Five Pounds of Cosmo

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There are many ways to measure the vibrancy of India's publishing industry. Take the growth in newspaper readership: According to a survey by the National Readership Studies Council released in August, the number of people in India who read a newspaper every day grew by 12.6 million people to 203.6 million over the previous year, a jump of more than 6%.

Then, there is the sheer number of titles, which seems to grow every week. I flip through 11 newspapers a day to keep up with events and search for story ideas. And those are just the main English-language dailies delivered to TIME's Delhi office, a relatively small selection whose number and circulations pale in comparison to their Hindi cousins. Indian publishers have over the past few years launched a plethora of new newspapers and magazines, covering everything from the latest cars to food to travel. Not surprising, then, that foreign media companies want a piece of the action, and have been clamoring for the government to overturn strict laws governing foreign media ownership in order to allow them to bring their biggest titles to the Indian market.

But my favorite method of gauging the vitality of India's publishing industry is to weigh it. That's what I did with the October issue of the local edition of Cosmopolitan. At 1,016 pages it landed with a solid thunk on my desk, evoking a mixture of shock and curiosity. Shock that anyone would need a thousand pages-plus of sex advice, fashion and beauty tips; and curiosity as to the secret of Cosmo's success given the struggle so many publishers in America face over declining readership and fickle ad sales. The verdict? October's Cosmo weighed a hefty 4.95 lbs.

"It's a sunrise moment for Indian publishing," says Mala Sekhri, publishing director of Cosmopolitan India and the brains behind the 10th anniversary issue — the biggest of any Cosmo edition anywhere ever. "It's really not as developed or evolved as the U.S. or U.K. But it's growing fast." Sekhri got the idea for a 1,000-page edition when she visited Cosmopolitan's New York headquarters two years ago. "The Russian edition had just put out an issue around 850 pages," she remembers. "I told them: India will soon catch up."

And it has. Actually, Cosmo India has cheated a bit by breaking the October issue into five volumes. "Our readers would find it unwieldy to hold a fat magazine in their hands sitting up in bed," explains Sekhri. Inside the magazines, which cost $2.20 and come bundled together in a plastic sleeve, is the usual Cosmo fare — "7 Sex Styles Cosmo Girls Must Try"; "The New Anatomy of Infidelity"; "Accessory Alert!" — as well as 500 pages of advertising, equivalent to about three months worth of ads in a normal-thickness Cosmo >. "There's a real boom in terms of newer products coming into India," says Sekhri. "Beauty companies like L'Oréal or Revlon used to sell into two segments; now it's 10 or more, and they're launching new products all the time. An Indian woman used to use a moisturizer; now she's using a moisturizer, toner and sun bleach. We're riding this wave of consumption."

Actually, it's still only a small percentage of Indian women who can afford moisturizer, toner and sun bleach. But with a population of 1.1 billion, even a small percentage adds up to a lot of people. And that number is growing every year, which is why, Sekhri says, "it's only the start of the boom." If you tally up turnover in the television, radio, publishing, film, music and advertising industries, India's media market is currently worth some $8 billion a year. But PricewaterhouseCoopers reckons that will grow to $19 billion in the next five years. Oh, and then there's the demographics. In 2020 the average Indian will be just 29 years old — a fact that gets advertisers and retailers almost as excited as a Cosmo cover line.

For now, foreign companies face ownership restrictions — they can own just 49% of an Indian TV distribution business, for instance, 26% of a news-focused television station or newspaper and 20% of a radio station. But the government is likely to relax these rules in the next few years. Until then, foreign firms are licensing Indian companies to publish local editions, as is the case with Cosmo and a host of other well known foreign titles — or forming partnerships with Indian companies.

With the media industry going through tough times in places like the U.S., even a few Western journalists have made the leap. After finishing a master's degree in journalism at Northwestern, Melissa Bell, 27, pondered applying for jobs in the U.S. or returning to India, where she had interned at the Hindustan Times (circulation: 3.85 million). When that paper announced it was launching a new business daily in a content partnership with the Wall Street Journal, she jumped at the chance to be involved, despite her parents' and boyfriend's misgivings.

"The thing about this place is there's just so much opportunity at the moment, whereas in the U.S. the market is saturated," says Bell, who plans on spending a couple of years in India. "Here I can help create something out of nothing. In the U.S. I would be just another one of the minions."