Almost as soon as we posted Essence magazine‘s October 2012 cover featuring Jill Scott’s TWA, readers began lamenting the cover choice. It’s not that Jill wasn’t a beautiful subject, it’s that they’d seen her on the cover too many times before.
It’s a critique that I’ve been hearing for quite some time and though it’s not specific to magazines targeting people of color, some of our own books are the biggest offenders. These publications only seem to rotate about nine celebrities on their covers each month. How many times have you seen covers featuring Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kerry Washington, Queen Latifah, Sanaa Lathan and Beyoncé? Exactly.
And the perplexing part is that the celebrities rarely have anything new to say and sometimes, they don’t even a new project to promote. They’re merely featured, it seems, because they can sell covers on the newsstands. As print publishing experiences a decline alongside a spike in digital media, publications are less willing to take risks by featuring new faces on their covers.
Glamour editor Cindi Lieve said: “I think what you’re seeing in the magazine world is a certain amount of fatigue with the same old, same old faces. One reason we had a nice sale with Taylor Swift was that you hadn’t seen her on a million magazine covers before and there was actually the hope that Oh my God! I might actually learn something new. I think taking risks is serving people well right now.”
Though Lieve suggested risk-taking in May of 2010, the advice would still bode well today. There are fresh faces like Janelle Monae, Elle Varner and Tika Sumpter, for example, who are enjoying successful careers and are on the brink of even bigger stardom. Why not take a chance and feature them?
There’s also the option of putting models on the cover. Jones Magazine often features models on its covers and W Magazine recently made a splash by shooting the #1 model in the world, Joan Smalls, for their July 2012 issue.
In “Same Month, Different Celebrity: The Problem with Magazine Covers,” writer Janelle Anderson writes: “The problem is the magazine-buying public is so accustomed to buying an issue because of their favorite celeb that some wonder: will they be inclined to pick up a book with a relatively unknown, yet beautiful, model’s face on the cover?”
Most publications aren’t willing to risk money on the newsstand to find out. The result is a handful of celebrities that take turns gracing magazine covers each month, whether readers like it or not.