At Lakme Fashion Week, which ended on Tuesday in Mumbai, Natasha Khurana is running in and out of shows and meeting some of the 80 designers and 400 buyers who have descended on the biggest event in India's fashion calendar. Khurana is the fashion features editor at the Indian edition of Elle magazine and, as part of a publishing industry whose rude health is the envy of weary editors in the West, she has never been busier.
"Until 2007 we were the only international fashion magazine with an Indian edition," she taps on her BlackBerry. "Then Vogue, Harpers and Grazia all launched to take advantage of a sudden boom in the lifestyle industry. These are young, aspirational readers with good incomes and a taste and curiosity for the good life."
The apparently limitless rise of India's publishing industry, which hit top speed after a 2005 change in legislation that opened the doors to big foreign investment, continued this week with the launch of NME. The British music weekly, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has already launched a website and its first overseas print edition will follow.
The site yesterday carried a feature about the women at the forefront of a burgeoning indie music scene, and a letter from the editor, Asha Sondhi Madan. It begins: "Why NME? Why India? Why now? I was recently asked in a meeting with some suits. The answer: because it's about bloody time."
Khurana and Madan are just two journalists benefiting from India's publishing boom. A middle class that is exploding rather than merely emerging has an insatiable yet growing appetite for the printed word, in novels, newspapers and magazines. Condé Nast launched Vogue India in 2008 and followed with editions of GQ and Traveller. It now employs 150 people in Mumbai and will launch Architectural Digest next week. "It is an interesting market, growing apace but not yet huge," says Nicholas Coleridge, president of Condé Nast International. "It is impossible not to see India as a big and important media and fashion market one day – everything is heading that way."
Mario Garcia is a veteran newspaper designer and media consultant based in Florida. He has redesigned titles including the Wall Street Journal and the Miami Herald, where he began his career as a reporter. More than half his time is occupied with digital media now, but his heart remains in print. Nowhere does it beat faster than in India, where he has worked with The Hindu (circulation: 2 million). "For many Indians it's still chic and sophisticated to be seen reading a newspaper," he says. "India is like a child opening its eyes to what is new and different and using newspapers to show how it's changing."
Garcia, the chief executive of Garcia Media, compares India's newspaper scene to that which thrived in Britain and the US in the late 1970s. But, he adds, publishers in the West should now be looking eastwards for inspiration. "There are many editors in the West who go to work like doctors at a hospice, waiting to see if their patient has already died. Indian newspapers offer so much beyond news and still have a didactic purpose that Western papers have abandoned: they educate. That's something we could learn."
India's publishing boom, represented by national as well as international names, has gathered such pace that its impact is already being felt in Western boardrooms. In 2007, India's biggest media company, the Times Group, which owns the Times of India, bought the UK's Virgin Radio, now Absolute Radio. The group's subsidiary, World Wide Media, owns India's editions of Hello and Grazia magazines.
Asha Sondhi Madan, NME India's new editor, founded her own media company, Pilot Ventures, in 2010, and is based in New York. NME India is now Pilot's sole concern. Madan now works in Manhattan and New Delhi, where she may be compelled to spend more of her time at the head of a new frontier in publishing. "There is so much happening in India and whereas before you were seeing people moving from India to the US for opportunities, now some of the most talented writers and editors are seeking out opportunities in India."
The Indian newsstand: Four western hits
India is home to the largest-circulation daily English-language newspaper in the world (The Times of India with daily sales of 3m+) as well as more than 10 papers that sell 1m+. Meanwhile, Indian magazines that sell in huge numbers include the Mangalam Weekly, which focuses on ordinary Indians and sells 1.5m copies. Another big seller is the influential, 37-year-old India Today, whose mix of politics, news, science and sport sees it read by 1.1m Indians. Kids are well represented, too: another high-seller is 200,000-selling Chandamama, launched in 1947, which mixes stories, articles and illustrations.
The Indian newsstand: Local bestsellers
1. The fashion bible launched on the subcontinent in 2007 under the editorship of Priya Tanna – who'd previously helped launch the country's first teen magazine. Has courted controversy with a fashion shoot featuring impoverished Indians holding $200 umbrellas.
2. Like Vogue, an Indian version of Grazia launched on the back of a boom in the country's lifestyle industry. The mag launched in 2008 as a monthly in 25 cities (it's weekly in the UK) with a big initial print run of 150,000. Freida Pinto is one of the biggest names to have appeared on the cover.
3. Condé Nast's flagship men's magazine followed its female counterpart to India in 2009, edited then (as now) by Che Kurrien – a veteran of Time Out Mumbai and The Indian Express. This month's issue was guest edited by Bollywood star Imran Khan.
4. Hello! has kept its English brand name since launching in India in 2007 (as opposed to the original Spanish ¡Hola!), where the celebrity magazine enjoys sales of 30,000.
Alina Polianskaya & Will Dean
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