A-Listers Don’t Sell Celeb Magazines the Way They Used To

The bar is higher for cover subjects

Movie stars are no longer a sure thing for magazines anymore.  

“The era of the A-List movie star is over,” People managing editor Larry Hackett said at Advertising Week today. “I will confess, there were times in the ‘90s when we put people on the cover because they were huge stars, but the stories weren’t exactly scintillating. Now, the bar is higher. … People need a narrative arc.”

It's hard to get buzzy covers featuring minority subjects, too, no matter how A-List they are. “I’d be lying if I said that minorities don’t have a harder time selling covers,” said Hackett.

Fellow panelist Jess Cagle, managing editor at Entertainment Weekly, said that covers featuring multiple actors from Scandal (Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn) and The Help (Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone) sold well for EW, but it’s worth noting that neither of those groupings was exclusively comprised of minority subjects.

When picking a cover subject, editors today can't ignore the social media amplification factor. Cagle said when choosing between two celebrities for EW, the star with the bigger social media footprint (read: more engaged fans) will likely win. For instance, a recent cover featuring Vin Diesel promoting his latest installment in The Fast and the Furious franchise got the green light in part because of the actor’s huge Facebook following and the likehood of his fans discussing the cover online.

That said, choosing a cover based on social media can backfire. Cagle recalled that one cover featuring the cast of Pretty Little Liars—arguably the buzziest show on social media—produced disappointing newsstand sales, possibly because program’s social-savvy but tween-heavy audience was too young for EW.

With newsstand sales continuing to decline, Cagle acknowledged that the print product could one day become the loss leader that feeds all of the magazine’s other revenue streams. Getting on the cover of the print magazine is still the No. 1 goal of Hollywood stars, and giving them the cover often brings with it additional content, like behind-the-scenes videos or photos, that the magazine can use for its website or tablet edition, Cagle said.

“The print product is still the most profitable thing we do, but in 10 to 15 years, even if everything changes, the cover is still going to be the most important thing in this industry,” Cagle said.