Will a free NME hit the right note with readers and brands?

NME is to rebrand, giving its magazine a circulation boost by making it free and introducing new content such as video and events. Industry observers suggest the move could help the struggling music magazine’s brand as it battles with slumping sales and could offer new opportunities to marketers keen to reach it’s younger readership.


The strategy shift will see NME circulate 300,000 issues in locations such as tube stations, at selected retailers and on university campuses. That is a vast improvement on its current paid circulation of around 15,000, according to the last ABC figures.

NME.com, as well as its apps and social media presence, will also get an overhaul. The content NME covers will also change to include film, fashion, TV, politics, gaming and technology, rather than just music.

NME also plans to “dramatically increase” its content output and range by expanding into live events, offering more opportunities around video and more engagement on social media. The rebrand is set to happen by mid-September.

Mike Williams, editor of NME, says: “NME is already a major player and massive influencer in the music space, but with this transformation we’ll be bigger, stronger and more influential than ever before.”

‘NME looks to plot similar course to YouTube’

Mark Mulligan, music and media analyst at MIDiA Research, says the revamp addresses two “mega trends” – the fact that consumers don’t want to pay for content and that music is less central to youth culture than it used to be.

He explains: “People define themselves by a broader range of lifestyle attributes than in previous decades.  The success story of digital content is YouTube which is all things to all people even though it has music at its core.

“NME hopes to plot a similar course.”

nme mag

Nicholas Gill, planning director at integrated ad agency Doner UK, says the change in strategy should help keep NME “front and centre” rather than something to look at through the misty-eyed look at history. He predicts it could help NME avoid the fate of its one-time rival Melody Maker.

However, Richard Armstrong of content marketing agency Kameleon says NME must beware of swapping a small engaged audience with one that is less interested in its content and just reading it because its free.

“This distribution model is tried and tested – think Time Out, Metro. The immediate pitfall is they don’t know the advocacy of the people reading it – are they doing it because it’s in front of them or because they genuinely enjoy the editorial content?” he asks.

Armstrong also questioned NME’s move beyond music. The brand has spent 63 years builing up credibility in music but it doesn’t have that in other areas, he points out.

“They don’t have the credibility and it will take a long time to build that up. How much money and resource will they have to throw at it to get people to buy into their vision over and above the music?” he adds.

The bigger brand opportunity

An NME spokeswoman says one of the big advantages to going free will be the “wider range of innovative solutions for commercial partners across print and digital” although there were very few details.

“Now is the right time to invest in bringing NME to an even bigger community for our commercial partners.”

Marcus Rich, CEO of NME’s owner Time Inc UK.

Broadening the content base, both in terms of platforms and type, should help attract new consumers, says Gill, extending the reach for brands.

“Focusing on content including video and live events is particularly appealing to brand partners and advertisers because it offers a much deeper and more meaningful opportunity to connect with an influential, young and interesting readership beyond just a standard press insertion,” he adds.

Ariel King, content strategist at Arena Media, says the changes will offer NME a lot more opportunity to do sponsored content with brands and could trigger a number of brands to move into music-related content that might not otherwise.

Armstrong agrees, saying brands should look to the type of tie-up that Heineken has with the Metro to find interesting and innovative ways of reaching the NME audience, joining up offline and online to offer “great brand experiences”.

“People believe print is dying… but there can be a resurgence. The challenge is providing the value in the content they are creating. They need to understand and then convey information and content that is relevant to their audience and from a credible point of view,” he says.

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