Pitchfork, the acerbic music site that defined album reviews in the early blogging era, is being hollowed out. Owner Condé Nast has decided to merge the music magazine with GQ, the men’s interest publication, according to a staff memo circulated by Max Tani of Semafor. Launched back when CDs were a thing, Pitchfork outlasted the age of music piracy and mp3s and through the rise of digital streaming. Its future as a brand post-merge is now uncertain.
Multiple employees were also laid off on Wednesday, including editor-in-chief Puja Patel. One laid off writer, Matthew Ismael Ruiz, estimated that “half the staff” was laid off.
“Today we are evolving our Pitchfork team structure by bringing the team into the GQ organization. This decision was made after a careful evaluation of Pitchfork’s performance and what we believe is the best path forward for the brand so that our coverage of music can continue to thrive within the company,” wrote Anna Wintour, Condé Nast’s chief content officer, in the staff memo.
The Verge has reached out to Condé Nast to confirm how many employees were let go from Pitchfork, but the company has yet to comment. The magazine’s masthead lists 19 full-time editorial employees, as well as separate teams for social media and audience development, events, video, and communications. Pitchfork also employs a team of contributing writers and editors.
Pitchfork was a huge cultural force in the early blog era at the start of the 2000s, with its influential best songs and albums rankings and its exhaustive (and sometimes even career-ending) music criticism. It was first launched by Ryan Schreiber as a daily news music blog in 1996, the same year that The New York Times launched its own website and while legendary music magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin lacked a digital presence completely. As founder Schreiber recounted in 2011 on the publication’s 15th anniversary, Pitchfork was created when “the web itself had just turned five, and the tools that now power our daily online lives— search engines, social networks, and mp3s — were either embryonic or years away from invention.”
Music curation has evolved dramatically in years since as people shifted away from social platforms and apps like Myspace and Facebook.
Music curation has evolved dramatically in years since as people shifted away from social platforms and apps like Myspace and Facebook. TikTok, currently the reigning music discovery tool, reduces popular songs to snippets and has changed how artists promote and package their songs. Even Spotify has seen human curation losing influence to AI.
Condé Nast acquired Pitchfork 2015, in what many felt was a surprising shift for the indie music publication. But in the years that followed, Pitchfork failed to expand its audience and lost some of its culture-shaping power.
While that happened, its parent company also began to face financial woes. Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch said last November that the company planned to lay off more than 300 employees.
With today’s move, the media giant seems to be backtracking from where it was in 2015, when it bought one of the biggest online names into a portfolio of legacy magazines. Now, it seems like the future of Pitchfork will be tied to the brand of an entirely unrelated print magazine.