A Letter to Victoria Hearst

Dear Ms. Hearst,

I would like to commend you for the success of your recent campaign against Cosmopolitan Magazine. That is, I would commend you if your goal were to raise your public profile and fundraise for the organization you are affiliated with.

On the one hand you say that if you were the Queen of Hearst, you would put the magazine out of business. Yet in the same article, you are quoted as saying that you are not trying to censor Cosmopolitan nor put it out of business. Frankly, that is confusing. Either you are trying to pressure the company your family founded to see things your way, or you are trying to eliminate one of their flagship publications from the magazine world.

If your goal is to shield minor children from “harmful” cover lines and editorial that denotes what you claim to be a “dangerous lifestyle,” I wonder why you are spending time taking on the display of magazines at retail. Especially since Cosmopolitan and many other check out titles have been behind blinders for a long time.  Foot traffic in retail stores is down. Newsstand sales of Cosmopolitan are down. In the latest report to the Alliance for Audited Media, Cosmopolitan sales at retail were down 31%.

Surely the researchers at the foundation you are affiliated with discovered the many reports suggesting that overall newsstand sales since 2008 have declined by 50%. Didn’t the researchers also uncover that the newsstand industry has always been a small part of overall circulation for many American magazines? I would imagine that your researchers reported that the newsstand industry has consolidated significantly over the past twenty years. In 2014 a major wholesaler went out of business. Even a casual analysis could conclude that may be a contributing reason to Cosmopolitan’s declining sales at the newsstand.

According to a variety of reports, most children between the ages of eight and twelve have cell phones and more than 30% of teens (and the number may be higher now) have their own smartphones. So I have to ask you: Have you heard of SnapChat? WhatsApp? GroupMe? I’m sure you’re aware of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Teens do read magazines. Children read magazines and books. But they also love their mobile computing.

Demi Lovato started the hashtag #unwrapmycosmo
Demi Lovato started the hashtag #unwrapmycosmo

Cosmopolitan reports a paid circulation of more than 3 million and a reach of 16 million readers. On the other hand, the magazine reaches more than 20 million unique digital users. If I believed as you did (which I don’t), I would try to sit down with the publishers at Hearst and see if I could work with them to create an app that would keep minor children out of Cosmopolitan’s web-based content.

I know. That would be hard. Hearst may reject your approach. Taking on an industry, the newsstand industry, an industry that is visible and on the ropes is rather easy. Retailers are skittish about negative publicity. Going after us will get you headlines and headlines are fun.

That wasn’t too snarky was it? My apologies. However, let me tell you what your campaign against Cosmopolitan just might achieve. It’s not your goal – but something that I consider hurtful. In my opinion, its insidious.

Did you know that the newsstand industry employs more than 15,000 people? While I’ve publicly wondered if some of the leaders of the publishing industry are trying to staunch the flow of lost sales at retail, I can tell you this:

Every week I work with line workers, account executives, marketing managers, sales representatives, vice presidents, and a wide variety of people who work very hard. They spend their days trying to make our industry profitable. They love this work, love our industry, and love the people they work alongside of. They want nothing more than to do their job and, frankly, keep their job.

Clearly you’re not helping the cause.

Do you really think that putting Cosmopolitan behind more blinders will keep children from seeing “pornography”? They can see it every day on their smartphones. They can call it up on their laptops in their bedrooms and the computer in their family room. They can turn on the TV and see “racy programming” on antenna TV, basic cable, premium cable and satellite. We’ve all heard arguments that advertisements on billboards, in magazines, newspapers and TV contain “pornographic” images.

I’m sorry, Ms. Hearst, but pornography has been with us for a long time and will not go away anytime soon. Want to diminish it? Let’s try to build a fair and equitable society where all people are valued regardless of their belief system or sexual orientation. That’s hard, but worthwhile work. You’re not going to accomplish that by putting more blinders on Cosmopolitan check-out pockets. That’s a picayune goal when you consider that the magazine is written for adult women who know how to make their own choices. Women who are certainly capable of expalaining to their daughters or sons what the magazine is all about.

Please reconsider your goal.


The Newsstand Can’t Catch a Break: Cosmo Gets Blindered

Any day now we could deluged by an onslaught of bad news from the upcoming AAM “SnapShot” report. Until then, we can contemplate the news that one of the nations’ leading newsstand magazines will experience some new retail challenges at two national chains.

Last week WWD Magazine reported that an organization that partnered with Hearst family heir, Victoria Hearst, The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, had won a major victory by convincing Rite Aid Drugs, and Delahaize (The corporate parent of Food Lion and Hannaford Brothers Supermarkets) to put privacy blinders over copies of Cosmopolitan Magazine because minors need to be shielded from Cosmo’s sexual content.

Let’s just pause for a moment and take a look at the August cover of Cosmopolitan.

Pretty darn racy, huh?

Cosmopolitan does have a long history of cover lines that push the margins. But let’s look at it this way, going after magazines distributed at a check out rack in a mass market retailer is pretty low hanging fruit. Maybe you can keep your minor child from seeing some “Hot Summer Sex” on a magazines’ cover. But seriously, have you checked your tweens’ Snapchat?

