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 Everett True

Another news story predicting the demise of the NME

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The Sugarcubes on the front of the NME, 1987

This time, the article is on The Guardian. (What am I saying, this time it’s on The Guardian? It’s always on The Guardian. Vested interests and all that.)

I’m still not clear about copyright issues on the web, how much of an article you are, and aren’t, allowed to reprint on a non-profit blog if the reason you’re reprinting it is to comment upon it – maybe someone could clue me in here? – so I’m just going to lift out a couple of the more relevant points, and link to the rest of the article here.

As the NME nears its 60th birthday, has its influence in music world waned? Critics say music weekly with proud history no longer has the huge relevance it once had

In recent weeks, following the announcement the music weekly’s circulation had fallen to 27,650, the music industry has been abuzz with rumours: its staff have been told to ditch the coverage of guitar bands and concentrate on urban music; one issue before Christmas was bought by just 12,000 people; it will be going free any day now.

All untrue, according to Krissi Murison, the NME’s 30-year-old editor. “There hasn’t been an edict from me,” she says of the first suggestion. “Categorically untrue,” she responds to the second. “Free is not something we’re looking at,” she offers to the third.

Why reprint gossip that you know isn’t true? The ‘free’ rumour is the most likely to contain some merit – at the very least you suspect the NME’s publishers to have looked at the possibility, bearing in mind the continuing ‘success’ of free music magazines Stool Pigeon and The Fly back in the U.K. The figure of 27,650 is astonishing to those of us who remember how many copies both Sounds and Melody Maker were selling when they were closed, but of course it was a whole different playing field then, pre-web 1.0. And, as we all know, influence can’t be measured by sales figures alone. (Something borne out by the continued existence of Plan B Magazine during the 00s, a magazine that survived only because its advertisers knew exactly how focused its audience and groundbreaking its coverage was.) But this article goes further: it suggests that the NME‘s influence has waned, not just because of its declining sales figures, but also because of the preponderance of other outlets.

[Editor Krissi] Murison is bullish in her defence of the title, talking of its “amazing access and exclusivity” and it being “the most cutting edge in terms of the new artists we talk about”.

She is also fed up of naysayers who look only at the falling print circulation figures but ignore the 7 million monthly unique visitors to NME.com and the fact that the print edition still brings in the major part of NME’s revenues.

Interesting slip here. The article originally reported Krissi as saying nme.com had 4.5 million monthly unique users, corrected by online editor Luke Lewis (who confirmed the 7 million figure in a separate interview to me last week ).

Interesting that a magazine that has a circulation of under 30,000 weekly should bring in the major part of the NME‘s revenue. Interesting, and potentially problematic for future print magazine/web magazine models. This disparity can’t be simply down to free vs paid content, surely?

The next few paragraphs contain the rub, far as the NME‘s perceived ‘influence’ goes:

However, a widespread feeling within the music industry is that the loss of print readers has cost the NME something vital: its influence.

“NME’s perceived importance in breaking a new band is completely disproportionate and out of whack to its actual importance – it’s just taking bands, managers and myopic record company marketeers a long time to understand that,” says one major label publicist, speaking on condition of anonymity, and replicating the thoughts of others who did not wish to be quoted.

“Its relevance used to sit with its signified importance to the likes of Radio 1 – that the approbation of the former would inevitably then turn the heads of the latter,” the publicist says.

“That’s no longer the case, as Radio 1 now looks to myriad other signifiers to gauge an artist’s true ‘heat’. So for that read YouTube hits, Facebook stats, Shazam and so on. These are the new brokers of what’s hot and what’s not.”

Well, duh.

Murison, unsurprisingly, does not take that view. She talks of how the NME still “sets the agenda” and of how “every band still wants to be on the cover of the NME”.

But [Memphis Industries record label founder] Jacob says coverage in Mojo magazine is now more useful to Memphis Industries than the NME, and says young bands joining the label are more likely to be regular readers of American websites such as PitchforkStereogum or Gorilla vs Bear. “I don’t think any of them would go to NME.com to find a band,” he says.

I admire Krissi’s self-belief and her lack of perspective: it’s what always kept me strong during my U.K. music press years.

It’s long since seemed to me – writing from a distance, perhaps a little too aware of the worlds within worlds that exist in the music industry and the world of print journalism – that the NME sets the agenda for NME readers, the same way Plan B Magazine helped set the agenda for Plan B Magazine readers, and Collapse Board helps set the agenda for Collapse Board readers. Sure, if you’re the sort of band the NME might feature then you’d love to be on the front of the NME. And if you’re not, then you don’t care. Self-evident, really. And there’s more satisfaction to be gained from being on the front of a print publication, because web publications more often than not don’t even have front ‘covers’.

I am really, really interested in the massive disparity between the figures for NME and for its website. For how long has its website commanded an audience that large? How does it compare with the (The Guardian‘s words) ‘more influential’ American websites such as Stereogum or Gorilla vs Bear? And who are these readers of both the NME and its website? Do they even coincide?

P.S. The relevance of the image reprinted with this story is that it was the one and only time one of my band interviews appeared on the front of the NME.

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