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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March 2008, 11:45 GMT
Rolling Stone magazine seeks India success
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

Anoushka Shankar on the cover of Rolling Stone
Ravi Shankar's daughter - one of the cover stars

The cult US magazine, Rolling Stone, famous for its music interviews and edgy, hip writing, has arrived in India.

The first issue hit the news stands last week with a quirky marketing spin - five different covers featuring Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Amy Winehouse, Jay-Z and Anoushka Shankar were put out together with a mix of local and original content.

Riding on an increasingly liberal media policy which allows foreign titles to publish and a mini-explosion of home-grown rock bands in the country, Rolling Stone India is the 15th international rollout of the magazine.

It will be published monthly, instead of fortnightly like its US counterpart. At 100 rupees ($2.46) a month, it costs a fifth of the imported US edition.


"We are looking at a circulation of around 50,000 copies to start with," says Radhakrishnan Nair, editor of the Indian edition, which is being published by a Mumbai-based publishing group MW.Com, which also brings out a men's magazine.

The audience at a concert by rock group Iron Maiden in India
The audience for international music is growing in India

A third of the content, he says, will be locally generated, while the rest will be taken from the iconic mother edition.

So, in the launch issue, interviews with Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Depp and Jay-Z and a paean to the return of Led Zeppelin coexist with a piece on Indian sitar player Anoushka Shankar, trivia about fledgling Indian bands, and a profile of Soulmate, a popular blues band from India's music mad north-eastern hill-town of Shillong.

There is also a music feature by leading Indian novelist Amit Chaudhuri, who says he found the riff to Eric Clapton's Layla in a "handful of notes" in an Indian raga and counts Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Paul Simon as his influences.

"We look forward to being a part of the Indian scene in our small way, reverent of the past and excited and challenged by the future," says Jann Wenner, the legendary US edition editor, who launched the magazine with $7,500 from a second-floor loft above a printing press in San Fransisco in 1967.

Growing interest

Time will tell whether India-born western music will generate enough interesting fodder for the magazine month after month, considering the fact that Bollywood has a near-total stranglehold on the country's music retail market.

But Rolling Stone India is betting on the fact that there is a growing interest in rock music across India. By one estimate, there are nearly 1,000 bands in the country today and the live music scene is picking up.

Rolling Stone India cover
Bruce Springsteen - one of the US stars to make the first edition

In the big cities, local rock, blues, electronic, and occasionally, jazz bands play in pubs and nightclubs on weekend nights.

And in the last three months alone, six variedly big acts straddling rock, hard metal, rap and blues - the Scorpions, Iron Maiden, 50 Cent, Beyonce, Robert Cray and Jose Feliciano - have played here. Before that, the Rolling Stones, Herbie Hancock and Buddy Guy played to sold out concerts.

The magazine's editors say that with Bollywood music getting an increasingly western edge to it thanks to a host of young music directors like AR Rehman, Shankar-Ehsan and Loy and Vishal-Shekhar, more young people are getting interested in western music. Add to it an increasingly thriving regional bands scene, and they feel that the magazine has arrived at the right time.

"We are targeting two kinds of audience," says Radhakrishnan Nair. "Those who are already aware of Rolling Stone's reputation and we are also looking at the younger and newer reader who would buy the magazine to read not only about international music, but also about what's happening on the local music front. "


So it was not surprising the launch took place in Mumbai's Hard Rock Café with a host of Indian bands playing to the guests.

Rock band Aerosmith performing in Bangalore, India
A number of international bands have played in India

The magazine sells more than a million copies around the world and sold a cover for $1m two years ago.

It is where John Lennon famous declared that the Beatles were a "myth", and Truman Capote said Mick Jagger couldn't sing.

The late 'gonzo' journalist Hunter S Thompson cut his teeth on its pages, and Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff and The Bonfire of the Vanities for it. Legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz shot its most well-known cover - a naked Lennon in the bed with Yoko Ono.

It is a formidable reputation to live up to for the magazine's editors in India.

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