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Tue, Jan 03, 2006 - Page 12 News List

`Playboy' plans to keep its clothes on in India

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MUMBAI, INDIA

In a little-noticed milestone for the world of sex-related entertainment, Playboy said last month that it would seek to do in India what it had never done before: publish a magazine with its usual fare, except for its name and its nudes.

"This is quite a departure for us," Christie Hefner, the chief executive of Playboy Enterprises, told reporters last month.

One reason for the plan is the usual emerging-market strategy: When profits flatten in the West, companies pivot to India and China. Whereas Playboy's US magazine sales shrank by 1 percent in 2004, its foreign revenue grew by 13 percent from 20 overseas editions published in countries from Brazil to Serbia.

Foreign magazines' interest in India is understandable. As media growth flattens in the West, India's is booming. It has nearly 200 million magazine readers and is the second-largest newspaper market in the world, behind China, with 79 million copies sold daily. The print advertising market is US$1.5 billion a year and growing.

But there is another story behind Playboy's discovery of India. The magazine once saw itself as America's gateway to a sexual revolution. Now, with that revolution won and its societal impact fading, Playboy has a chance to renew itself as a magazine of high living in a country that celebrated sex in antiquity, then grew prudish, and is now loosening up again.

Hefner has said that the Indian version of the magazine "would be an extension of Playboy that would be focused around the lifestyle, pop culture, celebrity, fashion, sports and interview elements of Playboy." But the magazine would not be "classic Playboy," she warned. "It would not have nudity," she said, "and I don't think it would be called Playboy."

Some see India in the 2000s as similar to the US in the 1950s: on the cusp of a sexual revolution. In an attitudinal sea change, one-quarter of urban, unmarried women have sex, one-third read erotic literature and half go on dates, according to a survey by ACNielsen and India Today magazine.

India is not only on the brink of a sexual revolution, it is also overflowing with ambition, as a small but growing class of young, urban, world-traveling men with disposable income find their way to a new upper class.

"Upwardly mobile. Reasonably affluent. He would be a sort of mid-level executive upwards, a man who probably already drives a car," said N. Radhakrishnan, who is editor of Man's World, an Indian publication that would be a competitor to a watered-down Playboy.

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