The NME, a bible of British music and a staple of the country’s newsstands since 1952, will cease print publication with Friday’s edition, its owner, Time Inc. U.K., announced today. The company said it is launching new digital services to accompany its NME.com website, which will include NME Audio — featuring two new music channels, NME 1 and NME2 — and other options.
As print sales plummeted, like many publications the NME (titled New Musical Express until its initials became so iconic that explaining them was redundant) attempted to make a free model work, and beginning in September of 2015 the magazine was handed out to commuters and students. Yet it wasn’t enough to sustain a regular print edition, although the company says it will continue to publish special print editions.
Paul Cheal, Time Inc. UK group managing director of music, said according to Music Business Worldwide: “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. At the same time, we have also faced increasing production costs and a very tough print advertising market. Unfortunately we have now reached a point where the free weekly magazine is no longer financially viable. It is in the digital space where effort and investment will focus to secure a strong future for this famous brand.”
The move follows Time Inc. U.K.’s recent sale to the private equity firm Epiris. Longtime editor Mike Williams stepped down late last month.
For decades the NME has been the loudest voice in British music, particularly in the rock and indie genres: The Beatles and the Rolling Stones performed at its annual Pollwinners concerts during the 1960s, it was a standard-bearer of David Bowie and glam rock and, later, the punk explosion in the mid-1970s, synth-pop and The Smiths in the 1980s; the Britpop wave of Oasis, Blur and many others in the 1990s, and every wave and micro-wave since. Being featured on its cover was a goal and/or a milestone for untold thousands of musicians. It introduced the world to a galaxy of too many British music journalists to name, and served as a gateway drug to British music for countless thousands of readers overseas. While its supremacy was often challenged and in some ways topped by other long-running weeklies such as Melody Maker and Sounds, it remained and remains the definitive British music publication.
Its ubiquity is summarized by an anniversary edition in the 1990s, when dozens of British pop stars of the era were asked what the NME meant to them. The most common answer? “It’s Wednesday” — the day the magazine hit the newsstands every week.