Sunday, May 11, 2008

What the pop papers say: NME new all over again

How many relaunches has Conor McNicholas overseen now? He surely must have signed off more new designs for the paper than the title has had editors, with this week yet another relaunch hitting the shelves. To be honest, though, if it didn't tell you it was a relaunch and it didn't have a "new-look NME" welcome letter from Conor, you wouldn't notice overmuch. The hope is that they didn't spend very much money on it, because it's such pointless fiddling it's unlikely to add a single sale. It's unlikely to stop the audience ebbing away, either.

A couple of weeks ago, Conor announced through his editor's letter that the era of the samey-sounding guitar band was over, which makes the decision to relaunch with a deadly dull Coldplay cover, complete with eyewatering interview and free seven inch single of their new stuff. This, Conor says, "sounds eerily like The Stone Roses" - it doesn't, of course, but it's interesting that the way forward for the NME in this age of new, exciting different music is to put a decade-old band on the cover and talk of them in terms of a two-decade old band.

We've argued in the past that the NME should be less obsessed with chasing teenaged readers who don't care that much about music and focus on readers of all ages who love music, but the idea of just hammering together an obvious canon and dressing it up as heritage isn't what we had in mind - the constant churning of Sex Pistols/Clash/Roses/Oasis/Coldplay/Beatles seems less like a magazine which feels comfortable with pop history, more like a title that is clinging to a catechism. There are some hints of a smarter magazine trying to find its way out. Hamish McBain, at least, has a good stab at trying to write about music in a way that escapes the day trip to Mount Rushmore in the Roots column, turning in as strong a defence of Graceland as anyone could manage in fifty words; Jaimie Hodgson reports on the "return of riot grrrl", co-opting Heavenly into the original version - arguable, but at least there's a mention of Heavenly in the NME for the first time in a decade. It'd be nice to think we'll see more of this in the future, although probably not.

New features? Not so much - indeed, the "new" ideas are just old ones resurrected. To be honest, we're not sure if the 'article by pop star/article by writer' pairing of topical pieces had been dropped before, but if it had, it's been revived; Thrills' throwaway That Perpetual Motion has been dusted down and reborn as 12 Steps. The design has been tweaked, slightly - much, much more of the yellow that marketing departments believe people want.

But the real problem is the value. The magazine is £2.20 a week now. Two pounds twenty. That's more than the bloody Financial Times. At the weekend. Or The Obserber, which one a month comes with a better music magazine.

There's also about 34 pages of advertising, if you count plugs for other parts of the NME empire. Out of 76 pages in total. So, you're paying five pence for each page of content - hardly a compelling option for the casual buyer. Maybe the logical thing to do would be to abandon charging - perhaps except for subscribers, who could pay to ensure their supply - and try to build the readership that way. It might make more long-term sense than another relaunch every six months.


Jack said...

5p for each page of content? I've seen places that charge less than that for photocopying.

Olive said...

It must be really tricky getting the deckchairs to stay in position, what with the deck being at such a rakish angle...
I think you've hit the nail on the head- there's very little in the NME that makes you believe that they actually care about the music, much less are able to write about it. Either that, or they assume that their readership has a very short attention sp- hey look! shiny thing!

ian said...

Given that McNicholas, for all his random thrashing around and relaunches, doesn't have the slightest idea what he's doing, why hasn't he been relieved of his duties, and replaced with someone competent?

Anonymous said...

Bless them, they're so keen on that youth market that they now redesign their magazine with the same frequency that your average teenager changes their MySpace wallpaper. Bloody Nora though, £2.20? It was 70p when I first bought it. And I've got a 1980s copy of the Beano that cost 8p too, and it had none of that nonsense about Dennis the Menace riding a skateboard either.

Anonymous said...

i'm not a fan of the comments (there are two here) that seem to take this piss out of the 'average teenager'. the average teenager today would be the same average teenager who bought the nme in 1976 (for 70p or whatever). so you've got no place in attacking the readership as being dumb. the readership is the readership, essentially the same as it ever was - teenagers into gigs and music. there might not be as many these days, but thats not the point.

it's wrong to use them as a scapegoat for why the mag is failing, when in reality it's the industry itself, lack of decent writers and complete lack of direction the mag seems to have now that is fucking things up. hence the coldplay cover this week

Luiza Sauma said...

Nice piece, but they have to charge £2.20 for the glossy paper, and without advertising, no magazines would exist. Ever.

I agree that the mag is crap, however.

ian said...

Glossy paper was the beginning of the end for the NME. It allows the focus to be more on style than substance.

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