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.


  1. It's interesting to see the layout of the latest edition, which I downloaded on my iPad. It appears to be very similar to what a print layout would look like. They (meaning those aiming to distribute via handheld devices) still haven't quite cracked making the viewing and reading experience as pleasurable as scanning across and leaving through a magazine. It's not the same experience - nor should it be. But there must be a sweet spot. The best I've seen is either in the form of elegant, aesthetically pleasing online layouts or the use of the multimedia capabilities that digital platforms offer and which printed forms do not.

    We are told nowadays that it is more about experience than artefact but I'm yet to be convinced or won over by the portable device experience. I use my two a lot, but it's most functional and not really for the pleasure of reading.

    But the move has drawn me back to NME and all those lovely pages of ads! It's a bold move, as you say, and hats off to them for making the gamble.

  2. Having just re-read Pat Long's History of the NME, that it has come to this should surprise no one, that it has taken this long perhaps does.

    NME long since stopped being what we thought of it, what we read when we was young, and became a brand: TV station, Radio Station and even the font on the title.

    But then, It does seem like part of my youth died.