NME: the luxury publications making a resurgence in the vinyl era

Weekly trips to the newsagent to pick up a copy of your favorite music magazine were a rite of passage for millions of British youths in the second half of the 20th century.

Covers of legendary music magazines like NME, Melody Maker, and Sounds have been honored by bands as diverse as The Beatles, The Clash, Nirvana, and Oasis.

The arrival of the internet changed the magazine business in much the same way that it had changed the music business.

To everyone’s surprise, vinyl has staged a resurgence in the twenty-first century, much like a fading but once immensely popular rock star.

Like records, the British music bible NME has made a comeback, although with a new spin.

The new issue of NME will cost you ten pounds, come out every two months, and have a print run in the hundreds rather than the millions.

The Singaporean owner Caldecott Music Group claims they are “super-serving our super fans” with the new print edition.

For Caldecott CEO and founder Meng Ru Kuok, “The NME as a whole is something where we believe it is much more than just a product, it’s more than a service, and it’s more than the audience,” as he explained to the BBC.

As the saying goes, “in fact, it’s the eternal teenager, that should always be young.”

Since its founding 71 years ago, All the Young Dudes NME has chronicled a wide range of musical styles, from Elvis to electronic dance music.

As Beatlemania swept the globe, its readership quickly grew to over 300,000. Young music enthusiasts would devour every issue, which is packed with features on today’s biggest bands, as well as profiles of up-and-coming musicians.

There were articles discussing new albums, upcoming concerts, and classified ads for hard-to-find items and instruments.

Magazines like NME were portals to a fantastical world of sex and glamour beyond anything the reader had ever imagined. They were, above all else, hip. This is awesome.

However, being stylish was not enough to withstand the onslaught of the internet. NME’s former publisher, Time Inc UK, decided to make it free when its sales collapsed in 2014, down roughly 95% from its peak.

What keeps print going in the digital age
Despite reviving NME sales to their levels from the 1960s, this strategy ultimately proved unsustainable, and the publication ceased publication in 2018.

“focusing investment on further expanding [its] digital audience,” the NME’s owner said, was where the company’s efforts would be directed.

But it didn’t stop bands from posting photos of themselves on the front cover of NME along with the hashtag “RIP NME” on social media.

The plan, as the magazine goes back to its print roots, isn’t to publish so many issues that they’re available on every UK newsstand.

When it comes to the new print edition of NME, the difficulty is in channeling the cool energy that has built up over the years.

The modern concept of FOMO (the fear of missing out) may be the key here.

“The more rare a physical thing is, the more value it has, and that’s never been truer than now,” remarked Conor McNicholas, editor of NME between 2002 and 2009.

Your digital files will vanish as quickly as sand between your fingers. The limited distribution of sneakers or a vinyl CD makes “real fans” feel like they’re getting something exclusive, he said.

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Because of this shift, 21st-century albums are more like luxury goods than the mass-produced fare of yesteryear.

Limited editions, box sets, remastering, colored vinyl, gatefold covers, never-before-seen art prints, and countless more bonuses are increasingly commonplace in album packaging. And the price tag for this is expected to be quite high.

Final Return
Now, NME is attempting to follow suit by positioning itself as an upmarket alternative to vinyl, which has become increasingly uncommon and expensive in recent years.

We think the increased interest in the product’s rarity is a good thing for the featured artists and the product’s writers and designers. Mr. Kuok remarked, “The scarcity will only serve to strengthen our resolve to succeed.”

When it comes to magazine publication, NME isn’t alone in its approach.

Enders Analysis, a media analysis company, reports that 330 magazines were released in 2017, with many of them catering to specific niches.

These magazines come out rarely (maybe twice a year) and charge a hefty sum for their covers.

According to Abi Watson, media analyst at Enders Analysis, “for the most part, print editions are like vinyl records: offline and high quality but commercially a very small part of the overall media landscape.”

We Are Makers is a magazine that caters to independent artisans and is published on a quarterly basis. It costs £18 to buy and contains no advertisements.

“In today’s digital age, everyone’s attention is scattered online, making it harder for creators to be noticed,” stated magazine editors Kate and Jack Lennie.

“We wanted to bring back a more meaningful experience through print, where you can fully appreciate the content without constant online distractions,” they said.

Mr. Kuok emphasized that his goal in relaunching NME as a high-end, low-volume magazine was not to generate massive profits.

It’s not “a billion dollar revenue line,” he emphasized. In 2023, such a thought would be absurd, right?

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