NME of the State
PHOTO CREDITS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images
Has the Former Industry Leader Lost Its Edge?
WE all have memories of racing to the newsagents…
and grabbing a copy of NME. My experiences began back in the 1990s when the Britpop phenomenon got underway. It was an exciting time for music and one that still rebound in my mind. I was keen to follow all the developments, exploits and explosions. One week, we would read about Blur releasing their latest hit. From there; we would see read about the Gallagher brothers lobbing a grenade into the Blur camp. The rivalry and scuffs between Oasis and Blur was reason enough to purchase NME. I would drool over the interviews and news available in the magazine. I think the last copy of the magazine I bought was back when The White Stripes were still going – maybe 2006 was the last time I actually got it. Since then, the publication has moved to the Internet and, as such, adapted to that way of working. We see very few (good) magazines on the shelves anymore. Certain professions retain the printed word: music is moving online and there are only a few decent magazines available now. Maybe they are being purchased by a certain demographic – slightly older readers who want to retain the purity of the written word – but I know there are younger readers who do not want to completely immerse themselves in the Internet. MOJO and Classic Rock is out there; Kerrang! still has a readership: apart from that, how many other magazines can you name?
Q is one…I know Rolling Stone is still healthy(ish). It is tough surviving in a market where we can get all the music news and goings-on at the click of a button. To me, NME has always been the leader and go-to magazine for the masses. That was the case as recently as the past decade. Maybe music has evolved (or unevolved) to the point where we do not have the same excitement as we once did. I trawl the Internet for ideas and news. There are different sites that I use and, between them, provide me all the information I need. It is rare I look at interviews and read too many other reviews. The reason I used to buy NME is their the features run and the fact I could sit down, engage with the musicians and read all the brilliant reviews in there. This is not me bashing a once-fantastic magazine. The fact they are on the Internet now means there is a greater scope and they can produce more content. The fear I have with NME is, oddly, the same I have with HMV. HMV stands for ‘His Master’s Voice’. There is a dog and gramophone as their logo – one imagines music would be their only concern! I find, as the years go on, music is less of what they do.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
You walk in a store (those that are left) and it is filled with D.V.D.s and gadgets. There is a bit of music here and there but, unless you go to one of the bigger stores – like the one on Oxford Street, London – then you are going to find less and less music. It is the same with the online content of NME. The ‘New Musical Express’ had that decades-long reputation as the bible for the music-loving masses. There has been criticism of the magazine since the 1970s (or earlier). Objections aside; there have been some great moments and wonderful articles. It is one of the reasons I wanted to become a journalist. Now, in 2018; I do not really check out NME. There are a few reasons for this downturn. Sites like Pitchfork, The 405 and The Guardian provide better content and there is a specific focus on the music itself. I find the features are more compelling and the interviews more in-depth. NME does produce interviews but it is rare I am actually captivated by them! The magazine/site, to me, defines cool and should be about cutting-edge artists and the strongest out there. I see too many features of mainstream acts and Popstars; features revolving around areas NME should not be involved with. The best thing about NME, now, is the music news. They are on the button and always on top of everything happening. The reason I go to other sites is (because) they can offer more than the latest news.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Every site has adverts and banners but, at NME’s website; you are inundated with adverts and pop-ups. I click on a page and, before I know it; there are videos playing that usually start with adverts! If you have to sit through a thirty-second advert each time you play a video – you are less likely to come back and stick with the site. A lot of the reviews are either too brief or predictable – lots of four-star assessments; contributors overrating a lot of releases – and they do not really produce too many original features. It is sad to think the legendary publication has not only become a spent force in printed terms – offering it for free and then, inevitably, giving up on the idea of printing it – but it is producing less quality content. Back in 2015, when sales were dipping and the end was near; The Irish Times outlined the facts – and gave their views regarding the quality-relevance debate:
“…All of which makes the current wave of press stories about the once venerable magazine a bit awkward. Last week’s circulation figures showed that the magazine now sells just under 14,000 print issues every week. There are also 1,389 digital sales, but it’s clear to all that the glory days when the NME was shipping 300,000 copies a week are well and truly over and are not coming back. Indeed, you can measure the slow, steady decline of NME sales in Guardian Media news stories from August 2011, August 2012, February 2013, February 2014, August 2014 and, of course, February 2015. NME Deathwatch is in full effect…
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
The NME’s real problem, though, is a content problem. The reason why print sales have slumped is because the print magazine does not offer anything unique or different to make you part with your few euro. I went through a phase a few years ago of buying the magazine every week, but it quickly dropped off my radar again when I realised that I could find the info I was buying the magazine for, info on new bands mostly, from various online sources. There was also the realisation that those non-NME sources were way ahead of the NME when it came to new acts and that they weren’t waiting for some vested interest or press officer to tip the NME off about the act in the first place”.
