An online version, NME.com, was launched in 1996. It became the world's biggest standalone music site, with over seven million users per month. With newsstand sales falling across the UK magazine sector, the magazine's paid circulation in the first half of 2014 was 15,830. In 2013, the list of NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and the way it was conceived was criticized by the media.
The printed magazine NME was relaunched in September 2015 to be distributed nationally as a free publication. The first average circulation published in February 2016 of 307,217 copies per week was the highest in the brand's history, beating the previous best of 306,881, recorded in 1964 at the height of the Beatles' fame. By December 2017, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, average distribution of NME had fallen to 289,432 copies a week, although its publisher Time Inc. UK claimed to have more than 13m global unique users per month, including 3m in the UK. In March 2018 the publisher announced that the print edition of NME would cease publication after 66 years, leaving it as an online-only title.
The paper was established in 1952. The "Accordion Times and Musical Express" was bought by London music promoter Maurice Kinn, for the sum of £1,000, just 15 minutes before it was due to be officially closed. It was relaunched as the New Musical Express, and was initially published in a non-glossy tabloid format on standard newsprint. On 14 November 1952, taking its cue from the US magazine Billboard, it created the first UK Singles Chart, a list of the Top Twelve best-selling singles. The first of these was, in contrast to more recent charts, a top twelve sourced by the magazine itself from sales in regional stores around the UK. The first number one was "Here in My Heart" by Al Martino.
During the 1960s the paper championed the new British groups emerging at the time. The NME circulation peaked under Andy Gray (editor 1957–1972) with a figure of 306,881 for the period from January to June 1964. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were frequently featured on the front cover. These and other artists also appeared at the NME Poll Winners' Concert, an awards event that featured artists voted as most popular by the paper's readers. The concert also featured a ceremony where the poll winners would collect their awards. The NME Poll Winners' Concerts took place between 1959 and 1972. From 1964 onwards they were filmed, edited and transmitted on British television a few weeks after they had taken place.