Rolling Stone magazine is to launch its first Middle East edition with coverage of Arab music, hip hop and rock 'n' roll - but nothing that will rock the boat politically, says its publisher. Rolling Stone Middle East, due to launch in November, will be produced in Dubai under licence from the US-based publisher Wenner Media and aims to provide a voice for the region's "thriving" music scene - as well as tread a careful line in its coverage of regional politics.
"The Middle East music scene needs a platform. All of these international acts coming into the region proves that the music scene is thriving," said Waref Hawasli, the owner of HGW Media, which holds the rights to publish Rolling Stone Middle East. "I believe it will be a publication that is read by the masses." Several large publishing companies in the Middle East produce regional editions of international titles under licence. ITP Consumer Publishing started publishing Esquire Middle Eastlate last year; the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which owns and publishes The National, is to launch National Geographic Al Arabiya in October.
However, smaller and less established publishers such as HGW Media are also starting to launch licensed titles. Others include the newly established Arab Publisher House, which is set to launch Forbes Middle East this year. The US edition of Rolling Stone recently made the headlines after it published a feature on US Army general Stanley McChrystal in which he made unflattering remarks about the US administration. Gen McChrystal was forced to submit his resignation to Barack Obama, the US president, shortly after the magazine article was published online.
Mr Hawasli said the Middle East version of the magazine would not be running articles that deliberately stirred up controversy within the region. "Rolling Stone has a political section but it is a popular culture magazine. We have changed the politics section to 'regional affairs'. We will be very sensitive to cultural demands," he said. "Would we have run the McChrystal article? That would be a decision [for] the editors. Running an article like that now, knowing what it did, versus running it then, are two very different questions."
Some regional commentators said the magazine might not have a free rein when it came to publishing political stories. "No one can give guarantees on protection of freedom of expression anywhere in the Arab world due to intertwining political, social, religious and security factors. Politics in Rolling Stone will turn into a PR affair," said Ali Jaber, the dean of the Mohammed Bin Rashid School for Communication at the American University of Dubai and a consultant to Dubai Media Incorporated.
Mr Hawasli said the UAE's National Media Council had granted a publication licence for Rolling Stone Middle East. The magazine will initially be sold in the UAE, where Mr Hawasli said the youthful demographic and mix of nationalities meant there was a strong market for the title. "We feel Dubai and the UAE are a melting-pot of cultures. I think the one thing that connects us all is music. Music in general is probably one of the only universal tools that can really capture an audience," he said.
"Over time we plan on distributing throughout the GCC and Middle East." The cover price of the magazine will be between Dh18 (US$4.90) and Dh20 and it will be sold in retail outlets and, eventually, on a subscription basis. HGW Media is yet to appoint a distributor; it is currently approaching potential advertisers. The title will also have an online presence. A Dubai-based editorial team and a regional network of freelancers will help produce content covering Middle East artists and regional affairs.
"We want to have about 40 per cent local content. Sixty per cent will be taken from the US version. Over time the balance will hopefully reach 50-50. We're going to be needing staff all across the region. They will most likely start on a freelance basis," said Mr Hawasli. While the title will be published in English, Mr Hawasli said he was "open to" an Arabic language edition but added there were no immediate plans for a such a move.
Mr Hawasli said the magazine launch would be accompanied by a marketing drive. "The brand won't sell itself automatically. It needs to be distributed, circulated and marketed constantly," he said. Maureen Lamberti, the licensing and business affairs director at Wenner Media, confirmed "we have licensed Rolling Stone to HGW Media in Dubai for an edition of Rolling Stone in the UAE". HGW Media, which has offices at Dubai Media City, also publishes FYI Dubai, a listings guide to the UAE.