Free print copies of NME magazine draw mixed reaction

image copyrightNME
image captionThe first free edition of NME features a 'world-exclusive' interview with Rihanna

The first free issue of British music magazine NME has been distributed around the UK, featuring Rihanna as its debut cover star.

NME said the singer was an "obvious" choice as "she's individual, she's iconic and she perfectly embodies the spirit of the new NME."

Weekly sales of NME, founded in 1952, had dropped to 15,000, but the free version's initial print run is 300,000.

Editor Mike Williams told the BBC the move to free was a "no brainer".

The first edition, which is being handed out at train and tube stations, and is available in universities and shops, features several changes - including positioning itself as a "Music/Film/Style" magazine and putting Rihanna on the cover instead of a traditional guitar band.

Readers have been posting their reactions online.

"Most non-old NME thing about #freeNME is not its cover star, but that it's promising music, film and, er, "style"," tweeted Fat Roland.

Electronic music group Mint Royale tweeted: "So Rihanna is the first cover star of the new NME and that is a new direction I can really get behind."

'A tough task'

Writing on his media blog, commentator David Hepworth said: "I don't think there's any coming back from this. It either works or that's the end."

Hepworth continued: "For what it's worth, they've made a very good start with Rihanna for the cover of their re-launch issue.

"But they will know that it's not about one issue. They have to find a way to deal with the full range of contemporary pop while still being identifiably the NME. Week in, week out. It's a tough task."

NME announced in July that it would follow the lead of publications like London newspaper the Evening Standard and culture magazine Time Out by going free in print, alongside its website and online app.

As well as music interviews with artists like Rihanna and Chvrches, the new issue features a new columnist, comedian Katherine Ryan, and articles on TV shows including Doctor Who, This is England '90 and The Big Bang Theory.

media captionThe NME's editor, Mike Williams, says an increase in advertising will not affect the quality of the product

Tim Boddy tweeted: "The best thing about working from home is that I don't run the risk of a free NME being thrust in my hands."

Jack Rattenbury tweeted: "Picked up the first ever #FreeNME only to find out that Rihanna's new album is still not ready. Gurl."

Adrian Read wrote: "Bit concerned the #freeNME hashtag makes it sound like someone has imprisoned a music/film/style magazine in a cage at leeds festival."

'Influential brand'

During its heyday in the 1970s, NME sold more than 250,000 copies a week, but is one of many print publications to suffer a sharp decline in sales as online grows.

Editor Williams told the BBC that NME was still an "incredibly powerful" and "pivotal and influential music brand".

"People know NME, people love NME - being able to distribute this many copies, we can reach a lot more people now," said Williams.

image copyrightNME
image captionReaders can find out where to find the new free NME with an online map

According to Music Week, the first free issue contains "the biggest advertising revenue in 15 years and features five times the volume of advertising, compared with the corresponding issue last year."

But Williams said the magazine would not be sacrificing its editorial independence in the interests of advertisers.

"The most important thing about NME is it's individuality, it's uniqueness and its point of view. Shifting our business model doesn't mean we're going to lose our identity," said Williams.

"Don't expect NME to suddenly be an opinion-less, bland magazine, because we're still going to definitely have some punch and definitely have some bite."

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