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Memo Pad: Cover Stars… Who You Know

Good looks don't always translate into good newsstand sales

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COVER STARS: Those New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Time magazine covers bashing President Bush and his administration may have won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ first-ever Cover Competition at the American Magazine Conference last week, but good looks don’t always translate into good newsstand sales.

Both New Yorker covers for Sept. 19, 2005, and Feb. 27 were average newsstand performers in their respective six-month periods, but Rolling Stone’s cover with Bush wearing a dunce cap was its strongest regular issue for the period (May 4; 176,055 copies) and outperformed last year’s May 5 issue, which sold just 93,900 copies, by 87 percent.

And the rule seems to apply not only to Bush, but to Hollywood celebrities, as well. Just look at the newsstand performance of major titles over the first six months of the year, according to figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

For example, Mandy Moore was Elle’s best-selling cover in the period (June; 382,900 copies, up 46 percent over June 2005) and was Glamour’s second best-selling one (February; 870,014, down 7 percent). But the actress and pop star didn’t fare well for Cosmopolitan. Her May cover was its worst performer (1,800,265, down 1.4 percent).

“It’s a whole combination of things. A lot of it is timing, or the look the reader responds to,” said Elle editor in chief Robbie Myers. For example, Moore wore Chanel on the Elle cover, a departure from her casual image. “Our readers respond to a subject they know who has a new look.” Elle’s May cover, its worst for the period, was an earthy Evangeline Lilly (266,900 copies, flat compared with last year).

Cosmo found better success with Beyoncé Knowles for its February cover. The pop star and actress sold 2.1 million single copies, the best for the period and a 2.2 percent increase from February 2005. Jennifer Aniston was the best-selling cover for Vogue (April; 571,346, up 7.4 percent) and for In Style (January; 865,102, down 5.5 percent) and was Harper’s Bazaar’s second-best cover for the period (June; 216,000, up 25 percent).

Meanwhile, Drew Barrymore was a bomb for both Vogue (February; 356,458, down 10.5 percent) and Marie Claire (April; 297,081, down 38.9 percent). Eva Longoria worked well for Allure, banking its best-selling cover in April by moving 314,128 copies, but that was 30 percent lower than last year’s April issue. February’s Sheryl Crow was Allure’s weakest choice for the six months, selling 267,058 issues, a 1.3 percent improvement over February 2005.

For Glamour, Sarah Jessica Parker on the March cover was the top performer at 878,040 copies (up 6.8 percent), but its May cover, with model Alessandra Ambrosio, moved 727,097 issues, the softest of the period and a 15.6 percent decline over last year. In Style also posted its lowest single-copy sale for the period with TV personality/model Heidi Klum (June; 717,839, down 21.3 percent). Meanwhile, Vanity Fair won big with naked top-notch actresses; its March Hollywood issue with Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley sold 562,170 copies, a 63 percent jump over last year. Meanwhile, a fully dressed Naomi Watts sold 342,515 copies in January, the worst for the six-month period, but a 9.8 percent gain over the same month last year.

At the teen titles, pin-thin Nicole Richie, 25, was a big seller for Cosmogirl (June-July; 425,000, down 3.4 percent). “Girls like how she’s come clean about herself more than other celebrities do,” said Susan Schultz, Cosmogirl’s editor in chief. “And she’s funny. If you make our reader laugh, they love you.” Alicia Keys was Cosmogirl’s worst seller (March; 309,400, down 13.9 percent). Wild child Lindsay Lohan, 20, was Seventeen’s best-selling cover (April; 343,400, down 3.4 percent), while Kelly Clarkson in January was its worst at (307,006; up 5.1 percent). Meanwhile, Lohan, along with Meryl Streep, didn’t work magic for W in May — their joint cover was the magazine’s lowest selling of the six months at 46,274 copies, even though it was 6 percent above the previous May. W’s best-selling cover was April’s Jessica Simpson (54,929, up 22.5 percent).

At the men’s books, actors and A-listers were often outshone by smaller names — or no names at all. Maxim trumpeted its 100th issue by putting the number ‘100′ on its April cover. The issue sold 597,825 copies, its best for the period and 25.8 percent higher than April 2005. That’s more than covers featuring Kristen Bell and Jamie-Lynn Sigler during the six months. Esquire’s January cover featuring shock-jock Howard Stern was its bestseller, moving 124,593 newsstand copies (up 10.3 percent), while Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks in June was its worst (June; 95,604, down 12.9 percent). GQ’s April cover model Adriana Lima sold 282,703 (up 7.9 percent), but portly funnyman Jack Black sold 187,333 in January. However, that cover still sold 6.7 percent more copies than the previous January issue. The Men’s Health January-February cover with Eric Bana was its best-selling one ever (January-February; 729,547, up 14.7 percent) and the magazine missed with Josh Holloway of “Lost” (May; 427,876, down 3.2 percent). Details scored big with small-screen star Patrick Dempsey (March; 72,140, up 17.9 percent ), but bombed with action-flick beefcake Vin Diesel (April; 60,983, down 31.3 percent).

For the celebrity weeklies, babies were the hot story for the first half. In Touch moved 1.4 million copies with its June 26 cover story “Jen [Aniston] Looks Pregnant” (up 11.3 percent), and Star sold 925,894 copies March 13 with a story on Kevin Federline and a pregnant Britney Spears, up 15 percent. People sold nearly 2 million single copies in early June, thanks to stories about the birth of Angelina Jolie‘s and Brad Pitt‘s daughter, Shiloh, and exclusive photos the following week (up 26.8 and 61 percent, respectively). On the other hand, People’s March 6 cover on Jessica Simpson‘s and Nick Lachey‘s divorce sold 1.35 million copies (up 3.4 percent). “We didn’t do that [story] very often, we had them on the cover twice. It was just not a story we spent a lot of time on,” said managing editor Larry Hackett. Lachey was also a soft seller for Us Weekly (May 1; 843,096 copies, down 24.8 percent), but it made up the difference a month later with a slimmed-down Janet Jackson for its June 5 cover, moving 1.3 million copies (up 18.1 percent). — Stephanie D. Smith

WHO YOU KNOW: How did House & Garden editor in chief Dominique Browning convince Uma Thurman to cohost tonight’s book party for artist Marielle Bancou‘s “The Color of Love?” Browning penned the introduction to the book, which features love poetry from the likes of Sophocles and James Joyce, handwritten against deeply saturated pools of color. But it just so happens that Bancou is Thurman’s godmother (her father and Bancou’s late husband had Buddhism in common), and the artist is reportedly preparing a massive screen of her work for Thurman’s apartment. Bancou’s apartment is featured in the November issue of the magazine. — Irin Carmon

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