- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Americans like Corvettes, roast turkey, lilacs and firefighters; they can pass on Mariah Carey, Caroline Kennedy, women's suits and genetic corn. A new analysis of the best- and worst-selling covers of the nation's top magazines reveals all.
"This tells more about America than magazines, and readers were definitely after some comfort this time around," said Steve Cohn, editor of Media Industry Newsletter (MIN), which analyzes circulation figures of a hundred magazines each year to determine what images ring true with readers.
Indeed, in a marketplace vexed by consolidations, falling circulation and ad revenues, finding intangible sweet spots that increase readership is serious stuff: A hundred magazines folded last year from lack of reader or advertiser interest.
The MIN analysis is specific.
He-man actor Bruce Willis' cover sold more issues of Esquire than comedian Jon Stewart, while Bon Appetit's traditional Thanksgiving turkey had more takers than summer drinks. Car & Driver's Corvette extravaganza topped something called "The Princes of Performance" while the gentle readers of Good Housekeeping opted for Julia Roberts over Caroline Kennedy.
Elsewhere, lilacs beat "rustic style" at Country Gardener and "Survivor" star Jerri Manthey sold more Playboys than actress Angelica Bridges. More readers wanted outdoor projects than a Colonial make-over in This Old House, and fall fashions rather than ladies' dress suits in Lucky. Men's Journal's biggest seller featured firefighters on the cover; its weakest issue covered domestic "hide-outs."
The analysis does not include news weeklies and other magazines published immediately after September 11.
"That horrific event gave us a different plan this year," Mr. Cohn said. "We were not going to rank covers featuring the twin towers with Tom and Nicole. It's just not appropriate."
Some magazines played an ironic role in the attacks, however. American troops found copies of Flying and other aviation magazines used as "references" in an al Qaeda hideaway last year. "Sadly, it showed how good an editor in chief Flying's Mac McClellan is," noted the MIN report.
Meanwhile, National Geographic readers favored Afghanistan over California, while Martha Stewart's brigades liked tabletop Christmas trees rather than vintage dish towels. And over at Oprah Winfrey's O magazine, readers wanted "comfort" rather than "creative solutions."
Cover girls still reign: 49 of the 200 best and worst covers featured women. Only 15 featured men.
But readers seemed to have developed fatigue for cover girls of a certain demeanor. Of the 100 worst-selling covers, 25 featured solo portraits of such women as Courtney Love, Diane Keaton and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Some fared worse than others: Mariah Carey, Drew Barrymore and Cate Blanchett appeared on two of the worst-selling covers.
"There is something to the Kate, Mariah, Drew connection," noted Mr. Cohn. "There could be a 'has-been' quality there. But sometimes who's on the cover is not so important as what month it is holiday issues and fashion previews are always big sellers."
Americans apparently aren't annoyed by Jennifer Anniston, who appeared on four best-selling covers. And women as best-selling "brand names" are still on the cutting edge, Mr. Cohn noted. "A Katie Couric lifestyle magazine. It's not unthinkable," he said.
Jennifer Harper can be reached at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.


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