Soviet consumers may have trouble finding soap on their grocery shelves, but soon they may be able to buy Consumer Reports. And Mother Jones and Organic Gardening and Harper's magazines, to name a few.

Under the name Glasnost Express, Massachusetts businessman Richard R. Rowe has worked out an agreement to send the Soviets about 20,000 U.S. magazines or newspapers every week.

He has also persuaded about 20 U.S. magazine publishers to start selling their publications to the Soviets -- and here's the key -- for rubles that are worthless outside the Soviet Union.

"Until now, getting into Russia has been virtually impossible. To get on a newsstand over there is really difficult," said Kitty Carroll Williams, Business Week's vice president for circulation. "For us, it is an opportunity to get into the market ... but it is a long-term commitment. We don't expect any immediate revenue."

Business Week's international edition and other publications plan to use their rubles to help pay for their news operations in Moscow. Others are simply giving the rubles to a foundation set up to use them for U.S.-Soviet relations.

It may seem a bit odd for a business deal, but Glasnost Express is only the latest in an increasing number of exchanges, joint ventures, gambles and experiments that publishers in the United States and the Soviet Union have begun, trying to take advantage of a slightly freer marketplace of ideas.

Some U.S. publishers are printing Russian-language versions for sale in the Soviet Union. Some Soviet publications are printing editions in English for Americans.

Then there is Vladimir Yakovlev. A 31-year-old Soviet entrepreneur, he publishes Commersant (translation: "businessman"), akin to Barron's. He announced this week that he too is starting a U.S. version.

The weekly, founded in 1908 and suspended after the revolution until earlier this year ("for reasons beyond its control," as the newspaper puts it), has a circulation of about 350,000, he said. The cooperative publication, which is not subsidized by the government, advises Soviet readers about how to start a business, where it's risky to invest and how to attract cold, hard greenbacks. It even contains the going rate for changing rubles into dollars on the Soviet black market.

Yakovlev, who announced this week that he wants to sell 50,000 copies weekly here starting in September, said he is working in cooperation with a Chicago investment firm called Refco Group.

How much is Refco in for?

"This is a commercial secret," said Yakovlev, whose understanding of how to deal with the media is as good as his near-flawless English.

Hearst Corp. and Izvestia are also trying two versions of the same publication -- a 16-page weekly that will be issued in two languages by journalists from both organizations working in Hearst's Washington bureau.

The first issue is scheduled to be out on the Fourth of July.

Hearst Vice President Lee Guittar said yesterday that the Independence Day edition will be a prototype distributed free to leaders in both countries.

"There was no consideration that we might want to sell the test issue," Guittar said. Charging for it later? "We haven't crossed that bridge yet."

One of the old hands at selling to the Soviets is Frank Cutitta, president of international marketing services for International Data Group a Framingham, Mass.-based publisher of computer magazines. Cutitta's company has been publishing PC Mir -- the Soviet version of PC World -- for about two years.

"We make our money by selling ads to Western companies for hard currency," he said. The companies that advertise in a PC magazine are, as you might expect, computer companies.

PC Mir sells out its 50,000 copies in a matter of hours, he says. "We have been moderately successful on the advertising side," Cutitta said, adding that U.S. export control laws still limit its advertising base.

PC Mir may have been the advance guard, but it led a small army of newsletters, faxed newspapers, magazines and other publications from the United States into the Soviet Union.

"There have been a whole slew of them. I can barely keep track any more," said Soviet trade expert Robert B. Cullen of the number of U.S. publications beginning to appear in the Soviet Union.

"A lot of these publications are jumping into a market that really isn't that suitable," Cullen said. "While it is true that there is a huge potential market, it is still only potential. At the present time, the problem for advertisers is not getting people to buy {their product}; your problem is just getting something on the shelf for them to buy."

There are other problems. "You can't just enter as a businessperson looking to do a deal," said Cutitta. "You have to enter as an educator."

In an attempt to get the Soviets to publish an ad, Cutitta brought in the heavy artillery. "They were having trouble making up their minds until we said, 'Look, it'll bring in $3,600 in hard currency.' The Soviet ad manager who approved it said, 'Perestroika is in!' "

For those on the Soviet side, the United States is a very green pasture -- a place full of a special kind of readers, readers who pay for newspapers and magazines with dollars.

Some Soviet publications have been available in this country for years, of course. Soviet Life and Moscow News have been published in English for decades. And selected bookstores have been selling Soviet books, magazines and newspapers, usually months or even years late in some cases.

But the reading list has suddenly gotten much longer.

"Basically what's happened is that publications in the Soviet Union have gone on a for-profit basis," said Blair Ruble, director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center here. "Editors are looking for ways of turning a profit and getting their hands on hard currency. I think this has more to do with the for-profit motives of the publications than the state of Soviet-American relations."

Sun World Corp. has bartered office space in Moscow for distribution of a Soviet magazine in the U.S. -- Literaturnaya Gazeta, or Literary Gazette.

Sixty thousand English copies of the magazine go to newsstands and to selected "opinion leaders" and educational institutions. In return, Sun World gets Moscow office space for its three news employees, who provide news footage to American television stations.

The company is trying to get advertising, and so far one company has agreed to buy space: Aeroflot.

"If someone distributed a Russian publication in the United States 10 years ago, I would assume there would have been at least a CIA and FBI investigation into the matter," said Steve Van Hook, a producer at Sun World in Washington. "Now we send the CIA and FBI copies."