Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What the pop papers say: Mini-NME

We make this the fourth, or is it fifth, redesign of Conor McNicholas' reign as NME editor - he introduces the new look issue with a letter signed "The Editor", and there are two notable things from the off: the first is that it's even smaller, as the paper continues to shrink like Doctor Who on the wrong end of a laser screwdriver. It can now hide, comfortably, behind Rolling Stone.

The other noteworthy point is that it's not as disastrous as early reports had made it sound - rather than a further evisceration of content, this relaunch is more about rationalising the content. It looks quite bitty, but then the content has been bitty for a while; now, at least, it's organised like a professional buffet instead of a fumbled picnic basket.

It'll be interesting to see what it's like when it doesn't have the T in the Park, Oxegen and Live Earth coverage to give its front half some shape - there's clearly a firming up of the attempt to make photography one of the reasons for people to buy the paper (although a cover splash for "free aerial photo of T in the Park" pushes it a bit - that's a picture on an ordinary page, then, is it?) and the weekend festivals have offered a lot of stuff to fill those slots; quite how successful that'll be during the soggy-arse end of November remains to be seen.

If it's good news for photographers, it's not quite so good news for the writers - the longest article is the Kate Nash piece, there's a half-article on Bonde De Role, but that's as deep as it gets. Karen O is interviewed by readers via NME's MySpace - where you can go to put questions for The Cribs next week. As if apparently aware that sending traffic to a rival publisher's website is probably not the smartest move, you're then instructed to "keep checking to see if your question has been picked". The O interview is trailed as being "her weirdest ever", but it's not especially weird, the odd question about 'what sort of beard would you have' aside: it's all 'how would you like to die' and 'do you believe in god'? Its as weird as the Sunday Correspondent Questionnaire and nowhere near as left-field as the Smash Hits' regular quizzings.

Conor pledges "more album reviews" in his intro, which is managed by giving fifty words to a dozen records - we can figure out why Stephanie Dosen's album A Lily For The Spectre is worth eight marks, but not only a few handfull of words. The reviews are now shorter than the little puffs they used to give when they had a round-up of the best albums from the previous month.

If they needed more space to allow longer album reviews, they could free up a whole page by dropping the "reader's photos" page as quickly as they introduced it - the old "this is me with the drummer from Cud" bar has now been dropped still further, and we're treated to a full cover of someone who has had Mani write on their shoe, and some bloke in a shop "dressed as a glam rocker" (he isn't.) It's like that pointless "pleased to meet you" column which the Guardian does on Saturdays and nobody reads, only out of focus.

The other big problem with this iteration of the NME is that it doesn't have a clue what it is anymore. There's Kate and Karen, but also New Order and Morrissey bits; there's a full page marking The Verve's reunion, which is written with the apparent assumption that people might have heard of Ashcroft, but know little of him (we should point out that the 'full page' is mainly a photograph). So the new target reader seems to be someone who'd be worried about Mozzer retiring and how faithful the Joy Division movie is, but who doesn't know about the Mad Richard years. Someone who'd buy a magazine because there's The View on the cover, but not minding there's only a brief review about them inside. A person who won't count the advertising pages ratio - about 40%, as it turns out.

The revamp has gone a long way to properly organizing the magazine the NME has become, but the big worry has to be that it now doesn't look like a publication that anyone would have come up with if they'd been starting from scatch.


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