India to have its own ‘Sports Illustrated’ swimsuit issue

India to have its own ‘Sports Illustrated’ swimsuit issue

It has taken two years coming, but most hot-blooded heterosexual men would agree that it’s not a day too late.

Sports Illustrated (SI) India will bring its iconic swimsuit issue to the country in October to coincide with the 25th issue of the magazine’s Indian edition. The ultimate male fantasy—multiple pages of supermodels in swimsuits—is aimed at boosting sales of the magazine and push its brand.

The 120-odd page October issue will retail at a cover price of 100-120 across more than 2,000 retail outlets and 230 cities. The publishers are hoping to print approximately 120,000 copies, depending on demand. It will carry 100% content from the US issue, with advertisements from brands that have interests in India.

The 2011 US edition of the swimsuit issue was out in February.

Next year, the magazine brand hopes to launch the India swimsuit issue in March, closer to the launch of the US edition and have some local content to supplement that sourced from the international issue, according to Piyush Sharma, chief executive officer, Dennis Media Transasia Publishing Pvt. Ltd, which publishes SI in India.

The magazine, currently priced at 50, has a print run of 115,000 issues with an approximate sale of 100,000 copies and a subscriber base of 30,000 readers, according to the publishers.

They have already set aside a media budget of 50-70 lakh for the launch of the swimsuit issue, says Sharma, with brands such as Dell, Samsung, LG, Fosters, Gillette, and Head & Shoulders already confirming advertisements in the Indian edition.

Beyond their regular advertisers, the swimsuit issue has also pulled in newer, first-time advertisers such as condom maker Durex, and apparel brands, including Tommy Hilfiger.

The ad rates for the issue have also been pegged at a non-negotiable 1 lakh per page, says Sharma. A full-page ad in the regular issue would go at a rate card price of 2.5 lakh per page and command a negotiable price of about 1-1.25 lakh.

Kadambari Murali Wade, editor–in–chief, SI India, says this was one of the many questions she was asked when she took over her position in November 2010.

“It was crazy. So many people asked me about the swimsuit issue and when we’d launch in India," she says, laughing, over the phone from Delhi. “Of course, all of them were men, but even as a woman I can appreciate an issue celebrating gusty, spunky, independent women."

But why did the brand wait two years before launching? “It was a question even I had when I took over. But I guess we were waiting for a consensus on whether the Indian reader and market was mature for the swimsuit issue," she says.

Jehil Thakkar, executive director, media and entertainment, at audit and consulting firm KPMG India, says the decision would offer a much-needed fillip to SI. “It’s a brand by itself globally and is targeted at men. But what’s interesting is that in other markets, the brand has used this issue as a prop to extend the reach of SI beyond sports enthusiasts. So, in that sense, it’s a great tool to reach a wider audience and create a wider brand," he says.

“It’s a great way for the brand to differentiate itself from lad mags such as FHM and Maxim," he adds.

SI’s swimsuit edition was launched in the US in 1964, reportedly to fill the pages during the slow-moving winter months. It was a five-page supplement of a model clad in a white bikini—at that time still an emerging little piece of beach garment.

After becoming a whole issue in itself in 1997, its subsequent popularity and related controversy has made this annual edition of the magazine one of the most eagerly awaited in any publication.

A CNBC documentary, Business Model: Inside the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, calls it the most profitable single-issue magazine in the world—“the print Super Bowl of advertising".

Some of the world’s leading supermodels have featured on the cover of the swimsuit specials, including Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks, though the likes of tennis players Steffi Graf and Anna Kournikova have also made leggy appearances inside.

Mumbai-based photographer Atul Kasbekar, who shoots the annual Kingfisher swimsuit calendar, calls swimsuit models a “unique breed". “They have to be fit like a sportswoman to look good in a swimsuit. They can’t be a skinny ramp model or too curvy either."

The magazine courted controversy in its early years with a shoot in 1978 that involved a model in a fishnet top and little left to imagination, leading readers to write angry letters to the editor and cancelling subscriptions. Though the magazine has covered up reasonably over ensuing issues, the question of morals, objectifying women and blurring lines with the likes of adult magazines like Penthouse, have often dogged the magazine.

So is the Indian market, already appreciative of dancing cheerleaders at Indian Premier League matches, ready for its own version?

“I don’t expect anyone to have a problem," says Murali Wade. “To quote Terry McDonell (editor of the Sports Illustrated Group), ‘There’s no leery quality to it.’ I agree, it celebrates women and athleticism and there’s nothing cheap about it."