Rihanna's hot... and Taylor Swift's not? Come again?
This news may seem counterintuitive, but it's what Women's Wear Daily has concluded, looking at magazine sales for 2010. According to an analysis by WWD's media columnist based on figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Lady Gaga and Rihanna were responsible for upping figures for those magazines smart enough to put them on the cover this past year. Meanwhile, per this report, newsstand sales ended up being less than swift for publications that assumed Taylor was tailor-made to sell magazines.
There are various caveats, asterisks, and extenuating circumstances to be raised. But before we get to those, let's look at the figures WWD trotted out.
One thing that's unquestionable is magazine buyers' thirst to read about (or at least gaze at) Lady Gaga. Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan each had their biggest sellers of the year with Gaga; Vanity Fair had its second most popular issue of 2010; and Elle enjoyed its third best issue with the poker-faced provocateur. Getting down to specifics, Rolling Stone's July 8th issue sold 245,000 copies, almost three times as much as the typical edition. And Gaga's Cosmo cover sold a whopping 1.7 million.
Other divas brought in more mixed results. Rihanna was responsible for Seventeen's top cover through October, and her GQ cover was that men's magazine's second-best seller. WWD did point out, however, that the Elle cover Rihanna graced over the summer came in "slightly below average," with a so-so 285,000 copies sold.
Also coming in with split verdicts were Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson. The latter lass had Marie Claire's weakest-selling cover of 2010 (the one where she posed without any makeup—coincidence, or not?) but came through with Lucky's most popular. Lopez graced the second-best covers for Glamour and Allure but the second-worst for Elle. Similarly, actress Blake Lively had the worst-selling Esquire cover, but her salvation was being able to claim the best-selling Allure.
The only universally toxic cover subject, by WWD's accounting, was Swift, who had Elle's weakest-selling cover of the year through October ("60,000 less than the average on the newsstand"), along with the second-worst cover for Glamour and third-worst for Marie Claire.
What are we to make of a world in which Jennifer Lopez can't even keep a recording contract, much less have a hit anymore, and her filmsdrastically underperform... yet she sells magazines? How is it that Rihanna had to cancel tour dates last summer, and her recently released album is at just an okay No. 10 on the sales chart right now, being soundly beaten by perpetual chart-topper Swift... but Ri-ri is the one that editors and publishers would apparently rather book?
Here are a few explanations that may figure into these seemingly skewed newsstand results:
Provocation trumps actual popularity, in a pinch. Lady Gaga posed with a machine-gun bra on her red-hot Rolling Stone cover. For GQ, Rihanna posed topless, with her arm across her chest, the first time she's shown that much skin on any cover. Compared to those risque trophy images, another demure beauty shot of Swift is going to seem like far less of a must-have.
Sometimes the demographics aren't an exact match. The three magazines cited as poor Swift sellers—Elle, Glamour, and Marie Claire—are all ostensibly aimed at a post-adolescent female audience. And they all came out before the release of Swift's latest album, which addresses more grown-up themes than the recordings she made as a teen, as well as before the publicity storm about her dating older men John Mayer and Jake Gyllenhaal. It's possible she'd do better in those mags now that, just in the last two months, she instantly established a more mature image. Or, as WWD notes, she may fare better with the younger-skewing Seventeen cover that came out too late to be included in the listings, or EW's end-of-2010 issue. Certainly Us Weekly has faith in her cover sales, since they devoted a high-priced stand-alone special edition to Swift that came out in November and is still on magazine racks, results for which have not been reported yet.
Sometimes the demographic split is by age, not gender. Blake Lively was a big seller for a women's magazine and a poor one for a men's monthly. Perhaps she has girl power to spare but not enough sex appeal? Conversely, Rihanna did great for the men's magazine in question and fared poorly with the older gals' mag (though well with the teen girls). A little too much sex appeal for her female contemporaries, maybe?
The people whose work you want to buy aren't always the celebs you want to read about. Lindsay Lohan no longer has a recording contract and can scarcely get employed in films, yet she may be the most read-about entertainer in the world. That may help explain why the public still wants to know about the private life—or at least beauty tips—of Lopez, despite near-universal disregard for her creative endeavors anymore. Same for Simpson, whose troubled love live will apparently never lose its intrigue, well after the movies and music are over. Lady Gaga and Rihanna have the benefit of being able to sell records and also having a scandal-laced whiff of mystique. But Taylor, at least till a couple months ago,was seen as a goody two-shoes.
Some celebrities are polarizing in a universally intriguing way... and some are just polarizing. Plenty of women despise J.Lo, or pity J.Simp, but still want to know what makes these icons tick. But largely by virtue (or dint) of her tender age, Taylor is a turnoff for many older readers who grouse she hasn't earned her place in thewinners' circle. Is it possible that Swift will continue to deter as many general-interest readers as she attracts? Maybe... at least until she starts dishing about Jake, and then watch the newsstand sales soar.
Sometimes, the inside contents count, too. It may be worth recalling that Rolling Stone's huge-selling Lady Gaga issue also happened to contain the most-publicized magazine story of the year: the profile of General McChrystal that scandalized the administration and led to his resignation. And, on a less heady note, it's worth noting that the issue of Allure that seemed to represent such a win for Blake Lively—who's bombed on other covers—may really have sold so well because it was the mag's Best of Beauty issue.
In other words, maybe you can't always judge a magazine's sales by its cover.
So, what factors do you think account for the disparities in these cover sales?