The decline and near-death of NME has happened for a number of reasons. There are a lot of articles out there – most from 2015 – that theorised why the magazine went free and why the sales declined. One of the reasons I have abandoned it is because of the brevity of the pieces and the lack of features. There are too many adverts and it is a rather frustrating experience visiting the site. Is the lack of great Rock bands contributing to the lack of NME fire? Tony Parsons wrote a piece for GQ (in 2015):
“It is true that every newspaper and magazine on the planet is still feeling its way in the new digital age, and no definitive model has yet emerged of the best way for a print publication to thrive in the modern world. But the NME has a problem that is not shared by the New York Times or Your Dog magazine…
“Rock music grew old but the NME stayed young. It never went dad rock. It never aped Mojo. Instead of being a curator of a dying art form, the NME kept trying to break new music. This is to the paper's eternal credit. The NME was, at best, God's A&R man. But what happens when there is no Johnny Marr out there knocking - uninvited - on Steven Morrissey's front door? What happens when the high-IQ misfits are starting websites instead of bands?
What happens when the music is no longer the centre of the universe? The NME mattered when the music mattered. But the very reason for the NME's existence - reporting from some damp, unlicensed basement where The Rolling Stones or The Jam or The Stone Roses were tearing the place apart - is no longer there”.
There are other reasons why NME is no longer the go-to magazine/site of choice. Greater competition means there are choices and other options for journalists. New brands mean writers are going elsewhere. Certain sites offer greater specificity and niche tastes; it is easier tailoring sites for a specific taste/market – NME is quite broad and old, now. It has had a great life and continues to influence but, as more rival spring up; it has not adapted in the right way. It seems you get more film and T.V. news than music now.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I got to their site and have to wade through so many non-related articles before I get to something I want to read. The sheer volume of other sites means I do not really focus on one for any real period of time. I flick between them and get a little something from each of them. The greatest two threats and reasons why NME has declined is the changing tastes in music and the popularity of the Internet. NME has always been about proffering the best Rock, Indie and Alternative out there. When it reached a modern peak in the 1990s; the music scene was a lot stronger. There were great working-class bands and a great wave of British talent. We had Blur and Oasis duking it out; Pulp and Suede offering something special. Even when The Libertines and The Strokes came around (in the early-2000s); there was a real place for NME. It was at the frontline of reporting and perfect for these bands to get their faces seen. Since then, Pop has taken over and there are fewer working-class bands – even with the rise of IDLES and Shame; there are fewer great Rock bands around. That means the authority and relevance of NME have been called into question. The simple fact is, as music has changed from the printed to digital; NME has not been able to adapt to the shock and fallout.
Since 2015, when it was threatened, it has tried to entice readers in and keep its circulation. I assume there are fewer paid contributors now; it is harder making good money working there and, because of that, writers are going to sites where they can afford a bit more. Advertising helps get the revenue in but, the more they rely on that, the more people are going to avoid the site – annoyed at the constant glare of crappy products and trailers! Maybe I am pining for the past and trying to get a return to those glory days. It is dangerous to live in the past, I know. What worries me is the fact NME have not really coped with the end of their printed career. They could have created a great, organised and appealing online market. What they have done is compromise and broaden too much. We do not go to NME to read film news and read articles from anyone outside of music! I do not write about the latest films because, surprisingly, that defeats the point of a music blog! I am sad the site/magazine has lost its place in music and seems to be a historic footnote. It was once the bastion and king of all music journalism: now, with younger, tauter brothers on the scene; the flabby and greying NME seems to get more criticism than praise. Maybe its fortunes will revive but, as music fans are looking elsewhere for their content; it seems to the heady days of NME…
REMAIN in the past.