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.