RIP NME – Print Journalism in The Internet Age

After 66 years, the NME has closed its print edition and will now only exist online at nme.com. Amidst this and the closure of many other print publications in recent years, Naomi discusses whether the internet has killed magazines as we know them – is print dead?

When the news broke last month that the NME was closing its print edition many people across generations were moved to share their memories of a magazine that has overseen and directed musical trends, from Beatlemania to Britpop.  The magazine was established in 1952, and joined the free market in 2015 with an ad-funded circulation of 300,000, but had to close under three years later, and will move entirely to nme.com. One question has arisen at the forefront of this news: was the NME’s demise an inevitable outcome of the rise of internet content, or did the publication accelerate its own downfall by choosing to join the free market and publish more generic content? Is there still a place for print in 2018?

Throughout its life, the NME has been instrumental in launching the careers of artists in alternative genres, such as The Slits in the 1970s punk movement, and Joy Division and The Smiths in the 80s. Smaller acts were championed by the magazine up until its closure, including a small paragraph on my own band in 2014 that served as our first piece of press. The NME gave a first start to journalists as well as musical artists; as Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes tweeted “I would never have been a writer without that place; I wouldn’t be doing what I do now without [then editor Krissi Murison] giving me the opportunity to quit uni to go and work there eight years ago. It was pretty much the only education I ever needed or wanted.” In both the music and journalism industries, where opportunities for young talent seem to be narrowing to those who can afford a rigorous touring schedule or several unpaid internships, a magazine that was able to offer a break into the public eye will certainly be missed.

However, many would argue that in the age of internet mixtapes and online blogs, musical artists and journalists alike no longer need to rely on a print magazine to get attention that can lead to a career. In 2018, political movements like #BlackLivesMatter and make up trends on Youtube can all gain a high profile without the need for an authoritarian gatekeeper editing and commissioning content. This democratization of content on social media means that young people today can control their own creative output and reach an audience that no longer rely on authorities such as older journalists or singles charts to decide what to listen to. Young music consumers would much rather take recommendations from influencers, their peers, or better yet, a personalized Spotify mix curated from data of their own listening habits.

The NME is not the only print magazine that has suffered from the rise of internet journalism, as high-fashion magazines The Face and i.D closed in 2004 and 2009 respectively, with the latter still existing online. Shockingly, Glamour magazine also axed its print edition last year, despite being the 10th most popular paid-for magazine in the UK. In 2015, the NME chose to become free instead of closing completely, and broadened its scope to put megastars such as Drake, Justin Bieber and (ahem) Radio DJ Chris Moyles on the cover. It seems counter-intuitive that becoming more mainstream could have lessened the NME’s readership, but this is exactly what happened. Chief commercial strategy officer at MediaCom Phil Hall told the Guardian that “the issue at the moment is there is a glut of titles that are too similar, too generic. Reaching audience at scale is key to many advertisers and if readers are falling away then that’s a major issue.” Compare the NME to Kerrang!, a rock music magazine that was established in 1981 and overtook NME’s readership in 2006, and is now the only existing British weekly music magazine, with an expanded editorial team and a New York office opening soon. In contrast to the NME, Kerrang! has maintained a devotion to metal and hard rock music, whilst acknowledging trends such as emo without changing the core of the magazine, and has gone from strength to strength as a result.

The example of Kerrang! reveals that young people are not averse to buying print magazines, but value authenticity and loyalty to core values over throwaway trends and following fads. The rise of social media means that a publication that is established as a gatekeeper of taste for its readers is unlikely to succeed, but in 2018, a magazine that could champion up-and-coming artists and journalists, and could move with the times but still retain its niche appeal would have a place in print.