News appeared today the mighty New Musical Express (NME) is to move to a free distribution model in order to boost flagging sales.
According to the BBC, this will boost the readership from a weekly circulation of 15,000 to around 300,000. Of course the move is not without precedent, as Time Out did a similar move a couple of years ago with free distribution on Tuesdays across the capital.
Now the 63 year old music paper, which I read every week from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s should survive the inevitable collapse of print media that has seen national newspapers and magazines find different ways to diversify and generate a revenue.
In my view this is a great move for the NME. The days of it breaking news on its pages are over as people (including me) go to its website for breaking news, and Twitter and Facebook are there for tour dates and for bands to have a direct communication with fans.
What NME still offers is the interviews and profiles of the new bands that forms its central editorial, while its live and album reviews are what its journalists do best. I had some experience of the atmosphere having spent a week on work experience there in 1998 (biggest bands of the week were Embrace, Unbelievable Truth and Ultrasound, I had the pleasure of meeting some established journalists and rewriting faxed articles).
I really hope this enables the NME to survive as in the USA there is Rolling Stone and while in the UK we have lost Smash Hits, this is one musical institution which I hope will carry on.
Updated – 7th March 2018
A few years on from this original blog post, it has been announced today that the next published issue of the NME will be last. This is endemic of a few factors – the internet’s ability to deliver news faster, the ability of other websites like the BBC, Buzzfeed and others getting access to musicians for interviews, ticket websites using social media for ticket promotions and not being reliant upon listings, and streaming services allowing releases and listening to be easier and negating the need for reviews.
It is a sad day for music journalism, but overall it is not massively surprising for the reasons mentioned above. The free printed edition is essentially printed click bait at its lowest level, and the magazine which promoted and introduced the best new music has been reduced to reporting on the Mad Men cast reuniting at the Oscars – it’s churnalism basically.
As I said above, I did spend some time at the NME on work experience in 1998, which gave me an insight into how the operations of the paper worked and how its website was an emerging platform. Twenty years on, and the website has eclipsed the paper to such an extent that it doesn’t seem that it is financially viable, so say the publisher.
I doubt anything will replace it to be honest – and apart from the feature led music press, music news can be found online and the New Music Express will be confined to memory.