By Jeff Bercovici The magazine industry has found an unlikely champion of diversity: Men’s Vogue. While other magazines shy away from putting African-Americans on the cover in the belief that they don’t sell as well, the new Conde Nast men’s magazine has devoted four of its 12 covers so far to black men: Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, Denzel Washington and, in December, Will Smith.
Is this just a statistical anomaly, or is Men’s Vogue courting black readers the way corporate cousin Details cultivates a gay audience: not exclusively, but purposefully?
“I don’t think that Tiger or Senator Obama appeal only to one segment of the population,” says editor in chief Jay Fielden. “In fact, they proved to be two of the best-selling covers we’ve ever done, and we have good reason to expect even more from Denzel Washington and Will Smith. If there is some industry rule of thumb that you can’t have African-Americans on the cover more than so many times a year, then we’re glad to be the ones disproving it.”
Though few editors will admit to observing it, there is such a rule of thumb, and parent brand Vogue is one of the magazines that’s come in for criticism for adhering to it. When Vogue put Jennifer Hudson on the cover of its March issue, it was only the third time the magazine had featured a black celebrity there. And Jezebel recently pointed out that Vogue featured not a single African-American model in its October issue’s fashion pages. (Of course, neither did Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Glamour or Cosmopolitan.)
Almost as unusual is Men’s Vogue’s affinity for putting politicians on the cover. So far, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Tony Blair have made appearances (the former two somewhat daringly, given the danger for American politicians of appearing to preen). While it was reported that the September issue with Blair sold only 60,000 copies on the newsstand, I’m told more recent numbers put the final sale at a much more respectable 80,000. With increases on the subscription side, the magazine plans to raise its guaranteed minimum circulation to 350,000 in 2008.