NME goes free

But is it the dawn of a new age or the beginning of the end?

Today saw a momentous day in the life one of of British Music's best known names.

The New Musical Express or NME as it titled itself latterly, has gone free.

There can't be many music fans that haven't nipped down to the newsagents on a Thursday to pick up a copy of the weekly music bible. The problem of course is that in later years the number of music fans doing so has dropped dramatically.

This isn't a problem confined to the music press. Many strong publishing brands have faced the shift in the way that people consume information in the internet age.

In general there are three approaches that publishers take. The first is to bury their heads in the sand, pay their photographers and writers less money and hope everything will be alright in the end. It won't, and NME are to be commended for actually doing something, albeit a little late.

The second approach is to go all subscription. It's a method that News Corp have adopted with the FT being perhaps the most prestigious name to hide itself behind a paywall.

The final way of surviving the www is to go free. The London Evening Standard and Metro have gone this way. For them it seems to be working, as circulation and as a consequence advertising revenue have jumped markedly with Metro rising to over 1 million copies distributed per day.

Owners of the NME, Time Inc UK have taken the free option and combined this with a rebrand into more of a 'lifestyle' title, promising film, fashion, television, politics, gaming and technology.

“Every media brand is on a journey into a digital future. That doesn't mean leaving print behind, but it does mean that print has to change," said NME editor Mike Williams.

So what does it look like?

I picked one up earlier at the Bournemouth branch of HMV and, whilst there wasn't exactly a scrum to grab a copy (it was hurling it down outside anyway) it was clear that music fans had been out to get a freebie.

It's glossier, the same size as the old version and, as you'd expect there are a ton more ads. The ads have changed slightly in their tenor with pages publicising the Libertines new tour vying for attention with a DFS sofa ad and one for the release of Josh Brolin film Everest.

The copy has changed a bit too. Yes there's a john Lydon interview and pics from around the festivals but also there are pages that look decidedly like they've been transported from a  middle class Sunday Supplement featuring paid-for plugs for sunglasses and handbags.

Will it last?

I've got to say it probably will, but not in the form it is now.

Todays' NME looks uneasy in its new skin, like it would really really like to get shot of the music gumph and feature important stuff like '12 ways to buff your nails'.

There's little quality journalism and the curation of gigs to see seems a bit turgid. Admittedly regular readers of the NME will have noticed these going absent some time ago, with the title relying upon endless Noel Gallagher and Libertines tabloidesque 'revelations'.

If the writers can't see the irony of Rihanna on the front page telling everyone how bad she is and John Lydon on an inside page interviewed whilst having a pee then there really is no hope.

The truth is that I desperately want it to survive, the sad fact is that the paper I want to live on is probably already dead.

[gray_box]You can pick up a free copy of NME every Friday. There's distribution points in Topman Bournemouth and Castlepoint, HMV Bournemouth and Poole, the O2 academy, and The Vault, Christchurch. It's probably at the Uni too.

if you're not in the area then you can find your local distribution points for NME here  http://www.nme.com/map

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