Victoria Hearst, a member of the founding family of the Hearst publishing conglomerate is reported as saying that she wants Cosmopolitan to be sold only to adults and have the cover wrapped like an adult (porn) magazine.

There is so much snark this publishing professional wishes to throw in the general direction of Victoria Hearst. However, unlike Ms. Hearst,  I will resist the temptation to go after such low hanging fruit.

For the record, Cosmo will be placed behind plastic blinders. That should make life slightly more challenging for wholesale merchandisers and add some costs to the single copy sales department over at Hearst. Adult magazines, porn magazines: Penthouse, Hustler, and dozens of other more aggressively sexual titles are often sold in opaque polybags that show only the magazine logo.

The Hearst corporation is quite possibly one of the most successful magazine media companies in the world. They have done some incredible work in maneuvering their  properties through the ever-changing digital and print landscape. Last year, they successfully launched the Dr. Oz magazine, a title that has half a million subscribers and sells over 300,000 copies on the newsstand. In a December 2014 interview with industry analyst Samir Husni, Hearst President David Carey sounded pretty upbeat despite the challenging environment most publishers had just navigated.

Let’s try and be serious for a moment. Or not. Are parents really all that concerned with the “smut” that their children see as they walk through retail stores? Don’t their kids already have their noses in their smart phones? And isn’t it possible that they are seeing a lot more graphic content than “Hot Summer Sex” while they browse their Snapchats, WhatsApp and Instagram pages?

In the second half of 2014, Cosmopolitan reported single copy sales of 632,000 copies with a retail sales value of $15.7 million. That sounds like a lot. Until one considers the fact that in the second half of 2007, Cosmopolitan reported single copy sales of 1.896 million copies at a retail value of $49.7 million.

That should get your attention and put the newsstand crisis in perspective, what?

Moreover, it also might explain why it feels like Rite Aid and Delahaize shrugged and said, “Whatever” when Ms. Hearst’s’ organization demanded they shield children’s delicate sensibilities from smutty cover lines.

Do you think the National Center will target these magazines next?

In the end, this campaign seems like nothing so much as an attention seeking malarkey. Children are much more at risk for injuring themselves while they walk around staring at their smart phone screens. Of course, that would presume they are walking and not sitting on the couch watching a smutty movie on Netflix.

If I learned anything while raising my two daughters, it was that open, honest, frank and age appropriate conversations got all of us much further in life than trying to hide, shield and keep them clear of today’s culture.

How would I suggest a parent handle a Cosmopolitan cover line? Simple: “Those are magazines for grown up women. Look, here’s Discovery Girls.”

That doesn’t seem hard, does it?

For the record, I’d like to point out to the folks at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation that this….

Genesis Magazine - 2011
Genesis Magazine – 2011

…is a pornographic magazine. About the only place you can see one in the wild would be in an adult bookstore and a few convenience stores or traditional newsstands.

However, this…

MILEY CYRUS at Cosmopolitan International Covers, March 2013 Issue
Miley Cyrus tried to save the newsstand back in 2013.

Is a well-respected, multiple award-winning national women’s service magazine produced by a much-admired U.S. corporation.

Other than the fact that they are both magazines, there’s really no similarity.

You’re Not Cosmopolitan

Music to quietly hum to yourself every time a vendor calls with this “problem.”

Update: The artist who took the self portrait for the cover in question, Ana Alvarez-Errecalde contacted me this afternoon requesting the following clarification. After Facebook censored the cover image, it was the artist, Ana Alvarez who changed the image by placing the red dot on her chest. In her words, this solved the problem by both drawing attention to the magazine and pointing out the double standards in society. It also made two versions of the cover, the censored going out to the newsstand, and the uncensored out to subscribers. In the end, this was a consensus decision reached by both the artist and Hip Mama.

A number of years ago, my client list included an “alternative art” magazine that had the tendency to include NSFW pictures inside it’s book. I had no problem with this, and as near as I could tell, neither did anyone else who actually read the magazine. On the other hand, one of our major retailers had a significant problem with the content and would periodically relegate the magazine to the back of the rack or require the publisher to polybag.

Eventually, the retailer wound up requiring the publisher to polybag every single issue. The upside of this was that sales went up (Forbidden fruit anyone?).

During a conversation with the publisher about this issue, the subject of Cosmopolitan and some of their objectionable cover lines and images was brought up. “So why do they pick on us?” the client wanted to know.

“It’s simple,” I replied, “You’re not Cosmopolitan.”

It would be nice if the world and it’s participants would play fair. But tsunamis wash over the righteous and the unrighteous. Houses burn down, terminal illnesses blossom. And large vertical corporate entities get to decide who they want to mess with and who they will reward by whatever rules they decide to abide by at that particular time. If you don’t like it, feel free to complain to your consultant. It’s what we’re paid for.

Hip Mama magazine is a small, buzz worthy magazine with a small newsstand footprint.

Recently their editor did the smart thing, placed an image of their upcoming cover on their Facebook page. The readers responded. Apparently mostly positively.

