It began breathing musical air for the first time in 1952 as a newspaper becoming the first to publish the British music singles charts in the same year. It officially morphed into its now recognisable magazine form in the 1980s. News gave way somewhat, to other features in the 90s and it has played an integral role in the Rock and Indie scene in this country for much of its life. The digital age would have been (and has been) the death knell for lesser music mags but the folks at the helm of NME, have followed the lead of The Evening Standard and will be free to all as of September 18th 2015. But with a 23% drop in sales last year when compared to 2013, this bold plan could end in triumph or tantrums?
News is (almost) always in the public interest. Rain or shine we want to know what is going on in the world. We are a curious species and as much as we say otherwise, news be it good or bad, is always welcomed. Music though, is a passion. It’ something that people seek out for entertainment, enlightenment, or both. It is something that those who are music lovers seek out at different rates and individually those rates vary depending on how deep that passion goes and the mood we find ourselves in when we seek it. As much as I love my music there are those days when music is the last thing on my mind. It is this slightly unquantifiable element that is raising my scepticism level as to this endeavours success.
300,000 copies are to be distributed of a magazine that sold less than 20,000 copies last year. Free is a big factor in circulation but that is a huge jump. We are after all talking about a music magazine. As much as I am a music fan and love to delve beyond its surface this is not a daily newspaper. The evening standard was already a part of the daily commuters automatic reflex even before it was free. People would buy it and leave it on the train having read the front or back pages plus their favourite section, for others to pick up and do the same. It directly targeted that sector and it is now paying dividends big time via advertising revenue. Which is, I imagine, where NME is going to be looking to gather the bulk of its profit from.
But doesn’t the fact that it is a music magazine, even if it is our best known, somewhat prohibit what it’s core readers would deem as acceptable where ads are concerned? You can’t for one minute expect to advertise limited edition £5 coins and ultra comfortable no name branded footwear and not expect some kind of backlash can you. But there are many brands associated with music (put your favourite headphone brand, mobile phone service provider or music streaming app here) and holidays to festivals and music related gatherings worldwide that would probably pay a pretty penny to get themselves in the door. But to make the most of these means it’s time to wean itself off of its Rock and Indie dependency and give equal measure to all the main genres in its cover story space.
Of an approximately 450 printed editions since 2005 I counted 43 (add or subtract 5 for a margin of error) NME covers where the artist or celebrity pictured (or one of the main artists or celebs in the picture) was not immediately associable with either Indie or Rock, and a few of those featured were repetitive visitors. Now I realise that the 300,000 copies printed is not going to be sustained long term, but surely a more varied approach to the music being covered is one of the major topics of discussion if things are to progress positively.
“Every media brand is on a journey into a digital future. That doesn’t mean leaving print behind, but it does mean that print has to change, so I’m incredibly excited by the role it will now play as part of the new NME. The future is an exciting place, and NME just kicked the door down.”
-Mike Williams, Editor of NME-
To an extent the excitable Mr Williams may be right. NME may just have started something that will keep print alive, if only for a little longer than some may have initially anticipated. There will always be those who will inevitably take the plunge once they see the word free somewhere to on the front page. But make no mistake, whether it takes 5, 50 or 500 years print is going to be left behind. Technology is where it’s all headed and there isn’t much anyone can do about it apart from making sure that all relevant print is kept safe and archived. Some of NME’s issues will undoubtedly be included on such a list and so they should. But anyone heralding this as a sure fire waving in of a new era of the printed press may want to remove their rose tinted Ray Ban’s and look at things through more realistic lenses.