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Friday, September 18, 2015

This isn't the first time the NME has changed - but it may be the last


This isn't the first time the NME has changed.

I remember when it was called the New Musical Express and had adverts for Petula Clark's new single on the front page. That wasn't long after it was briefly known as "New Musical Express incorporating Accordion Times". I remember when it was so desperate to be "a lifestyle title" it had suicide on the cover. That's suicide, not the New York duo Suicide. In its time NME has been all over the map.

But I think it's fair to say that only today's move to free distribution could be described as "shit or bust". I don't think there's any coming back from this. It either works or that's the end.

This is what it means. It's going from being a two-revenue stream business - advertising and circulation - to being a one-reveue stream business - this will stand or fall on whether it can attract enough advertising to make it profitable.

Advertisers like a little "edginess" and all the other qualities that have been associated with the NME in recent years, but what they like most of all is big numbers. Despite what you may think, it's not simple to give a away a publication to the right people. They have to want it, at least for the next fifteen minutes.

The advertisers you need are not the music companies and promoters, who simply don't have the budgets. The ones you need to support this enterprise are banks, beers, fashion, phones, hair products and the other firms whose products don't appear to sit at the centre of NME's world (although of course they're very much at the centre of the lives of their readers). Hence you're going to need "an editorial product" which is far more high street and far less niche than the NME has been in recent years.

For what it's worth, they've made a very good start with Rihanna for the cover of their re-launch issue. But they will know that it's not about one issue. They have to find a way to deal with the full range of contemporary pop while still being identifiably the NME. Week in, week out. It's a tough task.

If it doesn't work then it will be sold off to some independent who will say they're going to keep it going as an "online-only" proposition and then quietly disappear.

If it works then they're going to be kicking themselves for not having done it ten years earlier.