A week inside India’s media boom

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By John Lloyd


From luxury magazines to hard-hitting TV news channels, the country’s media have never had it so good. But are they missing the real story?


 

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Condé Nast India is a modest operation for a major publishing house in what will soon be the world’s most populous country (by 2026, according to the Indian National Population Stabilisation Fund). The journalists who produce its four magazines – Vogue India, GQ India, Condé Nast Traveller and Architectural Digest – tap away at their keyboards elbow-to-elbow in cramped, workaday offices in a colonial-era building in Mumbai. Managing director Alex Kuruvilla has a small, spare office that Anna Wintour, fabled editor of US Vogue, wouldn’t give to her second assistant.

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Kuruvilla, 52, is slight, pleasant and self-deprecating – though not about his titles. He came up with the slogan that Condé Nast – which claims 80 per cent of the luxury consumer magazines market – is “India’s most advanced publishing company”. He thinks other Indian companies that started (and in some cases closed) high-end lifestyle magazines didn’t properly understand the concept or how to deliver it. He has, he says, the example of Condé Nast International’s leadership: Nicholas Coleridge, the group’s president, lists India and Indian art among his main interests.

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Nor is there any doubt about the scale of Condé Nast’s ambitions in India: to develop and support a cosmopolitan elite. Out of a population of 1.24bn, Kuruvilla reckons this elite – that is, people who make more than $100,000 a year – numbers about 3m. He says that 300,000 of these people currently read one or more of his magazines. “We put a lot of investment in to get it right. We might go to New York for a shoot, or fly cosmetics in from New York. Our [advertising] rate card is firm. We don’t discount.”

He tells me about a party he recently put on for Vogue India’s fifth anniversary, at the luxurious Oberoi Trident Hotel on Marine Drive – one of the Mumbai locations where Islamist terrorists struck in 2008, killing 32 people. He goes on to talk about Vogue India’s October issue, which introduced the concept of “the little black sari” and challenged 50 fashion houses to create versions of one. “We want to have cross-fertilisation,” he says.. . .

Last month I travelled to New Delhi and Mumbai for both the FT and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The two cities are India’s main media centres, even if they can hardly reflect the vastness of the country’s journalistic culture – or cultures. India, according to the Indian Readership Survey, has more than 82,000 newspapers in many languages, with a total daily circulation of 107m. Taken together, the diverse minority languages account for the most vigorous growth in circulation and revenues (the latter increasing by more than 8 per cent in 2011-12, with readership up by more than 1 per cent).

Yet I found, at this apparently optimistic moment in Indian journalism, that there is deep, underlying anxiety about its role – as deep as that in the UK in the era of phone-hacking, but with a much greater social content.

Source : FT

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