By Clark Turner
New and forward thinking publications are attempting to take advantage of the fast emerging modern media landscape. It makes sense with print sales of both magazines and newspapers on the slide as readers vacate to online outlets.
But the leading player in the field is not one of the newer entries into the market but one of the UK’s heritage music brands – the New Musical Express, better known simply as the iconic NME.
The magazine was launched some 55 years ago and has been responsible for launching some of the biggest names in popular music, from the Beatles to the Stones, Bowie to the Sex Pistols, Joy Division to the Smiths, Nirvana to Radiohead and more.
It remains as relevant and contemporary today, as a flagship publication for IPC Media and with the annual NME Awards a highpoint in the annual music industry calendar. Heritage aside, it’s not to the past where the publication is looking but the future.
NME.com was launched in 1996 and currently has an impressive 1.8 million unique user (ABCe), up eight per cent year on year. It has also been named Best Music Magazine for two years running in the BT Digital Music Awards. So what’s the secret of its success?
According to NME Publishing Director, Paul Cheal (pictured), it’s is easy to explain in one word - simplicity.
“Unlike many other IPC online properties we’ve survived,” he explained. “Simplicity in navigation has been key in making us a survivor and a commercial success.
“Most users still come for news and that’s a good thing but we’re trying to drive them to other content areas. The website compliments the magazine perfectly by bringing it to a wider audience.”
He added, “The magazine is about the hardcore essence of the brand but on the site we can cover other stories not appropriate there, for example on Britney or Madonna.”
Although the focus of the site is news, editorial functions are integrated across both the magazine and website, with journalists writing on both and delivering immediacy online.
“When our team is blogging live from the side of the stage at music festivals you appreciate what the web can do when the web can’t,” Cheal said.
NME Mobile launched a new version of it’s offering in 2007 to meet the demands of today’s phone users. Experts predict 2008 will be a boom year for the platform but take up to date has generally been slow. Has NME been jumping the gun?
“Its appeal is in its ubitiquity, but we need to find a unique proposition we can monetise,” Cheal explained. “It’s great for fans who are prepared to pay for news or exclusive content and although we’re conscious of the potential of the market, we’re still trying to find the perfect solution.”
That said, there has been some success on the platform with page impressions in the thousands, according to Cheal. It may fall well behind the 1.8 million unique users of the website but big plans are currently being explored.
NME entered the TV market on November 23, on the back a major strategic partnership with CSC Media Group (formerly Chart Show Channels).
NMETV is available to around nine million households across the UK on Sky Digital 377 and includes Video-led programming on classic artists, as well as all the very best new bands NME is famous for championing.
Programming also includes exclusive interviews and footage – including material especially produced from NME's own award-winning tours, club nights and events across the UK and beyond.
“It complements the magazine perfectly and we have been able to include some key NME franchises such as the NME Chart and NME Radar (new music),” said Cheal. “There’s a genuine consistency with the editorial content of the magazine featuring similar artists.”
It’s still early days, but already the channel is showing a change in demographics to the readership of the magazine. Viewers appear to be drawn from the 25-34 age bracket, while the magazine’s readership continues to appeal to 15-24-year-olds.
“BARB could be a contributor but as a result, we’re extending the reach of the brand,” Cheal added.
The latest development for the brand will be the launch of NME Radio this summer as the result of a deal with multimedia music company DX Media.
Available on various national digital broadcast platforms, and to the users of NME.com, the new station will be a presenter-driven 24/7 alternative music service incorporating various cutting-edge sub-genres
But when GCap and Global are scaling down their digital radio operations isn’t this move out of step?
“We’ve got a fantastic brand and this is something we should have done before now,“ explained Cheal. “Irrespective of what other people are doing, it’s completely right for us. NME has been crying out for this and the brand will deliver audience.”
With so many channels carrying the NME brand, one might expect them to drive sales. But the magazine saw a downturn of 12.3 per cent year on year during the second half of 2007, with average sales now standing at 64,003 per issue
“There are multiple reasons to explain this,” said Cheal. “We’re seeing the first generation of readers where print is not their first medium of choice which is why digital is central part of our strategy.
“The music industry is also cyclical and needs a major new band to hit the mainstream and get people interested in reading about music again. There’s been nothing since the Artic Monkeys.”
He added, “We’re also working heavily on the design and content to ensure it weekly readers’ needs.
“Despite this, the magazine is our most profitable channel and it’s this that is driving our business.”
But in taking the brand across so many channels, what are the key things to bear in mind to ensure brand identity and values are not lost?
“It’s important the NME logo is large and visable for starters,” Cheal told us. “It’s also vital the make sure the DNA of the platform is part of the brand strategy.
“The exciting thing is that different media platforms serve different purposes, but if something big is happening in the NME world, you will see and hear that band on all platforms.”
He added, “But there are brand limitations. We wouldn’t put our name to an aftershave or a soap-on-a-rope. Whatever we do has to be appropriate to maintaining our credibility and has to appeal to music fans.
“By ensuring we keep our base readership, we can then build the brand to a wider audience.”
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