A lot of paper has passed through the presses since Elena Myasnikova, 43, brought Cosmopolitan magazine to Russian soil in May 1994. Today, Myasnikova sits on the board of directors of the large Russia-based publisher Independent Media (which got its start with The Moscow Times nearly 10 years ago) and confesses that “unfortunately I deal less and less with creative issues and more with administrative and managerial stuff.”
Yet, to millions of Russians, Myasnikova is still known as the editor-in-chief of the Russian version of Cosmopolitan, a position she retains, despite her many other activities, including sitting on numerous panels and juries and regularly visiting with Russian VIPs. In fact, Myasnikova had just met with Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, where she shared her opinions on the proposed cancellation of the VAT tax break for mass media. In short, Myasnikova is an influential voice in the world of magazine publishing.
At first glance, this may seem an unlikely outcome for an editor of what was called, at its launch, a “magazine for secretaries.” And Myasnikova, a graduate of the prestigious Romanic-German Languages section of Moscow State University’s philological faculty, admits that her mother had some reservations about the project. But Myasnikova is quick to add that there was nothing shameful about such a definition: “Remember, who were the Russian secretaries in the early 1990s? They were all women with very high levels of education and IQ. Only they could meet the criteria of computer literacy and fluency in foreign languages. So I said, ‘OK, so be it, we will be a magazine for secretaries.’”
It took some convincing to persuade the Western publisher (Hearst) that Cosmopolitan had a future in Russia in the 1990s. But Myasnikova’s and her partners’ persistence paid off and the magazine has since become Russia’s number one magazine for young women, boasting a monthly print run of 300,000 copies. In Moscow alone, over 180,000 Muscovites with higher education read Cosmopolitan. And in the provinces, female readers whose purchasing power is not as high as their counterparts in the capital read the magazine “in turn” (friends take turns buying the magazine and being the first to read it, then pass it around to informal reading pools).
Myasnikova is proud of such “inventiveness” of her provincial readers. Such creative and independent thinking individuals are the magazine’s primary target audience.
“I feel we have helped the Russian woman to think more independently, to not be attached only to their housewife duties, to think more of themselves in the end,” Myasnikova said. In fact, Cosmopolitan has helped many young Russian women to get what they call here a “putyovka v zhizn,” (“a ticket to life”). The magazine hosts an annual Cosmopolitan lifestyle, beauty and fashion festival. And the magazine’s first Cosmo-L’Oreal Model-1995 contest led to the discovery of Alexandra Yegorova, who has since gone on to become a major fashion model on the catwalks of New York, Milan and Paris.
The success of Cosmopolitan obviously led other foreign fashion magazines to step into the fray. While, in 1994, Cosmopolitan enjoyed a monopoly in its niche, today Russian readers have Vogue, Elle and plenty of other local and foreign competitors to Cosmopolitan. Myasnikova said she welcomes the competition as a way to keep her magazine in top form, but feels that “too many magazines have come into the market; some will survive, but some will die. There is too much now for the market to swallow, but that’s a normal process.”
Meanwhile, Myasnikova is not shy about complimenting competitor publications, such as some of the new magazines by Burda publishers. They are smart, Myasnikova said, because they launch numerous inexpensive publications and thus can make money on retail. “They also do what they call a ‘soft launch,’” Myasnikova observed. “This means not a launch en grandepompe, but rather one with a low profile. If it works, great! If the new publication dies, so be it. Of course, to do a raskrutka [large-scale promotion] of a new brand today in the right way—in a big way, one needs millions. So the soft-launch approach has its place.”
And she knows of what she speaks. Myasnikova admitted that, in the launch of a recent spin-off publication, Cosmo-Magiya (Cosmo-Magic), her publishing house employed just such a “soft” approach. Given the huge interest in Russia right now in the occult, mysticism and such, it will be no surprise if Myasnikova succeeds in working her magic with this new magazine as well.
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