Wednesday, March 7, 2018 – after 66-years in circulation the iconic NME magazine announces the end to its printed publication. While it will cease to be in physical form, NME will live on digitally through its website NME.com. This is yet another shift in music culture, but an even bigger hit to the music press.
Reading an article on the role of the music press, dated 2006, an artist’s fear used to be a critical review in a printed publication. The majority of records in the UK were sold in the supermarkets and provided a limited selection of genres (Brennan, 2006). Shops such as HMV and Virgin provided an outlet for independent, and non-mainstream, artists to be discovered. These shops were also where you were likely to pick up your music related magazines.
The culture of listening and purchasing music has changed drastically since 2006, with streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music being the primary source of our music listening needs. With this shift in music culture, it should not be a surprise that the music industry’s magazines too are shifting to digital only platforms.
While music and information may now be “free”, does it do what the music press used to do – endlessly sifting, assessing and categorising acts; at its best, turning the music scene into a big crazy party that everyone wanted to go to?
For me, physically going into somewhere like HMV opened me up to new genres of music. Flicking through the magazines and looking at the band t-shirts displayed on the wall were all part of the experience of shopping for music. The shift to digital only makes discovering new music both easier and harder at the same time. It’s a double-edged sword.
To discover new music now I heavily rely on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. The playlist however usually reflects the type of music listened to the week prior. Therefore, the playlist does not present new releases. Rarely does it present new artists to myself – someone who listens to on average 100 songs a day according to Last.fm.
However, picking up a copy of NME for some people could have opened their eyes to new music that from the mainstream circuit that would interest them. Heck, not even the mainstream circuit – it could have opened readers eyes to a whole new world of music. It’s much easier to flick through a magazine to the review section than it is to troll the internet for reviews. There are so many websites with conflicting reviews that it’s enough to put you off listening to music at all. You play a new album with a series of thoughts that have already predetermined whether you will enjoy the music or not. You don’t get that with a magazine. The review comes in based on a five-star rating with a 20-word synopsis. The rest is up to you to decide.
Yes, you can still go on the NME website to get your reviews. But between turning on a computer, or loading the website on your phone, and getting distracted by something else, by the time you get to the latest releases it’s probably taken you an hour. The printed magazine would have only taken you a couple of seconds to find what you originally wanted.
It would be hypocritical of me to say I was a religious reader of NME – because I wasn’t. I would occasionally pick up a copy when I saw it out and about. Even then I would most likely pick it up out of interest of page layouts and creative imagery. Whether I read the content was a different story.
I’m as much to blame for the failing mainstream music press as anyone else is. I did however take more notice of it as a free publication. From my perspective this was not it’s failing. If anything, NME’s change to a free press gave it the kick up the arse it needed to keep circulation going – and gain new readers along the way. It’s shift to a free weekly was a last-ditch effort to save a failing print edition. That didn’t go unnoticed.
When paid circulation dropped below 20,000, it was bad. And when they went to the free model in September 2015, you had the feeling that it was circling the drain. In the old days of print music media, the pages were filled with ads from record labels. When music sales cratered, that revenue lifeline dried up. Whether NME can make a successful transition to an all-online entity remains to be seen.
(Alan Cross in Onanuga, 2018)
Now is the time to evaluate what the music press really is. It’s time to take a look at what the millennial generation looks for in a publication in general. It is this current generation that hold the future of print in their hands. Engaging with them now opens the door to reinvent print editions and to make print relevant for generations to come.
For now, NME will remain digital. From a quick glance at their current website, it could use some work to bring it to life and reflect the styles of its former print edition. That may just be my personal opinion. If I were a new reader of NME though the website would not entice me to read on. It’s too plain and clean for a music publication that once had so much edge and character. After all, that’s what you want from the music press – edge and character. Not some regurgitated website or print edition that plays it safe to keep the doors open and the readers reading.
NME, take this time to do digital right. Use it to remember why you were once a well-known and respected music publication. All eyes are on you now, it’s up to you to make the changes necessary to keep NME alive.