NME and Uncut sold to Singapore's BandLab

Ex-NME editor suggests digital brand can be 'more valuable' outside publishing company.

NME and Uncut: staff will remain in Blue Fin Building
NME and Uncut: staff will remain in Blue Fin Building

NME, once one of Britain’s most revered music magazines, has been sold by long-standing publisher TI Media to a Singaporean music technology company.

BandLab Technologies is buying NME, which was founded in 1952 and shut its print edition in 2018, and Uncut, which made its debut in 1997, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal includes the two brands’ social, digital, print and experiential assets, and is expected to complete by the end of this month.

Private-equity company Epiris bought TI Media, which was previously known as IPC Media and used to be part of Time Inc, last year.

Sixteen editorial and three commercial staff from NME and Uncut will transfer to BandLab but remain in TI Media’s London headquarters in the Blue Fin Building, Southwark.

BandLab, a social music creation platform, describes itself as a collective of music-focused brands that span tech, retail, manufacturing and publishing, and is focused on building a "connected world of music" and creating products and services for music makers and lovers. It claims to have more than five million global users.

The company already owns UK-based Guitar.com, which is based in Bath, and is a former joint owner of Rolling Stone internationally.

Meng Ru Kuok, founder and chief executive of BandLab, is 30 and a Malaysian national based in Singapore, according to a UK Companies House filing. His father is a palm oil billionaire.

"We are very excited to welcome NME and Uncut to the BandLab Technologies family," he said. 

"These brands occupy a treasured place in the UK music landscape and increasing relevance to the global music scene, which we are looking to enhance and extend. 

"These two media brands will play an important role in continuing our vision to create a connected world of music.

"We’re especially pleased to be welcoming an experienced and knowledgeable editorial and commercial staff to deliver cutting-edge and opinion-driven content for music lovers everywhere."

Marcus Rich, chief executive of TI Media, said: "NME and Uncut will always have a special place in our story. Their reputation for standout, award-winning journalism spanning seven decades goes well beyond the world of music and I’m proud they’ve attained that status as part of our company. 

"At the same time, we need to recognise that, to achieve the next stage of their evolution, NME and Uncut will be better-placed with a business that has music at its heart. 

"Under BandLab Technologies’ ambitious ownership and direction, I’m confident both of these truly iconic brands will thrive." 

It is understood that there are no plans to merge NME and Uncut.

TI Media has been streamlining its operation and is reportedly set to hire Tim Weller, founder of Incisive Media, as its chairman.

In its heyday, IPC Media was the biggest consumer magazine publisher in Britain with 65 titles as recently as 2011, but revenues have shrunk as readers migrated online and titles such as Nuts, Look and InStyle have been closed or sold.

A digital brand can be 'more valuable outside of a publishing company'

Conor McNicholas, a former editor of NME who went on to work at The & Partnership, said there was a logic to selling the titles.

"The move from a print to a digital landscape meant that magazine brands rapidly became more valuable outside of a publishing company than inside it," McNicholas said. 

"In the analogue world of print and newsstand, you broadly had the same business model for all of the magazines regardless of subject or audience, so scale mattered for cost-saving and leverage.

"But when you move those same brands into digital, each title wants to do very different things with their audience relationship. 

"A few will still be platforms for advertising, but the fashion brands, for instance, were always pulled towards becoming retail portals. Country Life [owned by TI Media] is now a premium property website supported by content. Other brands needed to shift more into experiential.

"Publishing companies were never built to handle 65 business models for 65 brands, so they've not innovated the way they should and it inevitably held a lot of the titles back."

McNicholas, who was editor from 2002 to 2009, added: "NME’s innovation, its transition to a successful multiplatform, multi-revenue digital model of tickets, merchandising, radio, TV and events, worked because we isolated ourselves from the rest of the company in the early days.

"We moved so fast no-one internally could keep up with what we were doing. Things slowed as soon as the powers that be got involved.

"Hopefully, this new move will free the NME up to expand again."

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