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Sex, lies and magazine sales

Sex, lies and magazine sales

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jennifer Aniston, Barack Obama and Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi all have something in common: they all have made an appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone, some even in their birthday suits.

Sex sells. It’s a formula that Rolling Stone and almost every other magazine have used to market themselves to a vast audience.

Sure, The New Yorker has political articles, but who can turn down a magazine with a barely legal, scantily clad Britney Spears clutching a Teletubbie?

Researchers at the University of Buffalo analyzed covers of Rolling Stone starting in 1967 and ending in 2009, concluding that the images of musicians, actors, politicians and reality stars have become more sexual as the years have gone by. In addition, the images of women in particular blurred the lines between provocative and pornographic.

It appears that magazines have evolved to cater to the ever-changing public, even if it means they’re selling people rather than their content.

The study, “Equal Opportunity Objectification? The Sexualization of Men and Women on the Cover of Rolling Stone,” solely focused on this magazine because of their long history and coverage of a wide variety of topics from pop culture and music to politics and current events.

However if they were to analyze almost any magazine, except maybe Cat Fancy, they would come to the same conclusions.

Using these “pornified” images, publications are making more money.  According to MSN’s entertainment site Wonderwall, Lady Gaga’s April 2010 Cosmopolitan cover, where the reigning queen of pop and shock sported lacy lingerie, sold 2.8 million copies.

The eccentric star was a top seller of all magazines in 2010. Cosmopolitan, a magazine known for dishing sex tips, relationship advice and fashion also featured a bold type blurb next to Gaga’s head that read, “The sex article we can’t describe here!” and lower on the cover, “50 things to do butt naked,” as if you needed help figuring out more.

Although this strategy works tremendously for magazine sales, it’s troubling to think that the public is missing out on truly thought-provoking content in lieu of picking the magazine with a Kardashian or teen mom on the cover.

According to Huffington Post, the worst-selling magazine covers in 2009 caused Americans to snooze, but the topics that were presented were perhaps more pertinent than Kate Gosselin and her brood.

A Newsweek cover featuring a white background and artfully placed green leaves displayed the headline, “The greenest big companies in America,” and turned out to be a flop.

The worst seller for The Economist in 2009 was a cover story on the U.S. trade imbalance with China. It featured a large tire labeled, “free trade,” stuck by an American flag dart; the tire is slowly deflating while President Obama walks away.

Both were important issues that year but were clearly not sensational enough to entice the public. Michael Jackson proved to be the issue the public cared about; his death sold the most magazines in 2009.

As sad as it is that the majority cares more about the royal wedding than greener energy, what surprises me is that there is not a bigger outcry for quality content in publications.

Why should magazines attempt to sell hard-hitting stories to a public who demands fluff and salacious gossip?

I am completely guilty of foregoing a deep issue only to read dirt on celebrities and look at beautifully composed photographs of shoes I can’t afford, but let’s challenge ourselves to choose more wisely.

For every article read about Hilary Duff’s pregnancy or Kim Kardashian’s wedding in the coming weeks, read two articles about the 2012 election or the debt crisis — topics that are growing concerns for our generation.

Sex sells, but we don’t need to buy it.

The columnist can be reached at

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