Friday, March 07, 2008

Happy 56th birthday, NME

Perhaps the most encouraging thing for IPC as they read Stephen Dalton's Times piece on the NME is that, while it's not an entirely encouraging read, there aren't many magazines whose 56th birthday (or, come to that, future direction) would be considered worthy of an editorial piece in the heavyweight papers.

Dalton lands a couple of blows on the current magazine - calling it like a "training-bra version of Heat" - but is generous to current and former staffer's contention that the NME is always haunted by its past:

“Generations of them, all moaning about how NME stopped being good at the exact moment they stopped buying it,” complains Steven Wells, one of the magazine's star writers in the 1980s and early 1990s. “It must really suck to be an NME writer these days with this bloated Greek chorus of balding middle-aged naysayers on your back.”

It's true, of course, but what might be more alarming is that (unless we're missing something) there aren't many people who read the magazine five years ago who insist that it's gone downhill. The 'not as good as in my day' crowd are paying the brand a tremendous complement by stressing how important the NME was to their musical development. That people are harking back to the early 2000s version suggests that - for about a decade - it's not really held that position. The challenge for the NME is not the crowd of old gits complaining that it's changed, but that their ranks aren't being swollen any more.

Steve Sutherland (former editor, now heading up the division of Time Warner which publishes the magazine) tells Dalton that paper version has a future, but even if it doesn't, it doesn't really matter:
Sutherland dismisses speculation about closing the weekly magazine, at least for now. “Am I married to print on paper?” he asks. “Would I weep buckets if, in 20 years, NME was talking on a minute-by-minute basis with millions of music fans all over the world but the magazine had passed on? Personally, no. Do I believe that will happen? No again.”

It's perhaps unfortunate that Dalton spends most of the piece detailing why it wouldn't matter if the magazine folded - it's online, it's possible to read the NME without buying the magazine, there's a lot of similar stuff around - without actually managing to offer an argument of why it might matter if it did go. There's a space for an intelligent, passionate, popular-ish publication which writes about music like it's important, that realises some music can be more like an initiation than a pastime which presents its world as a clique that you could be part of. The NME isn't that publication at the moment, but it's the only hope we've got of getting one, as nobody would be able to start from scratch to fill that void. You need a friend who likes what you like if you're to trust someone when they tempt you to try something new, and there's no reason why the NME can't be that again, for a new generation. Of course, the brand can make money hosting awards bashes at the Millennium Dome and serving up news gobbets about Pete Doherty, but without rediscovering some heart and passion for the core magazine, it's going to be a brand supported only by its receding heritage.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It's true, of course, but what might be more alarming is that (unless we're missing something) there aren't many people who read the magazine five years ago who insist that it's gone downhill. The 'not as good as in my day' crowd are paying the brand a tremendous complement by stressing how important the NME was to their musical development. That people are harking back to the early 2000s version suggests that - for about a decade - it's not really held that position. The challenge for the NME is not the crowd of old gits complaining that it's changed, but that their ranks aren't being swollen any more."

totally disagree with that. my 'era' for buying the mag was around the time the strokes and liberties came out (stopped buying in 2003), and i know plenty of people who would happily argue that the mag was actually pretty good then.

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