SEX SIZZLES IN INDIA: NEW SKIN MAGAZINES FLOURISH AS WESTERN VALUES FILTER IN

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BOMBAY-India, regarded as a highly religious and conservative market, is having a sex boom.

Within the last seven months, a sudden rash of skin magazines have offered new buying and planning options here. Half a dozen or so new publications with titles such as Chastity, Playway and Fantasy are mostly claiming high, if unaudited, circulations and no shortage of advertisers.

Tame by Western standards, the new publications walk a fine line in India, where pornography is strictly illegal and Playboy and Penthouse are banned. To avoid attention from local and federal regulators, the magazines avoid too many photo spreads and any suggestion of lower torso nudity.

Media watchers attribute the profusion of sex magazines to the cumulative influence of liberal, Westernized media in India. "The slew of magazines in this category in recent times could be due to the trend in all other entertainment media," said Helen Anchan, senior adviser-media services, Lintas India. She added that services such as MTV and the appearance of FM radio last year in India has also served to loosen attitudes toward sex.

Sex magazines aren't new in India. Maurya Publications' Debonair has published for more than two decades and, as one of the few audited skin magazines, has built up a circulation of 102,866 at $1.11 an issue. Specialty titles such as Bombay Dost for gays have been around nearly as long.

The surprise is the sheer number of new titles and the number of advertisers. While the majority of advertisers in the genre are local, such as clothing marketers and tobacco companies, some multinationals like Castrol India Ltd. and Konica Corp. use the books. The magazines also have their share of seamier advertisers including telephone sex services and aphrodisiacs.

Ms. Anchan said advertisers are attracted to the magazines by the high circulations and low ad rates. "There is really no effective competition for these magazines," she said. "Hence, the category will sustain out of sheer low cost per reader."

As a result, the market is able to carry at least six new books, all virtually indistiguishable from one another. Each follows a specific recipe, with photos of semi-nude and virtually nude women with articles intended to titillate including "Not tonight dear, (he has a headache)," "Gays in guise," "Avoiding early emission," and "First steps in getting women into bed." In uneasy juxtaposition are writeups on the economy, art, fiction, interviews and advice columns.

"We wanted to come out with something educational," said Gopinath Sadanand, editor and associate publisher of Chastity. Targeted at 18-to-55 year olds in the upper income bracket, the monthly costs 95 cents. According to Mr. Sadanand, the Concise Publications' title has reached a circulation of 60,000 since its March startup.

The magazine also doesn't lack for advertisers at a rate of $950 per color page. Among its major advertisers are Konica; Pooja Industries' Colours, a clothing marketer in Bombay; local textile marketer Trinity Fashions, and Charagh Din, a Bombay suit marketer.

The pricier Playway, at $1.57 per issue, started in January and claims 70,000 circulation, said Ramaih Jagdish, advertising representative. Owned and published independently by Bharat Malkik, also the editor, Playway seems to carry the least advertising; despite its competitive ad rate of $793 for a color page, a recent issue had no ads at all.

Conversely, Bhargava & Bhargava Printers had so much success publishing Fantasy for the last two years that the company opted to introduce a sister monthly, Fantasy Fun, four months ago.

Both books aspire to more intellectual pretensions than Playway and Chastity. Fantasy, with a cover price of $1.57, has a circulation of 112,000, the publisher claims; Fantasy Fun carries an $1.11 price and already has a 72,000 circulation.

"Fun is more racy, more entertaining and is read more by youth," said Ranjan Kar, director-marketing.

Both magazines share the same advertising base, including Castrol, Pepe Jeans and Dharampal Premchand's Baba tobacco. A color page ad in Fantasy runs $793; Fantasy Fun charges less at $635.

Media buyers said the survival of many of the new sex magazines will rely on how responsive they are to advertisers. Ms. Anchan said some of the publications, including Chastity and Playway, reproduce ads poorly, a contention Mr. Sadanand disputed. "These kinds of magazines have a great demand in the market. Even in films, sex always sells. This could be because of the invasion of the electronic media," he said, adding, "People have acquired enough guts to try these magazines."

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