NME to close print edition after 66 years
The NME is to cease publication in print after 66 years, the weekly music title joining a growing list of once mighty magazine brands that now only exist online.
The NME.com website will continue, replacing the print edition’s cover star interview with a new weekly digital franchise, the Big Read.
The NME will continue to keep a sporadic presence in print with special issues such as its paid-for series NME Gold, to cater for music stars’ appetite for appearing in a printed product.
In 2015, the magazine stopped being a paid title after a decade of sales declines saw its circulation drop to just 15,000. It relaunched as an ad-funded, free title with a circulation of 300,000 in a last throw of the strategic dice for the print edition.
“Our move to free print has helped propel the brand to its biggest ever audience on NME.com,” said Paul Cheal, the UK group managing director, music, at NME publisher Time Inc UK. “We have also faced increasing production costs and a very tough print advertising market. It is in the digital space where effort and investment will focus to secure a strong future for this famous brand.”
Time is consulting with the NME’s 23 editorial and commercial staff about possible redundancies.
NME, which has been printed weekly since 1952, managed to make money as a brand overall through spin-off activities such as awards and events.
The first front cover of the magazine featured the Goons, Big Bill Broonzy and Ted Heath and cost sixpence. When the magazine went free in 2015 the cover price had risen to £2.60.
Early readers of the magazine included John Lennon, Malcolm McLaren and T Rex frontman Marc Bolan, while its writers have included Bob Geldof and Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde. The film director, Michael Winner, was NME’s film critic in the 1950s and 60s.
NME’s sales peaked at almost 307,000 in 1964 when the magazine was a must-read for keeping up with the latest exploits of the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The magazine hit what is regarded as its golden age in the 70s, becoming a cheerleader for punk and then a champion for the the new wave and indie acts that flourished in its wake, including Joy Division and the Smiths.
In the 90s, NME was at the forefront of Britpop, amping up the media-hyped rivalry between Blur and Oasis with its “heavyweight championship” cover in August 1995 when rival singles Country House and Roll With It were released.
The magazine – whose initials stand for New Musical Express – began to feel the pressure in the noughties as music listings went online and music discovery started moving to services such as Spotify. This was exacerbated by the wider issue of readers moving to digital media, resulting in the falling sales and ad revenue that have claimed many other magazine titles in the past decade.
“NME will also be exploring other opportunities to bring its best-in-class music journalism to market in print,” Time said.
The closure of the weekly comes a week after Time, which also publishes titles including Marie Claire and Country Life, was sold to private equity group Epiris in a £130m deal.
Epiris had been expected to sell or restructure a number of titles – the company said it wanted to bring “clarity and simplicity” to the magazine portfolio – with the print edition of NME known to have been loss-making for a number of years.
“Our global digital audience has almost doubled over the past two years,” said Keith Walker, the digital director of NME. “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.”