Rolling Stone India, the Indian edition of the iconic American music and pop culture magazine, was launched here last week. It promises to offer music lovers a heady mix of local as well as international content that ranges from music, culture and politics to lifestyle and Bollywood. Radhakrishnan Nair, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone India, tells Mint what readers can expect from the iconic brand. Edited excerpts:
On Rolling Stone India’s content strategy:
Anything that is available in Rolling Stone (RS) USA is also available to us. What is going to be different is that we will have more content in terms of fashion and lifestyle. So in that sense, we are modelled on Rolling Stone Italy and Rolling Stone Spain, which are far more lifestyle-oriented than Rolling Stone USA. Rolling Stone USA is a standard in photography, design and content and we intend to maintain that. But we are also looking at becoming a launch pad for new talent. I believe that there are a lot of talented Indian musicians out there who are not given their due by the media or music companies in terms of recognizing their work.
Beyond music: Nair says the challenge is to make RS more mainstream and build it up as a lifestyle magazine. (Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint)
The first RS India issue is largely music, but in the next few issues we would be looking at politics. Bollywood would also come into the magazine as it is a part of our culture and heritage. We didn’t want to do Bollywood immediately because every other magazine has Bollywood on the cover. About 30-35% of content will be local, the rest international.
Our first RS India issue was launched with five different covers, since we thought it would be an interesting departure from what we normally do. There was a lot of debate internally on who should be on the cover. Worldwide, Rolling Stone has taken different forms. For example, in Germany most of the covers are classic rock-oriented, in Indonesia it’s local punk rock, so it was difficult for us to figure out what would work well here. That’s when we came up with the idea of launching with five different covers, with musicians that represent five different kinds of music from classic rock to contemporary. It also helped us figure what kind of cover would work in the future. Indirectly, having five covers worked as a market research tool for us and gives us some sense of what people want here. Of course, this was a one-off thing. As for picking an Indian artiste, we had a lot of contenders. A.R. Rahman was on top of our list, but we decided to go with Anoushka Shankar as she had just had an album release and was more topical.
On Rolling Stone’s business model:
Our primary target is young people between the ages of 20 and 30. Then, there’s another group, a slightly older demographic that already exists and comprises people who are already familiar with Rolling Stone, have seen the magazine and would go right out and buy it. Right now, revenues would come from advertising and sales. In the future, some of these (syndication of content) could be revenue streams. We are trying to position RS as a premium brand. So, we will attract a mix of advertisers seeking to target the youth and premium brands as well. Some of them could be mass like jeans brands, mobiles, etc.
We would look at regular distribution networks, modern retail outlets and malls and supermarkets that are becoming a big avenue for magazine sales. We have a print run of 50,000 copies for now, and the magazine will be available across all major cities in India.
However, print is only one part of what we hope to do with the magazine. There is going to be a companion website which is going to be quite active. Mobile is also another medium we are looking at for marketing as well as information dissemination.
On creating brand awareness for Rolling Stone here:
One good thing is that Rolling Stone is already a pretty well-known brand in India. There is a lot of goodwill for this brand. We are looking at outdoor and television media and are in the process of zeroing in on an agency to do our creatives. Rolling Stone Live is a property that we will be launching here. It’s still in the formative stages, but concerts are something we definitely want to do. So we won’t be doing big events, but we are looking at it as a brand-building exercise and will be teaming up with sponsors, working with event management companies.
As for providing content to other media such as television and radio, these are things we’ve discussed internally but nothing is finalized.
The first challenge is getting RS across to people who listen to music, but haven’t particularly heard about the magazine. The other challenge is getting advertisers interested in a magazine that’s about music. Music has been at the periphery in India. The challenge is to talk about music magazines as lifestyle magazines. Which is what we are trying to do with our content, to make it more mainstream. We are also getting advertisers to think of RS as a mainstream magazine that people buy for leisure reading.