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NME joins free trend

News, 07 July 2015

LONDON: The NME, a venerable UK music magazine, is ending its paid-for model and embracing free distribution, a move that is expected to see its circulation multiply 20-fold and offer brands new opportunities to reach its youthful readership.

Known in full as the New Musical Express, the title plans to begin circulating 300,000 free copies in strategic locations such as tube stations and university campuses, as well as selected retail stores. Its current paid circulation stands at around 15,000.

It is a well-trodden path in the UK, with the likes of London's Evening Standard newspaper and listings magazine Time Out having already embraced the free-distribution model.

"Every media brand is on a journey into a digital future," observed Mike Williams, the NME's editor, in remarks reported by The Drum.

"With this transformation we'll be bigger, stronger and more influential than ever before."

The changes are not limited to ending the NME's cover price, either. The repositioning will also see coverage expanded into other areas such as film, gaming and technology, while its digital output will include more video and a greater social media presence.

Commentators were divided on whether the shift would rescue the 63-year-old media brand.

Mark Mulligan, music and media analyst at MIDiA Research, told Marketing Week that the move addressed two "mega trends": consumers being reluctant to pay for content, and music being less central to today's youth culture than for previous generations.

"People define themselves by a broader range of lifestyle attributes than in previous decades," he said. "The success story of digital content is YouTube which is all things to all people even though it has music at its core. NME hopes to plot a similar course."

An alternative view came from Richard Armstrong of content marketing agency Kameleon, who cautioned against the assumption that a wider readership was necessarily better than a smaller, engaged audience.

But he also expects there will be more opportunities for sponsored content that could even attract some brands to move into music-related content for the first time.

Data sourced from The Drum, Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff