Influential British music magazine NME is to become a free title from September, publisher Time Inc. has confirmed.
In its 1970s heyday, the weekly magazine sold in excess of 250,000 copies, but over the past decade sales have steadily slipped to currently stand at just over 15,000 across combined print and digital editions.
Seeking to arrest the decline, Time Inc. is to axe the £2.50 ($4.00) cover price and distribute an increased print run of 300,000 copies outside train and London Underground stations, student unions and at selected retail partners across the United Kingdom. Going forward, the magazine will also feature increased coverage of film, fashion, television, politics, gaming and technology, although music will remain "firmly at the heart of the brand," according to a statement from the publisher.
To coincide with the move to a free title, the magazine’s website NME.com will also be relaunched to include a greater range of new and original "content output and range" as the brand repositions into "an audience-first global media business."
"This famous 63-year-old brand was an early leader in digital and has been growing its global audience successfully for the best part of 20 years. It has been able to do so because music is such an important passion and now is the right time to invest in bringing NME to an even bigger community for our commercial partners," said Marcus Rich, chief executive of Time Inc U.K," in a statement.
First launched in 1952, NME, or New Musical Express, has long been a staple of the British magazine and music industry with its ability to make and destroy bands -- often both within the space of just a few weeks -- passing into legend. In 1996 NME.com was launched and has grown to become one of the most popular music websites registering over 5 million unique monthly users, according to Time Inc.
The brand has also successfully branched into live and award events via the annual NME Awards show and its portfolio of NME live events and tours, which are attended by over 200,000 music fans annually. Its forays into TV and radio were, however, less successful: digital station NME TV ran for four years from 2007 to 2012, while NME radio was launched in 2008 and shuttered in early 2013. According to Time Inc. UK, NME’s current weekly brand reach across print, online, social media and live events totals 3.9 million.
"NME is already a major player and massive influencer in the music space, but with this transformation we’ll be bigger, stronger and more influential than ever before," commented NME editor Mike Williams on the publication’s latest overhaul. "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, so I’m incredibly excited by the role it will now play as part of the new NME," Williams went on to say.
The first free print issue of NME will be published in the U.K. September 18 with a digital edition made available internationally the same day. A spokesperson for Time Inc. tells Billboard that although "there are no current definite plans to publish NME in print for free overseas" the company is talks with distribution partners in international markets about potential opportunities. New rates for overseas print subscribers will also be introduced in due course, which will only cover postage and packaging.