for awhile, anyway) record sales suffered—why buy the music when you can hear it for free? Today, of course, the music industry is again in turmoil over the same idea, only this time it’s MP3 files over the internet cutting into CD sales.

Could it be that Drummer and other leather publications are the sheet music of the 1990s? Much as Playboy proclaims itself “entertainment for men” (or for some men, anyway), leather magazines are entertainment for the leather community—as are leather contests, leather events, even leather bars. All these forms of entertainment are being affected by the brave new internet-driven world, but right now magazines like Drummer are being hit especially hard.

What people used to get from magazines—pictures, articles, one-handed fiction, personal ads—is now available for free (or at least for the yearly cost of AdultChek) on the Web. Davolt also points out that the internet is basically unregulated (i.e. uncensored) with respect to both content and geographic distribution—internet data can be sent almost anywhere and show almost anything. Meanwhile, Drummer and other publications must operate within a straitjacket of local, state, federal and postal regulations that limit both what they can include in their magazines and where they can or cannot sell them.

Drummer has been a magnificent invalid for several years now; in 1997 alone it posted major business losses. Davolt was named editor in January 1998, and during his 21 months at the helm the balance sheets improved dramatically, but in the end it just wasn’t enough.

Maybe it’s good that leather has embraced the Web. Maybe all that information flowing so freely will allow more people to follow their instincts, to learn, to participate, to enjoy, to build a stronger community. I hope so. But it’s sad that Drummer won’t be along for the ride.

Mr. International Rubber 2000/Rubber Blowout Weekend

Mr. International Rubber 1999 and former Twin Cities resident Thomas Smith invites everyone to Chicago the weekend of November 12-14 for the Mr. International Rubber Contest and Rubber Blowout Weekend ‘99. The contest begins at 8:30 PM on Saturday, November 13, with Khris Franis as emcee. Weekend packages include a welcome cocktail party, Rubber Buddies brunch, rubber swap and market, contest and show, Rubber Ball Beer Bust, and a T-shirt and poster. For weekend registration or contest application send your name, address, phone number and email address to Mr. International Rubber, Inc., Chicago, IL. (Rumor has it that at least one contestant will be from the Twin Cities area.)

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, October 9

Atons Leather/Levi Night
7 PM, Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter, 8930 Lofton Ave. N. (3 miles north of Hwy. 36 on County Rd. 15), Stillwater
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For information and reservations call the Atons Hotline.

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