Covers Sell

Covers Sell

Tabloid World

Posted by Scott On July - 4 - 2011

We live in a tabloid world.   A celebrity world.   A world of fashion.   A world where nearly anything goes.  We live in a digital world of instant communication.  A world that blurs the lines constantly in search of fame and fortune, truth and beauty, art and trash, news and entertainment.

There seems to be no end to the list of things that one may find offensive.  Community standards seem to be impossible to nail down and define.  Everything is relative.  It all depends. The recent Newsweek cover is a case in point.

Critics are condemning it as incredibly tacky and in poor taste.  The cover shows  Kate Middleton standing next to a digitally altered image of Princess Di.  Tacky?  Perhaps it is.  If I were a family member, I might indeed object to my dead sisters’ image being tampered with in this way, simply to sell magazines.

On the other hand, there is a symbiotic relationship of co-dependency between celebrities, their agents and the mass media.  Lady Gaga’s people work hard to keep her in the lime-light of tabloid tv shows and to ensure her image appears favourably, and often, on the covers of fashion magazines.  There are plenty of sellers and plenty of buyers, whether they are selling music, the monarchy, movies, or magazines.

I have heard arguments that covers that feature murders like Paul Bernardo or Colonel Russell Williams glorify violence, desensitize us, and exploit human pain and suffering, just to sell magazines.

I have heard arguments that magazines like Cannibas Culture glorify illegal drug use, which contributes to a host of social costs.  Is this cover contributing to the problem of drive by shootings of drug dealers and innocents caught it the crossfire?

I have heard arguments that the lyrics of certain gangster rap artists glorify the killing of cops and the raping of women, again desensitizing us, just to sell some music.

I have heard arguments about freedom of expression, whether it is defending an artist who received a public grant to create an image of Jesus Christ covered in feces, or on the other hand condemning the publishing of cartoons considered disrespectful to the prophet Mohammad.  Such publishing decisions, it is argued, can offend millions and promote bigotry and intolerance, creating conditions that may lead to riots, violence and death.

I have heard arguments that certain covers of fashion magazines glorify ridiculously thin models, which create body-image problems that can lead to serious and life-threatening cases of anorexia.

There are those who argue that tatto magazines glorify the desecration and mutilation of the human body.  Others see it as body art and beautiful self expression.

Compared to some of these concerns, the Newsweek example looks positively harmless.

When Angelina Chapin contacted me and alerted me to this interesting cover controversy, I honestly didn’t see much to get alarmed about.

I am assuming that Newsweek hired Tina Brown to sell magazines.  Her intent is clear.  Royalty covers seem to be selling a lot of copies.

These are some excellent royalty covers from Hello Canada.

I’m not seeing the intent to cruelty here.  I see the intent to sell some copies.

After all, the recent Royal Wedding fever is being credited with giving the magazine supply channel a huge shot in the arm, according to a recent MAGNET press release.  That’s certainly welcome news.

The Newsweek cover reminds me in some ways of an advertorial…it’s pretty clearly labelled “If She Were Here Now”, which is to say that obviously she is not here now, and that therefore this is not a real image, it’s been photo shopped.  Clearly, there is no intent to deceive readers.

I’m not a beauty contest judge, but both ladies look quite elegant, sophisticated and fetching to me.  Unlike the infamous nude Rob Ford cover on NOW magazine, the Newsweek cover is clearly not mean-spirited or cruel or dehumanizing.  I will have to go buy a copy to see if the article is cruel or if it is simply good old fashioned celebrity fluff.  Chalk up another sale for Tina Brown.

Some of my favourite covers are illustrations.  These covers often distort reality, exaggerate flaws, inflate and conflate, in order to provide an altered view or caricature of the subject, often for the purpose of humour.  They can arguably be considered both mean and funny.   But clearly they are designed to help sell the product.  Political cartoonists are particularly adept at this time-honored skill.

The Society of Professional Journalists in the United States has a code of conduct.

Here in Canada we don’t.  I therefore suspect that in Canada, we may have a somewhat more tolerant view of the Newsweek cover than some american critics.  Let’s find out.

Do you think this cover is offensive?

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About Me

Scott Bullock is a veteran circulation expert with over 38 years experience in both Canada and the United States. He has worked on trade titles such as Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal and Small Press in the USA. In consumer magazines, Scott was the Circulation Director for D Magazine (the city magazine of Dallas, Texas), and in Canada he was the Circulation Director for Toronto Life, Fashion, and Canadian Art. From 2000 to 2004, Scott was a partner at Coast to Coast Newsstand Services. Scott has also held the post of VP Sales & Marketing, for CDS Global, Canada. Currently, CoversSell.Com is Scott’s circulation consultancy. Active clients include: Fly Fusion, Canadian Geographic, Canadian House & Home, Canada’s History, Canadian Real Estate Wealth, Canadian Woodworking, Canadian Cycling, Canadian Running, Canadian Scrapbooker, Legion, Harrowsmith, SkyNews, and SuperTrax.



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