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Always judge a mag by its cover

Sep 10, 2013
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MTV’s Video Music Awards may have been Miley Cyrus’ party, but um… Vogue Magazine is editor Anna Wintour’s.

When Ms. Wintour (widely believed to have been portrayed Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”) canceled Cyrus’ appearance on the cover of Vogue, she canceled some of Cyrus’ future earnings potential, according to style expert George Brescha. A magazine cover and associated photo shoot — in Vogue especially — can bring a whole new light and a whole new audience to a rising star.

“It’s all of a sudden, oh my God! I didn’t know she could look like that — she looks amazing!” says Brescia. If the right people are dazzled by a cover celebrity’s different looks, it could lead to an endorsement deal or a clothing line.

If it’s a particularly dramatic cover — like Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy cover or Demi Moore’s naked and pregnant cover on Vanity Fair — it can launch a public career, says Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of Media Industry Newsletter.

For magazines, covers are critical for newsstand sales and ad revenue. Some, like Cosmo and People, are “newsstand strong” says Cohn, which means 30-40 percent of sales come from newsstands. For those publications, the cover is a battlefield.

“Celebrity marriages and divorces do well,” says Cohn, “birth, death, and infidelity do well.”

But even for Vogue — which, out of a circulation of about 1.2 million, only gets about 300,000 newsstand sales — those single sales are key.

“Think about it,” says Jerry Guttman, president of publishing consulting firm Lexicon Group, “two out of three magazines on a newsstand aren’t sold and are destroyed. Half the price of the one magazine that gets sold might go towards distribution costs, and probably won’t cover the cost of the other two that get thrown away — why would anyone have newsstand sales?”

The answer, he says, is because newsstand browsers can become committed subscribers, and because newsstand sales attract advertisers. “In order to sell advertising, a magazine needs to be able to tell an advertiser that it sold 300,000 copies on newsstands — 300,000 people have picked up the magazine and are reading it.” The loss is an investment.

Since the cover is what draws the attention of the casual browser, the cover is king, and offers a barometer of interest in the magazine.

“Editors will line up covers from the past two years in a room and compare them with sales to figure out what the common denominator is,” says Guttman.

It could be the color red or blue or the logo — or the person on the cover.

But in this case, Guttman says, it probably wasn’t sales. Vogue doesn’t need Miley Cyrus. It was either that Anna Wintour really didn’t like her performance at the VMAs, or “it’s really smart publicity that’s attracting attention over a nonexistent cover.”

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