Editor’s note: Dear Publishers, there is no reason all of you can not start immediately doing this simple task. Thank you.

The cover image in question was of a Spanish based artist  who wore a Spider Man mask and was breastfeeding her son.

It kind of makes sense for a magazine called Hip Mama.

The artist is topless, her son is wearing is wearing the rest of the Spider Man costume. He’s four years old.

The latest issue of Hip Mama
The latest issue of Hip Mama

Frankly, I see nothing wrong with the image. But unfortunately I can  understand that a distributor or retailer, even one that would happily carry Hip Mama may hesitate for a moment. It turned out that Facebook had a problem with this image and had them take it down. Then Hip Mama‘s newsstand vendor contacted them and told them they had some problems with the cover.

Of course, regular readers of this blog may remember this:

So 2012...
So 2012…

Yes, we have passed this way, again.  And again and again.

Periodically, larger magazines like Time, or Marie Claire, or Cosmopolitan, have something on their cover that incites someone, somewhere and the issue gets pulled. It gets placed behind other titles, covered up, what have you. Usually this will only happen in one or two retailers of any note.


A number of years back, Marie Claire got "censored" rather publicly... Source: FishbowlNY
A number of years back, Marie Claire got “censored” rather publicly… Source: FishbowlNY

It is a little rare these days for the majority of a shipment to get censored.

You have to hand it to the editor at Hip Mama and the artist. They came up with a very clever and sensible solution. The tag line for the publication is “No Supermom’s Here” and they put it in a large red dot over the artists chest. Everything got covered up.

Ready to ship!
Ready to ship!

The publisher also invited readers to buy the “uncensored” cover directly from them therefore bypassing those squeamish vendors and retailers.

My simple unpaid, unsolicited and uninvited advice to the publisher is this: I love it. Keep it up. Keep pushing the boundaries. But be prepared. You’re not Cosmopolitan.





Did Miley Cyrus Save The Newsstand?

You may remember that back in February, singer, former Disney star and social media queen Miley Cyrus made the cover of the March issue of  Cosmopolitan Magazine. When the issue went on sale, she encouraged her fans to spread her image all over North America’s newsstands with this Tweet to her 11 million fans:


Let me just say that one more time: 11 million fans (Currently 11.9 million fans).

Unsurprisingly, many of her fans took her exhortation to heart and went around and did this:

From: Twitter
From: Twitter

And they also did this:

From: Allieiswired.com
From: Allieiswired.com. I wonder who bought the Feature Checkout spot on that rack?

There was a decent amount of coverage in both fanzines and publishing related journals about her “takeover” of the newsstands.

Of course, we covered it at the Foredeck because we believe that not everything has to be all doomy and gloomy all the time.

So the question now is: Did Miley Ray Cyrus actually save the newsstand? Or at least the March issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine?

The answer is an unequivocal: Well, yeah…

I went old school and took a sampling of what I believe is about 45 – 50% of the Cosmo draw in the continental US.  Based on that limited data sample, I can report:

The March “Miley” issue sold about 7% more than the February issue within my sample, and:

The March “Miley” issue sold about 7.5% more than the January issue within my sample.

I’m sure the good people at Hearst already know the actual and more accurate results.

But there is a simple and obvious moral to the story:

Social media and an active fan base can help newsstand sales in certain instances. Since the “Hannah Montana” show ended, Miley Cyrus has been more famous for her hair styles and tattoos than her music and acting. That’s not a knock on her. She clearly knows how to manage her “brand” and public image and she does a good job at it. Despite the lack of TV, movie and music exposure she has 11.9 million Twitter fans and 26 million Facebook “Likes”. More importantly she  has people who will go out on their own time and do stuff for her. Like merchandise magazines. And buy them. You know, pay full, single copy price with US dollars for old fashioned media printed on wood pulp.

In other words, what Mr. Magazine(tm) calls magazines.

So imagine, even with a small niche magazine, what could happen if you merged an active fan base and a dedicated group a readers.

Spend some time on Twitter or Facebook and scroll through the postings of any bookstore (chain or indy) or major retailer. Or many magazine publishers for that matter. On the publisher side, other than a few callouts that this or that issue is on sale and this is what the cover looks like, how much single copy promoting (or subscription promoting) is going on? How about the obvious place to promote single copy sales? Bookstores?

Very little is going on. And I’ve never understand the reluctance. Are the social media and circulation silos still that hardened? How much effort or energy or even creativity does this take?

If you’re going to drop some serious promotional dollars on a special issue, why wouldn’t you make note of it on your social media feeds? At least more than once on a Wednesday at 4PM? And why wouldn’t you get with your retail partners to promote that?

If you are going to go through the time and energy to print hundreds of thousands of copies of your magazine, pay tens of thousands of dollars per issue to ship them, pay tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars to pay for premium display space, why on earth would you simply leave it to accident and chance that your audience just might, maybe, perhaps, possibly walk by a magazine rack and suddenly have an urge to buy your product? Why would you limit your audience to only people who occasionally browse a magazine rack?

If anyone has some stories about their efforts with social media and single copy sales, please ping me and let me know what happened. I’d be happy to help you publicize your story.

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