Hold the front page – what makes a successful magazine cover?
Jessica Simpson posing with new baby daughter Maxwell was a flop for People magazine in the US and its Australian sister publication, Who.
As was singer Adele’s cover for Vogue UK – one of the lowest-selling issues in the history of the fashion bible.
It’s the sort of statistics that keeps glossy editors in a sweat as they try to figure out how to keep sales alive.
Interestingly, a cover shot of Jennifer Aniston, Heidi Klum or the smoking Mila Kunis will fly off the news stands in the US, just as the recent shot of Nicole Kidman holding baby Faith was one of the biggest selling issues of Harper’s Bazaar Australia.
This was because it was offering the reader something fresh, according to James Manning, editor of industry bible, Media Week.
“Recently you couldn’t give a magazine away featuring Nicole Kidman on the cover,” Manning says. “It’s amazing how things change, but there is a really strange science to magazine covers.”
Tell that to the editorial team at People magazine, who are still scratching their heads over the under-performing spread on new mum Jessica Simpson with her baby girl and fianc aac Eric Johnson. They forked out $850,000 in the hope of a magazine-buying bonanza, but it resulted in sales of just 950,000 copies, falling short of its average weekly sales of 1.3 million.
Maybe everyone had a case of Simpson maternity fatigue, having recently gazed at her topless on the cover of US Elle.
Plus, from the moment Maxwell’s conception was first rumoured, there were a zillion pap shots of Simpson and her rapidly expanding belly.
Who magazine editor Nicky Briger says: “Jessica didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it wasn’t a low sale, either.
“Babies and weddings do work more often than not, but sales are definitely dependent on the celebrity and whether the reader relates to them or is intrigued by their story.
“Jessica Marais’s baby exclusive, for example, was a fantastic sale for Who, as was Drew Barrymore’s wedding.
“Readers were genuinely happy for Drew; we received many letters/emails about it. Jessica Simpson hasn’t been on TV screens in Australia for a long time, so her relevance here has probably diminished.”
Perhaps it didn’t help that, during a time of economic austerity, the shots of baby Maxwell’s lavish nursery featured several racks of designer baby clothes and ultra expensive furniture.
“You just can’t pick it,” Briger says. “I wouldn’t have thought Australians would relate to the Kardashians, but but they still sell covers.
“Love them or loathe them, readers continue to be intrigued as long as you present the right, strong angle. Kim’s wedding exclusive was one of Who’s best sellers for 10 years. Go figure.”
For Helen McCabe, editor-in-chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly, the magic of the right choice for the magazine comes down to someone who embodies the following qualities: “She must be well-liked, have some substance and a story to tell, and be sincere.”
McCabe says new shots and storylines on Princess Mary and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, would eclipse any local covers.
“However, covers featuring Rebecca Gibney, Magda Szubanski and Tracy Grimshaw, always do well.”
As for the covers that don’t fly off the shelves, McCabe won’t tell: “You don’t put someone through a gruelling cover shoot and have them open their hearts to the journalist to then tell them that their cover didn’t sell.”
Not that pop star Adele seems to be suffering from the lacklustre performance of her cover for UK Vogue, since she is one of Forbes’ 24 most influential personalities in the fashion world.
Even Vogue UK editor Alexandra Shulman seems ready to forgive her lack of glossy pulling power by insisting that often music industry personalities do not attract magazine readers.
Simpson doesn’t seem too worried, either – she had already pocketed her fee and now has her own collection of maternity clothes, the Jessica Simpson Collection, which is selling well.
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