Spin was established in 1985. In its early years, the magazine was known for its broad music coverage with an emphasis on college rock, grunge, indie rock, and the ongoing emergence of hip-hop. The magazine was eclectic and bold, if sometimes haphazard. It pointedly provided a national alternative to Rolling Stone's more establishment-oriented style. Spin prominently placed newer artists such as R.E.M., Prince, Run-D.M.C., Eurythmics, Beastie Boys, and Talking Heads on its covers and did lengthy features on established figures such as Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Miles Davis, Aerosmith, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and John Lee Hooker—Bart Bull's article on Hooker won the magazine its first major award.
On a cultural level, the magazine devoted significant coverage to punk, alternative country, electronica, reggae and world music, experimental rock, jazz of the most adventurous sort, burgeoning underground music scenes, and a variety of fringe styles. Artists such as the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, X, Black Flag, and the former members of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the early punk and New Wave movements were heavily featured in Spin's editorial mix. Spin's extensive coverage of hip-hop music and culture, especially that of contributing editor John Leland, was notable at the time.
Editorial contributions by musical and cultural figures included Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, David Lee Roth and Dwight Yoakam. The magazine also reported on cities such as Austin, Texas, or Glasgow, Scotland, as cultural incubators in the independent music scene. A 1990 article on the contemporary country blues scene brought R. L. Burnside to national attention for the first time. Coverage of American cartoonists, Japanese manga, monster trucks, the AIDS crisis, outsider artists, Twin Peaks, and other non-mainstream cultural phenomena distinguished the magazine's dynamic early years.
In late 1987, publisher Bob Guccione Jr.'s father, Bob Guccione Sr., abruptly shut the magazine down despite the fact that the two-year-old magazine was widely considered a success, with a newsstand circulation of 150,000. Guccione Jr. was able to rally much of his staff, partner with former MTV president and David H. Horowitz, locate additional new investors and offices and after missing a month's publication, returned with a combined November–December issue. During this time, it was published by Camouflage Associates. In 1997, Guccione sold Spin to Miller Publishing.
In 1994, two journalists working for the magazine were killed by a landmine while reporting on the Bosnian War in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A third, William T. Vollmann, was injured.
In February 2006, Miller Publishing sold the magazine to a San Francisco-based company called the McEvoy Group LLC, which was also the owner of Chronicle Books. That company formed Spin Media LLC as a holding company. The new owners replaced editor-in-chief (since 2002) Sia Michel with Andy Pemberton, a former editor at Blender. The first issue to be published under his brief command was the July 2006 issue—sent to the printer in May 2006—which featured Beyoncé on the cover. Pemberton and Spin parted ways the next month, in June 2006. The following editor, Doug Brod, was executive editor during Michel's tenure.
For Spin's 20th anniversary, it published a book chronicling the prior two decades in music. The book has essays on grunge, Britpop, and emo, among other genres of music, as well as pieces on musical acts including Marilyn Manson, Tupac Shakur, R.E.M., Nirvana, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Limp Bizkit, and the Smashing Pumpkins. In February 2012, Spin relaunched the magazine in a larger, bi-monthly format and expanded its online presence, which covered reviews, extended editorials, interviews, and features on up-and-coming talent.
In July 2012, Spin was sold to Buzzmedia, which eventually renamed itself SpinMedia. The September/October 2012 issue of Spin was the magazine's last print edition.
In December 2016, Eldridge Industries acquired SpinMedia via the Hollywood Reporter-Billboard Media Group for an undisclosed amount.