Indie fans rejoice! From September, no longer will you have to spend in excess of £2.50 in order to find out the progress of Pete Doherty’s latest rehab attempt! Halle-fucking-lujah!
Others would say it’s the first sign that NME is truly at death’s door, losing circulation quicker than a pensioner in the winter under the Conservatives. When the majority of newsagents have stopped stocking your long running publication, it’s a sign that something is up. As former NME writer Danny Baker put it, “And so…the NME is a free sheet now. Why not? The games up & the fire’s gone out.”
So what does this “radical” change of plan mean for NME and the wider print press in general?
The short answer is probably not a lot. As said above, NME have been struggling for a long time, using a combination of their successful online site and nostalgia based merchandising to subsidize their loss making print venture. This isn’t about the wider print trade, this is NME’s last roll of the dice.
Kerrang, the only other weekly music rag still going, is so different that the only middle ground between them nowadays is the odd article on one of the big 90’s rock acts (Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Green Day). If it was 2006 and both mags were still competing for the important market of My Chemical Romance fans then it may be a different case… But alas it isn’t!
In terms of the monthlies. Most of them have suffered a decrease in print sales in recent years anyway. Those left reading Q, Mojo and the likes aren’t going to read them any less with NME costing nothing, those left in the monthly market aren’t going to be the ones fretting over a loose fiver.
The print market is adapting slowly to the changing tastes of consumers, with more and more people reading their preferred periodical on their phone or tablet as opposed to being lumped with a bit of paper. Add in the potential for interactive and media content and it’s easy to see why!
The only question really remaining is whether the NME’s move to free is going to resuscitate a magazine that is quickly falling in danger of flat lining. Can it bring back readers by making it free (and likely piling it in with more adverts as a result)? Or will their failure to adapt with the success of Kerrang be the final blow to the formerly great institution?