Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NME at 60: Still relevant, right?

After The Observer's rather generous 60th birthday coverage, the Guardian is a little more cool towards the NME. (Bless, it's like the NME and Melody Maker taking different tacks on a band, isn't it?)

Krissi Murison gets to deny a few high-profile rumours - she says it's "categorically untrue" that there was an issue before Christmas which only scraped 12,000 sales; denies they're dumping guitar bands (unless Noel goes ragga, it would seem unlikely) and rules out the title going free.

She also points to the seven million unique visitors to as evidence of the title being in rude health. Except that figure is boosted by the addition of a lot of film and TV content which isn't really what people think of as being the NME; and it's questionable how many of those seven million even know there's a magazine, and a heritage, behind the site.

And the fixation on the past that is currently choking the life out the magazine? It's brilliant, apparently:

She talks enthusiastically of the magazine's embrace of the past over the last year, when it ran a number of retrospective cover stories.

"Young fans really love these covers," she says. "Our focus groups get really excited when it's the Smiths or John Lennon. You used to be really limited in what you could listen to, but now you have access to everything – young readers don't think chronologically about music."
The very mention of focus groups suggests part of the problem, doesn't it? Sit a bunch of kids around, give them biscuits and ask them what they think of the idea of putting John Lennon on the front page, and you'll get lots of applause. But are they going to go out and buy the magazine?

(Consults ABC figures.)

No. No, they're not.

I know we're living in different days now, but the idea of NME covers being dictated by focus group feedback seems to miss the point of what it should be doing. What you'd hope it should be doing.


Anonymous said...

Problem they have is that the Oasis covers sell tons more, not that they want to do them (not for a fair while anyway). And in the face of the decline that the boy wonder presided over, a cover that accelerates the nosedive might as well be a resignation letter to the board.

The dark truth for the NME is that for the last decade at least, the readership has been incredibly conservative and dull - mostly colourless young males who get off on dadrock. Worse for them is the reason behind that - no hip teenager is going to be seen getting a magazine in Smiths for their newsfix when they can go to any number of indie (in the genuine sense) blogs and fill up their ipods with the new new for free.

Staying in business is precisely not about protecting the magazine heritage, but about developing a multi-channel brand that is increasingly digital. So they are just making the best of a bad lot with the mag. In that situation, I've got some sympathy for Krissi though so far she seems to be about tactics to slightly slow the bleeding rather than making any real strategic moves. They don't seem to have entirely grasped that media has become mostly free and the scarcity is now in attention and engagement. Making the mag free would be an obvious way to increase the circulation and get into the attention market.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

If we believe them, the magazine still does better than break-even, which would presumably make 'free' an unlikely option (at least, until it would be too late).

Is it really a great multichannel brand, though? NME TV is the second-least-watched TV channel that counts viewers; NME Radio has already had to be relaunched once. Watching Channel 4's coverage of the NME Awards, the NME didn't even get its logo on the astons.

The website is pretty solid, but doesn't feel like the website of the magazine. You could carry that logic through, I guess...

Anonymous said...

The reason they don't go free isn't so much about cover price economics but as a demonstration of brand value and a statement to advertisers that they are reaching an audience who are prepared to shell out for media. That may seem plausible and be comforting for the moment, but as a long-term digital media strategy it's worthy of Canute.

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