Last Friday NME magazine went free for the first time in its 63 year history as 300,000 copies of NME magazine were distributed free of charge from areas such as shops, train stations and universities. Along with the change in price the new free format also came with a change in direction for the iconic music magazine in terms of content – with the magazine now being branded as a Music/Film/Style publication.


The seeds of change for the magazine have of course been in the air for some time now. At its height in the 1970s the NME sold up to 250,000 copies a figure that has languished in recent times to around 15,000. The new move to print 300,000 copies with a subsequent change in content is therefore a big one, but not one that will appear out of the blue to followers.


With the rise of online and digital music and music journalism in recent times the privileged realm of the NME for providing expert auditing and reviews is one that has waned – largely as a result of all new platforms for music lovers to find their own music and to listen and share it themselves. What used to be the specialised and privileged position of NME of reaching readers with high quality and revered content across the UK is now the domain of online publications and blogs.


Is going “Free” the answer?


“Freebie marketing” is nothing new. For generations advertisers and sellers have been distributing their products either at a very small amount or free of charge. This highly successful technique has usually however been used as a tempter to then make a profit on subsidiary items associated with the product – aka razors and razor blades. The idea that you give away your product for free without any obvious follow up sales in contrast is one that might appear to many to be irrational or untenable.


As David Skok explains however in his post The Power of Free while these customers are not immediately monetised they represent a great opportunity for future monetisation – as proven by companies such as Facebook and Google. And while there may not be immediate profits from point of sale leads, there is the acquisition of your most valuable marketing asset – the customer themselves. The customer in this instance can save you a large sum of money in marketing and advertising costs in their use and advocation of the product.


While the NME is of course already a hugely known and read magazine, the option to go free is potentially an excellent rebranding exercise that both recognises the need to compete with available online and digital resources as well as capitalising on word of mouth advertising. The move to go free has of course driven its own publicity and the increase in volume of magazines available will have a huge impact on readership levels and visibility for the brand. The trick for the NME will however be to prove that it can retain its value to customers as an authoritative news source that appeals to a broader section of the public while remaining authentic to its roots.


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By Paul Gregson