Monday, September 15, 2014

Putting Nick Cave on the cover of the NME is like putting Johnnie Ray on the cover in 1976

"Yesterday's Papers", my programme on Radio 4 this afternoon at four, doesn't have time to go into the minutiae of the decline of print music magazines but you can see one problem at work in the latest issue of NME.

Nick Cave had his major success at the end of the 80s, which is a quarter of a century ago. Putting him on the cover is like putting Johnnie Ray on the cover in 1976.

Of course that analogy doesn't apply because the world moves so much more slowly now and anyway Nick Cave has the kind of fans who may even buy the paper because he's there. The free posters are interesting too. Bet the Iggy Pop and David Bowie pictures date from before the current editorial team were born.

There was a time when the best thing you could put on the cover of the NME was the new, new thing. That formula stopped working years ago. And please don't waste your time blaming the publishers or the editorial staff for not being bold or adventurous enough. They found out where boldness and adventurousness gets them because they tried it and looked at the figures.

Old publishing saying: pioneers are dead men with arrows in their back.


  1. Anonymous9:00 am

    It's a strikingly attractive cover, I'll give it that (although something irks about the sub-line having two full stops). But while I'll freely admit I haven't perused the NME for years, it looks like a cover in search of a magazine - which fits the magazine (or does it still call itself a newspaper?) in search of an audience.

    Much the same is going on at Q, which no longer has the clear editorial remit when it was set up by some bunch of herberts, their names now lost in the mists of time. Readers who like "older" music will now instead buy the Mojo or Classic Rock-type mags; younger readers discover their new music expressly on the internet.

  2. That Johnny Ray comparison is awful sorry - over 30 years each of Cave's albums has out-charted the last one - last year the latest was Top 3 in all major markets and he's got a film coming out.

    Mind you, I would have love to have seen Johnny Ray achieve that kind of career trajectory - would have been interesting, for sure.

    The more relevant question is why the NME didn't fold up it's own arse years ago. Even online it's dull as ditchwater. I'm astonished it can still break even.

  3. Your views on rock magazine covers kinda support a theory of mine that Rock is the new Trad Jazz. In the 70's there were many London boozers where men of a certain age were playing a musical form that had past it's expiry date 40 years previously...In 2014 does that remind you of anything?

  4. Don't think these things ever repeat themselves quite so exactly. For one thing, there are loads of young bands playing that old form. It's just that they can never be quite as big as the bands who went before them, who are now bigger than they ever were in the past.

  5. Excellent article from the NME in 1988 (reprinted here in the Guardian) provides an insight into the mans character.

    Well worth a read if you have five minutes.

  6. How does The Wire keep going? I imagine it has a suitably low circulation but it still survives and really doesn't give a fig! More power to its elbow

  7. I've no idea what it's situation is but if it's like most small magazines I know it'll be kept going on the basis of having contributors who work either for free or the nearest thing to it, a handful of advertisers who see it as the a cost-effective way to reach their core and an owner who keeps putting money into it.

  8. In the modern context, I would have thought that 'outcharting' previous albums was fairly meaningless, given that you can all but get a Top Ten album selling copies to family and friends.

  9. For my money, there's a little too much relish in this rush to proclaim the music press as dead. Not only would a lot of good people lose their jobs. a lot of good music will be starved of the oxygen of publicity, and the acts with the biggest money behind them will prevail. It's an unfashionable view but long live the NME (and Q, I suppose).

  10. The Cure playing Reading in 2013 was equivalent to them sharing the bill on their 1979 debut with the Glen Miller Orchestra.

    The longevity of musicians needs addressing. Most media seems to willingly accept their attitudes/relevance as frozen at the point their first appearance.

  11. The media do what they do because that's what works with the public. With a handful of exceptions the older acts are more popular than the newer acts and their fans have more money to spend on them. In the heyday of the music press popular music was consumed by a relatively small subset of the population. Nowadays it's everybody. I was just reading in the New York Times about the Replacements recently playing in front of 11,000 people at Forest Hills in New York. At the time they were "happening" in the mid-80s they wouldn't have been headlining in front of those kind of numbers.