I used to think that NME would be a cool magazine to be subscribed to. Getting one delivered every week and getting excited about an insight into new music they help readers discover. I even ordered one online once as a one off to test the waters. It was always the price that put me off, as the magazine comes in at a, what I consider whopping, £2.50 per issue.
So when waiting at the NME tent at Leeds Festival 2015 for the next act to grace our presence, our eyes mindlessly gazed upon the screens either side of the stage as they flickered with different messages about where to dispose of rubbish, how to keep possessions safe and other general unengaging chat. Until one message appeared on the screen that made me do a double take. Free NME magazine coming soon. I was shocked. I vigorously poked my friend to get his attention on what I was witnessing. We both were doubtful for a good few seconds. But we were standing under the cover of the NME tent itself, and August bank holiday is far from April Fools. The idea which seemed quite a preposterous business decision at the time, had to be true.
Of course my mind went into a train of thought almost immediately as to why the successful company had chosen to follow this bold, and potentially extremely damaging venture. Of course it is common knowledge really, that we can witness in day to day life that the age of print media is entering its demise. Less newspapers and magazines are seen in the household, as more and more regularly, media is transmitted to us via the Internet. The ultimate extinction of print media has already been predicted in the next 10 to 15 years, but given the pace at which the Internet takes over, it could potentially be even sooner.
The conclusion I therefore reached regarding the matter was that less and less readers were choosing to purchase the physical NME magazine, as they could access most of the content they wanted online, on nme.com, which is popular and reaches an extremely large number. Thus NME decided to quit while they were ahead, and print cheaper quality magazines on a larger scale, to be given out at outlets around the country, following successful similar distribution strategies from Shortlist, Sport and Time Out. This would enable them to reach a larger audience to gain maximum interest, while keeping their brand respectable because they have not yet died out. NME seemed to be adapting to a new media age, where print is less relevant, and if NME magazine is free, much more people, especially young people, are likely to choose to pick it up.
NME actually went through a major brand transformation as well as transitioning to a free magazine, including a revamp of nme.com in the hope that this could be the new gold mine for the brand. The new free mag would be redesigned to include more content on film, games and fashion as well as music. Editor Mike Williams discussed this transformation, calling it the new phase of the magazine. “We’ve been working in secret here at NME on the next phase of our evolution. The goal, throughout all of our research and development, has been to find new and inventive ways to connect with you, our audience, better than ever. In the 63 years since NME launched we have evolved and transformed plenty of times. The evolution of 2015 is our boldest ever move”.
As positive as this picture is painted by the editor, we would be naive to assume that a ‘new phase’ was not a hopeful and necessary strategy in a struggling situation. A Guardian article states that NME magaizine had been struggling for the past decade. Paid circulation has dropped to just 15,000 as weekly sales have fallen by 20% annually. Mike Williams believe this will make NME “bigger stronger and more influential than ever before”, and it is true that adaptation is necessary in the age of new media. But will the 64 year old print magazine fail in its new life, or will it stay as strong as a “major player and massive influencer in the music space”.
The free NME magazine is to be distributed weekly at train stations, on university campus’s by students and through retail partners HMV and Topman. Prominent music, fashion and commuting areas where a younger and larger audience can be in targeted to come into contact with the magazine, now available through 300,000 copies distributed across the UK.
NME has throughout its years brought new music to our awareness and helped smaller bands gain a wider following. However, the magazine has faced challenges through he technological age such as the ease of access to free music through streaming services such as Spotify, hindering the need for third party promotion from the critic, as listeners can make up their own minds. The changing themes in popular music also outdate the genre NME holds dear – Britpop and indie rock bands. These modern factors are clear obstacles to the potential sucess of print NME, and the goal to revert to the circulation success it achieved back in its golden years, the 60s and 70s, and to remain on the map of the digital music mass market. The Guardian identifies however, that aside from how challenged NME apparently is, the emtotion and strong response to the announcement of a free magazine shows that it is not yet dying, it still has a place in the hearts of the British public, and the choice to go free may have come at the perfect time for success.
“Through NME’s digital platforms, social media channels and weekly magazine the brand reaches 3.9 million people every week”. The hugely extended circulation through the removal of the off-putting price tag and availability in many common locations will hoepefully increase interest and widen reception into the near future, thus NME will become more attractive to advertisers and will reap more funds in these areas.
“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.” – Mike Williams