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What Does It Take to Sell Magazines These Days?

Count on Cover Subjects Like Jennifer Aniston to Push Pubs; Paris Hilton Is So 2005

By Published on .

Narrated by Nat Ives

NEW YORK ( -- When Vanity Fair Editor in Chief Graydon Carter put Paris Hilton on the cover in 2005, a smart aleck accused him of using the heiress like "newsstand crack." Times have changed. According to a new analysis of various traits on 11,161 magazine covers between May 2006 and this April, Paris Hilton has become a cover "don't."

Issues with the starlet on the cover attracted smaller-than-average audiences for the magazines in question more often than they attracted above-average crowds, according to the analysis by GfK MRI, which looked for traits with statistically significant correlations to audience swings either 15% above or below average.

Any given issue with the cover trait in question might have attracted a below-average audience, an average audience or an above-average audience, but GfK identified traits that on the whole proved more likely to either hurt or help. Audience figures encompass not just copies sold at newsstands but all readers, including subscribers, people who read friends' or relatives' copies, and readers who pick up a copy in a waiting room or other public place.

Some public figures still have juice, such as Jennifer Aniston, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, according to the GfK MRI research. But Ms. Hilton and former MTV reality star Lauren Conrad aren't drawing readers.

Broader cover traits matter too: The economy, beach bodies, and "best of" treatments all help magazines draw bigger audiences than usual. But "green" coverage, negative emotions and -- perhaps surprisingly -- celebrity scandal are more likely to hurt than help.

The findings only suggest trends, not immutable results, said Anne Marie Kelly, senior VP for marketing and strategic planning at MRI Starch, which plans to make the data available to its clients soon. "We're not saying that no celebrity scandals drive readership," she said. "I think it depends on who the celebrity is. They're not all Tiger Woods."

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