Lessons From ‘People’ Newsstand Woes

From Brangelina to Beyoncé, no star is a sure bet

Once upon a time, People magazine was one of the newsstand’s most reliable titles, rarely selling fewer than 1 million copies per issue. But the first six months of 2012 were troublesome for the Time Inc. cash cow, whose single-copy sales tumbled 18 percent versus the first half of 2011, proving that there's no foolproof recipe for newsstand success.

While the magazine had a few wins, including a Feb. 27 Whitney Houston cover that sold some 1.3 million copies at newsstand, its single copy sales rarely surpassed 1 million. In fact, newsstand numbers fell below 900,000 a full 11 times during the first half of the year, according to publisher-supplied data from the Audit Bureau of Circulations' Rapid Report.

The two worst-faring covers relied on lesser-known male reality stars. People’s Jan. 16 issue, “The Bachelor Gets Wild,” profiling The Bachelor star Ben Flajnik, sold just 682,636 newsstand copies, while the April 23 issue, featuring telenovela actor and Dancing With the Stars contestant William Levy, sold a mere 613,812 and missed the magazine’s rate base by 7.5 percent.

Proving that “In Memoriam” covers don’t always sell, the March 19 issue featuring recently departed Monkees singer Davy Jones sold 890,666 copies. Other emotional subjects including “Elizabeth Smart’s Dream Wedding” on March 5 and the “American Tragedy” of Trayvon Martin on April 9 also failed to tug at readers’ heartstrings, each selling in the 800,000 range.

While expectations for TV bachelors and ex-Monkees might not seem so great to begin with, other newsstand misses were more surprising. Despite the massive popularity of The Hunger Games, the March 26 cover story “Secrets of The Hunger Games,” featuring star Jennifer Lawrence, sold fewer than 850,000 newsstand copies. An April 30 cover touting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s engagement sold 858,183 issues, while the May 7 issue's proclamation of Beyoncé as “The World’s Most Beautiful Women” missed its rate base by 7 percent. And even though Kate Middleton and Khloe Kardashian are tabloid favorites, both of their People covers fell short of the 900,000 mark.

Even Jessica Simpson’s June 11 cover, featuring the first public photos of the singer's newborn daughter, was a disappointment at 926,719 copies—especially given that People paid a whopping $850,000 for those baby photos.

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