The circulation of veteran British music weekly magazine the NME has been falling steadily in recent years to its current nadir of 15,000. Its publisher Time Inc. is now throwing a hail-mary pass: making the magazine free, and giving away 300,000 copies outside London tube and train stations, student unions and retailers across the UK.
The mag will also expand its remit to “film, fashion, television, politics, gaming and technology”, essentially becoming a lifestyle magazine competing against fellow freebie Shortlist in the UK. Fans of publishing jargon will enjoy the publisher’s ambitions to use the NME website to reposition as “an audience-first global media business”. The first free issue comes out on 18 September, including an international digital edition, as NME seeks to regain its position as a key influence on teenagers’ music tastes. But with Time portraying the move as a boon for advertisers as much as readers, we wonder if there’ll be a conflict between the commercial need to reach a wide, mainstream audience, and the specialist music values that have historically defined the NME.