This week marks an end of an era for yet another print publication. The NME will print its final publication today after a 66 year run, citing rising production costs and a "tough" advertising market. This feels like going back to that snooker club you’d use to frequent when you were 14, when you should have been in Geography class reading the back of your eyelids. Only to find the snooker club is now bordered up.
The truth is NME is going to be ok. More than ok. And now that it’s cut the dead weight of its haemorrhaging print circulation, it might actually start to improve the quality of its content. Although surely the content is reliant on the landscape of the world in which it sits. To quote Tony Parsons in a piece he wrote in GQ three years ago,
“None of this brave new world would matter if there were a generation of bands with good hair and great tunes setting sweaty basements on fire with bass, guitar and drums”.
NME is a monolith of a brand. Online it claims to have more than 13m global unique users per month, including 3m in the UK (data from Comscore and publisher’s own internal analytics). It has some 921,000 followers on Twitter and more than 883,000 likes on Facebook. It claims its social media reach is more than 200m per month (own data).
There is no way on God’s green earth for any company with that kind of leverage to making a loss digitally. Or is there? I can speak from personal experience that the hidden costs to creating an online magazine can be staggering. You need to factor in editorial creation, content writing, design, software, circulation, marketing, hosting/bandwidth, not to mention the amount of coffee I go through sat at the desk writing these damn thought pieces.
However, I’m still emotionally involved and divided on this one. Since the news broke there has been an exorbitant amount of gushing praise for a newspaper that also “discovered” an awful lot of trendy-for-five-minutes shite. But as much as I’m a slave to nostalgia, and love the feel of a magazine in my hand, I’m a digital content creator. My bread is buttered on binary toast and that breakfast menu is not going to change anytime soon for me.
So what lies ahead for print magazines?
If you take the NME as a case study. It hit its lowest circulation figures of 15,000 in 2015. Was it a last throw of the dice to turn convert the publication to an ad-funded, free title with a circulation of 300,000 or an investment into building its online platform?
In a release earlier this week Time Inc's UK group managing director Paul Cheal said: "NME is one of the most iconic brands in British media and our move to free print has helped to propel the brand to its biggest ever audience on NME.com. The print reinvention has helped us to attract a range of cover stars that the previous paid-for magazine could only have dreamed of.”
The NME’s digital director Keith Walker has said “Our global digital audience has almost doubled over the past two years.”
A counter argument for this will be the decline of eBook sales in recent years and rise of print sales according to industry bodies. But these are books. And the print industry is really only making money in the children’s fiction genre. In short, we’re not comparing apples with apples here.
Instead we should be looking at stats like Glamour magazine, UK’s 10th biggest magazine, focusing on a digital-first strategy with a print edition just twice a year instead of monthly.
We should look at the capitulation and print closures such as The Face, I.D, Maxim, Sugar, Nuts, Bliss, Loaded, Zoo, Company and of course FHM.
But for all those worried about the fate of NME, as Lord Flash heart would say, ‘tell the Queen to stop blubbing, I’m not dead, I simply ran out of juice!’
Ironically the free print publication has bolstered the brands immune system, selfless sacrificing its own existence for the greater good; the survival of the digital NME.