August 5, 2015 Last Updated 12:26 pm

Cosmopolitan, magazine covers, sex and newsstand circulation

Newsstand sales are plummeting for the Hearst title, but looking at the covers over the past year show no real change that could justify forcing ‘blinders’ on the magazine

The pseudo-controversy over the decision by Rite Aid and Food Lion to place “blinders” on the newsstand issues of Cosmopolitan got the attention of Women’s Wear Daily, and then The New York Times, and later other media outlets. Normally TNM doesn’t concern itself much with the woes of print newsstands, other than to point out the obvious – things are bad. But what a great opportunity to run a headline with the word sex in it.

The controversy is all so silly, and reflective of a sad fact that in America it is OK to talk about sex… if your male. Every golf telecast is filled with Cialis commercials, making one wonder about the dangers of the sport. Maybe men should be banned from the sport? But America has issues with women talking about sex – old, white, male politicians being considered the leading authority on women’s health issues in this country.


So, have the covers of Cosmo changed much in the past year to bring on the wrath of retailers? Is Cosmo changing its covers in response to poor newsstand sales?

Cosmo reported its single copy print sales at 576,550 in its last publisher’s statement. A year earlier this number was 873,203. A year before than single copy print stood at 1,179.800. All I can say is… ouch.

Certainly a lot has happened at newsstands in the past couple of years: consolidation, lost retail outlets, smaller newsstands. Things are bad. Really bad. Historically bad.

As a result, many magazines have had to use more premiums to get paid subscriptions, sold combination subscriptions, you name it. Making matters worse, digital subscriptions are also falling as Apple’s Newsstand has proved a poor retail environment.

But some publishers can be blamed, as well, allowing their apps to remain with bugs, or with poor fulfillment mechanisms. Cosmo’s app is particularly bad, slow to load and with double the number of 1-star reader reviews than 5-star.

Cosmo-app-librarySo is Cosmo reacting to this trend by sexing up its covers?

No. All you need do is look at the storefront page of its app to see that nothing has actually changed. No cover of the magazine is complete without the word Sex included, often combined with Hot (even in November).

Maybe the retailers are reacting to Victoria Hearst who is the granddaughter of the late newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. She thinks Cosmopolitan is porn and is campaigning against the magazine.

“We’re going to do this until Jesus comes, praise the Lord,” said Hearst recently at the National Press Club.

This may be much ado about nothing, though if Jesus shows up I may be convinced to change my opinion. But the issue does point out that magazine publishers dependent on print newsstands are in a tough situation. Digital editions were supposed to help things, and to a slight degree some titles are finding a bit of success in the Next Issue Media service (which counts as digital single copy sales inside audits).

Meanwhile, in Kansas, which used to be a state but is now a laboratory for zero income tax promoters, the Topeka city council is considering a ban on nudity after a man was seen naked walking outside an area Walmart.

“I think this deserves to be voted on,” Councilman Jeff Coen said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Four other proposals will also be up for a vote when the council gets together, but none involve magazine newsstands. Maybe Victoria Hearst is speaking in the wrong places. Kansas awaits.

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