Fwd: Romance, in Cosmo's World, Is Translated in Many Ways

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Mon May 27 2002 - 00:04:46 BST

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    In keeping with the somewhat tangential but undeterminently memetic
    themes of universality and usanian influence....

    - Wade


    Romance, in Cosmo's World, Is Translated in Many Ways



    Forty magazine editors came from all over the world to a conference room
    in the TriBeCa Grand Hotel in Lower Manhattan last week searching for
    thoroughly American alchemy. They sat quietly, even reverently, waiting
    for that one white-hot piece of the puzzle that would put their magazine
    over the top. Before them stood Kate White, the editor in chief of the
    American version of Cosmopolitan. In their world, she is a demigoddess,
    the editor of a mothership with a circulation of 2.76 million.

    PowerPoint slide No. 9 clicked into place: "What's Hot Now: Beefcake."

    Ms. White paused so that the women, all of whom edit international
    versions of Cosmo, could absorb the deep implications of the trend,
    along with the impressive nearly naked male on the screen.

    "You need portfolios that show hunky-looking guys," Ms. White said

    Ferocious scribbling ensued.

    And no wonder. Each of the editors is intent on bringing Cosmo's tangy
    fusion of sex and empowerment to their homelands, and Hearst Magazines
    International is, more than ever, happy to help.

    Despite abundant resentment abroad about United States cultural
    hegemony, Hearst is charging ahead with plans to expand overseas. Hemmed
    in by soaring costs and declining readership domestically, American
    publishers like Hearst are feeling a growing urgency to tap into the
    aspirations of women all over the world to conquer unanticipated
    markets. With a formula almost as closely guarded as Coca-Cola's — there
    is a secret 50-page instruction manual — Cosmopolitan, Hearst's naughty
    girlfriend of a magazine, has increased its circulation to 8.2 million
    worldwide, even extending its brand to places where readers have to hide
    the magazine from their husbands.

    After adding nine editions in the last two years, Cosmo will soon
    publish in 50 countries, including the recently opened Latvian edition
    and a Kazakhstan Cosmo that makes its debut in September.

    A product that seems as American as "Sex and the City" now flirts with
    newsstand shoppers on six of the seven continents and produces hundreds
    of millions of dollars in revenue for Hearst, suggesting that deep
    cleavage and thinner thighs have global legs.

    "Things American are not viewed as negatively as we might read about,"
    said George J. Green, president of Hearst Magazines International.
    "There's a huge appetite for these magazines out there."

    The universal dialect in the world of Cosmo is romance followed very
    closely by overheated pillow talk. Cosmo appeals to women who are coming
    of age because they can sample adult pleasures without becoming enmeshed
    in adult worries.

    These feelings are evidently transferable. "Underneath the veil or
    shmatte, every woman wants to be loved and cherished," said Helen Gurley
    Brown, who reinvented Cosmo in in 1965 and still wears a micro-miniskirt
    at 80.

    Or as Grazyna Olbrych, the editor of Polish Cosmo, put it: "Cosmo is not
    about culture. When you are young, you want to have a young man who
    loves you and have great sex with him."

    For Hearst and its Cosmo importers, the trick is to navigate Cosmo's
    universal message around a variety of political, social and linguistic
    obstacles. For example, replicating Cosmo's slightly depraved cover
    presentation in 28 languages can be difficult.

    "In Finland, the words for `sexy' have about 35 letters and 15 umlauts,"
    said Tina Totterman, editor of Finnish Cosmo, standing near the piano at
    an opening cocktail party.

    The Cosmo mantra of "Fun, Fearless Female" requires a bit of a makeover
    to resonate with other far-flung audiences. In India, the birthplace of
    the Kama Sutra, there are no Cosmo articles about sexual positions. The
    mammoth Chinese version never mentions sex because it is forbidden, said
    the editor, Vera Xu. Instead, articles about uplifting cleavage are
    replaced by uplifting stories about youthful dedication, although there
    is still plenty of advice on how to look your best. Sex also gets less
    attention in the Swedish version, but for precisely the opposite reason:
    In a wide-open culture, the word has little of the sizzle that it has

    In France, the editor, Anne Chabrol, also confronts a readership very
    comfortable — even bored, she says — with sexual matters. She has
    responded by running a contest asking in French "Does he cheat on you?"
    and the winner is awarded the services of a private detective to find
    out for sure.

