The NME, once a cultural bible for music fans, has been sold to a company set up by the blues-loving son of one of Asia’s richest men.
TI Media, formerly Time Inc, has sold the NME and Uncut, a rock-focused music magazine, to BandLab Technologies of Singapore, which previously owned a 49 per cent stake in Rolling Stone, for an undisclosed sum.
The NME, once a dominant force in music publishing, has been struggling over the past decade. In March last year it stopped publishing the print version of its magazine, which traced its roots back to 1952, as circulation plunged despite being relaunched as a free sheet in 2015.
The NME — now essentially a website and radio channels — began as the “Accordion Times and Musical Express” before the launch of the singles chart in the 1950s brought it to a wider audience. By the mid-1960s it was at the centre of youth culture, covering concerts headlined by The Beatles and The Who, while in the 1970s it chronicled the rise of punk.
The sale is the first time the NME has changed ownership in its 70-year history. BandLab approached TI, which had not put the titles up for sale, about a deal.
BandLab was set up by 30-year-old Cambridge graduate Meng Ru Kuok, whose father is Kuok Khoon Hong, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of Wilmar International, the agricultural commodities trader.
BandLab has developed cloud-based music collaboration software that has built a base of 7m users. Around 2m songs are uploaded to BandLab every month. The company also makes and sells musical instruments and owns other music websites.
BandLab sold its minority stake in Rolling Stone magazine to Penske Media Group in January and subsequently approached TI about NME.
The Singapore company did not comment on whether it would look to invest in expanding NME and Uncut’s work force but said that delivering “cutting-edge and opinion-driven content for music lovers everywhere” underpinned the deal.
“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,” said Mr Kuok, whose father invests in the business.
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.”