Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Martha Stewart Targets Russia's Middle Class for Magazines, TV

Martha Stewart Targets Russia's Middle Class for Magazines, TV
By James Brooke

April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Martha Stewart, the self-styled American authority on taste, plans to bring her books, magazines and television shows to Russia, tapping into an expanding middle class as incomes surge in the former Soviet republic.

``It's a very, very opportune time,'' Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., said in an interview today in Moscow during a week-long Russian visit.

Translated into Russian, Stewart's publications about cooking, entertaining and gardening may be on sale at kiosks in Moscow by next spring. She'll start with Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food and Blueprint, a new magazine aimed at women aged 25 to 45. The media rollout will be followed home furnishings including sheets and towels, possibly through an alliance with a local retailer, she said.

Stewart arrives in Russia as income from the country's oil exports filters down to consumers. Retail sales rose 14 percent in February from a year earlier, while construction surged 24 percent in the last quarter of 2006.

``There is a middle class that is rapidly emerging,'' said Kim S. Iskyan, co-head of research at Uralsib Capital in Moscow.

Russians' disposable income has increased about fivefold in the last five years, bringing about 20 percent of the country's 141 million people into the middle class, he said.

``Everywhere you look, someone's fixing up their apartment,'' he said. ``And as soon as people have the discretionary income to upgrade their immediate surroundings, you can bet they are going to throw out the hand-me-down china.''

Stewart said she's noticed a gap between U.S. perceptions of Russia and the reality.

`Wild West'

``The new Russia -- people are just imagining it's the Wild West, a bunch of cowboys making lots of money, oligarchs just running around like crazy,'' she said. ``But in fact Moscow is a very sophisticated city.''

Stewart's mission will be to reverse setbacks in taste imposed by seven decades of Soviet rule, she said.

``All the things that happened during that time were very bad for the middle classes, for good taste,'' said Stewart, recalling her studies of Russian history as a student at Barnard College. ``Now people are scrambling to learn, scrambling to develop a lifestyle they can call their own. And I think that is all very exciting.''

To contact the reporter on this story: James Brooke in Moscow at jbrooke2@bloomberg.net .

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