    Honoring local idiosyncrasy is critical, said Mr. Green and the editors.
    Ms. Totterman, the Finnish editor, said putting Britney Spears on the
    local cover of the "Fun, Fearless Female" issue, a special issue all the
    magazines publish, would not work in her market. It has to be someone
    Finnish, someone local readers can identify with. Similarly, the Hong
    Kong edition uses mostly Asian faces with pictures of local celebrities.
    But in China, there is still a hunger for Western images. "We are a
    developing country and just opening up to the West, so people are very
    interested in seeing what is going on in other places," Ms. Xu said.

    Still, certain standards must be observed. The woman on the Cosmo cover
    — it is always a woman — should have large hair, remarkable features and
    not too much clothing.

    "Hearst is a great partner, as long as you don't put a guy on the
    cover," said Ellen Verbeek, co-editor of Russian Cosmo along with Elena
    Myasnikova. Ms. Verbeek said that Cosmo fills a need for the young
    Russian woman. (Before Cosmo arrived in 1994, young Russian women had to
    choose generally between magazine titles that Hearst officials roughly
    translate as Factory Woman and Farming Woman.)

    But those needs may be a bit different from those of the American Cosmo

    "We did an article about how to have sex when you live with your parents
    because so many young Russian couples can't afford to move out," Ms.
    Verbeek said.

    In some places, business can get rough. Publishing glossy magazines in
    third world countries or crippled post-industrial economies goes beyond
    picking out chic clothes and riffing on the importance of good hair.

    "I have no connections and in Hungary everyone has to deal with what is
    like the Mafia," said Anita Pocsik, the editor of Cosmo in Hungary.
    "They say I have to hire this person, and go to this printer. I give
    them nothing. I worked two years straight, standing at the printer and
    signing pages, because without that, nothing would get done."

    Reda Gaudiamo, whose magazine has a circulation of 127,000 in Indonesia,
    the largest Islamic nation in the world, said she had received letters
    from Muslim groups saying she is "helping Indonesian women love sex too

    She said, "I wrote to them and said this is what Indonesia needs." She
    added, "For a long time, we never talked about sex."

    Still, she said, she does "tone down the sex articles."

    The magazine is not welcome everywhere. Mr. Green said some conservative
    markets will remain unconquered. In 1984, the government of Singapore
    banned versions of the magazine that had been produced elsewhere. (It
    has subsequently authorized local production of Harper's Bazaar, a
    Hearst fashion magazine, but not Cosmo.) In general, Mr. Green said that
    the company emphasizes indigenous partnerships and locally produced
    content, which keep its products from becoming a focus of

    "Nobody has ever tossed us," Mr. Green said. "That doesn't mean it
    couldn't happen, but we are not a political magazine." Indeed, any hint
    that a satellite magazine is forgoing articles about the "yummiest
    underthings" for issues of local moment will bring a stern letter from

    Last week, the Cosmo editors, who seemed like a novel flock of rare
    birds confined to a hotel conference room in New York, went on a
    shopping trip and melted completely into the trendy diversified crowd a
    few blocks north in SoHo. That day, a terrorist alert was issued for New
    York City, a reminder that the global footprint of the United States has
    many ramifications.

    For the women touring New York, there was no shock of the new. American
    fashion, music, and now magazines have created Westernized outposts in
    countries all over the world. When the editors went out to the Park, a
    Chelsea nightclub, for an evening of dancing, they were struck by its
    resemblance to the clubs they left behind.

    "This is just like the clubs back home," Ms. Olbrych, the editor from
    Poland, said with noticeable disappointment. "It's the same music and
    everybody just stands around looking at each other."

    Of course, some differences do exist. Priya Ramani, the editor of Cosmo
    in India, fingered a $208 price tag on an obviously Indian garment at a
    boutique named Scoop in SoHo.

    "This would cost $5 or $6 where I am from," she said.

    That evening, the women piled into City Hall, a restaurant on Duane
    Street, for the closing event: a minipep rally on the brand called
    Cosmo. Cathleen P. Black, the president of Hearst Magazines, a unit of
    the Hearst Corporation, reminded them that in returning home, they would
    be returning to increasingly competitive markets.

    Some will be fighting a familiar enemy. A small-format edition of Condι
    Nast's Glamour, another magazine with American DNA, is gaining some
    ground on Cosmo in Europe. That fact left Ms. Black feeling a little
    riled, and she tried to export a common all-American business philosophy.

    "I want you to go back charged up to squash Glamour, completely
    obliterate them, make them like a little armadillo on the road," she
    said, using a cultural motif that has a bit more resonance in Texas than
    Taiwan. But that may change soon enough.

    Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

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