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NME to ditch print magazine after 66 years

By | Published on Thursday 8 March 2018


Time Inc UK yesterday announced plans for the NME to “expand its digital-first strategy”, which is a very mealy-mouthed way of saying that it’s shutting down its print title. The final edition will be published this Friday.

In its place, various new online initiatives are launching in order to “focus investment on further expanding NME’s digital audience”. The magazine’s traditional cover interview will become a weekly feature on the website, called The Big Read (although I’m not sure running interviews on websites is that big an innovation, really).

It will also launch not one but two new digital radio stations, NME 1 and NME 2, available via regional DAB and the TuneIn Radio app. The NME’s own app will also get a refresh, curating the week’s biggest stories, plus there are plans to “enhance” the ticketing service and membership offering on the NME website. A membership offering apparently being a thing it already has.

“NME is one of the most iconic brands in British media and our move to free print has helped to propel the brand to its biggest ever audience on”, enthuses Paul Cheal, Time Inc UK’s music boss. “The print re-invention has helped us to attract a range of cover stars that the previous paid-for magazine could only have dreamed of”.

So it’s all been great. Except it hasn’t. Adopting a serious tone of voice and a slight frown, he continues: “At the same time, we have also faced increasing production costs and a very tough print advertising market. Unfortunately we have now reached a point where the free weekly magazine is no longer financially viable. It is in the digital space where effort and investment will focus to secure a strong future for this famous brand”.

NME Digital Director Keith Walker adds: “NME has been at the digital forefront for more than two decades. Our global digital audience has almost doubled over the past two years. With these new developments, we are giving consumers even more of what they want from us. By making the digital platforms our core focus we can accelerate the amazing growth we’ve seen and reach more people than ever before on the devices they’re most naturally using”.

The device people are most naturally using apparently not being old fashioned paper. Which actually feeds in to those new stats recently released by the Entertainment Retailers Association. These showed that in 2017 monies generated by home music, video and gaming products and services exceeded the income of the combined book, magazine and newspaper sector for the first time.

The announcement that the NME magazine’s days are numbered (and numbered in single digits) comes less than two weeks after Time Inc UK was sold to private equity company Epiris for a reported £130 million. At the same time that deal was unveiled, NME Editor Mike Williams declared that he was stepping down with immediate effect.

It’s not clear whether the change of ownership – and discussions ahead of that deal – in anyway influenced the decision to bail on the print version of NME. Certainly sources reckon that new owners Epiris will be reviewing the entire Time Inc UK portfolio, likely looking to offload under-performing titles. Relatively recently the media firm was privately talking up the success of the NME as a free magazine, so it’s not clear if that means the decision to close the print version came about quite quickly.

For many, it’s sort of surprising that the physical NME made it this far. Before it became a free title in 2015, the magazine’s circulation figures had plummeted, dropping to less than 15,000. Although it talked up how much advertisers loved the new free version, and how its circulation was now exceeding even its 1960s peak, clearly things remained tricky for the NME’s owners, who are facing the same challenges as most magazine publishers, with audiences increasingly online, where it’s often hard to generate revenue.

Time Inc still plans to publish special editions of the magazine in print, including a new series called NME Gold. However, the NME magazine as we know it will cease to exist following one last issue this Friday.