After struggling with plummeting readership figures and a a poor reputation amongst the bulk of today's music fans, NME officially reinvented itself as a free publication last month. A few things have changed, but much has also remained the same. So, should you be excited to pick up the latest free copy from your local tube station entrance or university campus? Or has the NME become an irrelevance; not worth the paper it's printed on, and doomed to fade into obscurity before long?
"Of course you should care! The NME is an institution that has admirably revamped itself for the modern age!"
The NME formed way back in 1952 and was one of the world's first music magazines, so it's not ridiculous to call it an institution. While other revered music mags like Melody Maker and Smash Hits unceremoniously folded shorty after the turn of the century, NME soldiered on and stayed relevant during the indie rock explosion of the mid-2000s. Even before it went free, the paper had embraced new trends in music, handing cover priveleges to acts such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. Now, it has widened its pool of content to include cinema, politics, and fashion. If you didn't care about its ramblings on the latest indie pop sensation five years ago, you'll likely find something more to your taste in its latest editions. If you're still struggling to see the attraction, picture this: you're on a cold Friday morning commute, and you're looking for something to read. It's the Metro, the NME, or... er... City AM? NME's looking like a better option now, isn't it?
"Please... The NME lost its relevance years ago. The fact that it's free changes nothing."
It's a harsh statement, but one that many 18-24 year olds (NME's target audience) would agree with. Arguably, the price was never the issue for NME's potential readership - it was the content. Their writing has often been criticised as close-minded and low in quality, and a few extra articles about The Conservative Party Conference and London Fashion Week aren't likely to reel back in those who walked away due to these faults. For me, though, it was quite the opposite. I enjoyed their reviews (Mark Beaumont's pieces, in particular), but just couldn't justify handing over £2.50 a week when so much of the same content was available online. Had the paper gone free and maintained its old format, I would have been thrilled. Instead, its respectable troop of indie music journalists are being coerced into producing cringeworthy pieces on subjects like the history of house music while the editors whack Robert Pattinson on the front cover. In losing its niche, it might have ensured it gets lost in the multitude of mediocre free culture mags in circulation.
What do you think of the new NME? A waste of paper or a nice casual read? Let us know in the comments section...