Anoop ChughPublished: 16 Aug 2007, 12:00 AM

‘Rolling Stone’ to boost music literature in the country

The music literature market is buzzing once again with international music magazine ‘Rolling Stone’ poised to enter the country. Even competitors ‘Record’ and ‘Rave’ are looking forward to its arrival

Last month at the Channel V Launchpad grand finale at the Hamsadhwani theatre in the heart of the Capital, a few thousand rock enthusiasts jostled to find some space to catch four of the top Indian rock bands selected through a TV reality show. A regular visitor to such gigs, be it GIR or Independence Rock or newbies such as Launchpad, would tell you that the fight to get passes for such events is getting tougher with each passing year. There is no denying the fact that international music, especially rock, has a religious fan base in the country which is swelling at a constant pace, but the popularity of the genre or its bands is not necessarily converting into sales for music literature.

“Growth of music titles has been stagnant for the past two years. Our best period was between 2001 and 2004 when we (magazines) were the only source of international music news for fans in India,” says Sunand Bhojani, publisher and editor, ‘The Record’, one of the three music titles currently available in India.

‘Rolling Stone’ to boost music literature in the country
Rolling Stone
Adds Tom Hawkins, managing editor, ‘Rave’, “No survey has been done to quantify the exact size of the market, so it’s difficult to estimate it. It’s particularly hard for us as we cover such a breadth of genres, we span several areas that could be considered discrete markets in themselves (for instance, international music, Hindi music, classical music, etc.). As for growth – we’re growing at 12-15 per cent annually, but I don’t think the market is growing that quickly. You’d have to ask the other magazines for their exact figures, but I’d guess the annual growth in the market would be around 5%.”

But now the situation may well change since the mother of all rock titles, ‘Rolling Stone’, is ready to enter India. N Radhakrishnan, publisher of ‘Rolling Stone’ in India, says, “Surely, the entry of the magazine will give a boost to the entire niche segment of music magazines.”

“The magazine isn’t just another title, it’s a brand. People like Michael Azerrad, David Frickie and Lester Bangs have written for the magazine. For a title like that, I believe there’s no dearth of market,” he adds.

As reported by agencyfaqs! last week, the cult magazine will venture into India this year. Will it provide an opportunity for rock or western music based literature to mark its presence here or is the ‘Rolling Stone’ brand so big that it will wipe out all other smaller titles?

“Neither, really. I think the market is big enough to support both ‘Rolling Stone’ and other titles. Although our editorial remit may overlap to a degree, we are quite different magazines. ‘Rolling Stone’ has global branding and recognition, but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee success – ‘Maxim’, for instance, arrived with a lot of publicity and fanfare, but hasn’t done that well since. We are an established magazine with a loyal readership, and to be honest, I think that if anything, the entry of ‘Rolling Stone’ into the Indian market will draw global attention to Indian music, which can only be a good thing for everyone,” asserts Hawkins.

Bhojani is positive about the international magazine’s entry into India. He says, “The entry of ‘Rolling Stone’ is good news for us as it will spread the genre around. Just because ‘RS’ is here now, it will lead to recognition of the genre and music magazines. Also, it will push the overall market, leading to higher sales for all titles.”

Currently, India has three music-based magazines, each targeting a different audience within the niche segment, and hence surviving on a dedicated but stagnant audience. ‘RSJ’, the oldest of the lot, is more of a rock title, while ‘The Record’ has a mix of pop, rock, hip-hop and Bollywood music reviews, and ‘The Rave’ is more classical in content. ‘The Rave’ is likely to have a cover on Bob Dylan, ‘RSJ’ on ‘Bhayanak Maut’, and ‘Record’ on Pink Floyd.

In terms of content, all the titles have a substantial share of local content, ranging from 30 per cent to 80 per cent, depending on local and international events.

“Just being a big brand will not spell success for ‘RS’. Apart from the US and the UK editions, ‘RS’ doesn’t sell like hot cakes because other countries lack local content, as is also the case in India. In the US, one can put a semi-nude picture on the cover and sit back and watch it fly, but that’s not the case in India,” points out Bhojani, when questioned about the things ‘RS’ must sort out before the India launch.

Music magazines cost a bomb as compared to other news or current affairs magazines, but experts cite various reasons for this. “Music magazines are expensive because the content is expensive as compared to news magazines: sales are low and advertisers are fewer, which result in high pricing,” explains Bhojani.

Among the three existing titles, ‘RSJ’ is priced at Rs 30 per issue, while the other two are priced at Rs 50 each. “Considering the cost involved in producing the content, I won’t be surprised if ‘RS’ is priced as high as Rs 100 per issue, if the publisher doesn’t want to make losses,” says Bhojani.

This is a country of a billion people, virtually all of whom love music. It’s also a country with a rapidly expanding middle class and rapidly diversifying tastes in music. “If three can survive, why can’t four?” asks Hawkins.