An Experiment in Newsstand Magazine Sales
You see her every month, looking out at you from newsstands and in
supermarket checkout lines: the Cosmo girl—trademark of Cosmopolitan
Magazine. Like all cover girls, she's young and attractive, but for
many years, the Cosmo girl had one unique, distinguishing feature: she
was vacant. Month after month, it was always the same: the parted
lips, the glassy eyes, the slack expression. Nice
The function of a magazine cover is to sell
magazines; in particular, to sell magazines at the newsstand
(subscriptions have already been bought and paid for). The more
interesting and attractive the editors can make the cover, the more
magazines they can sell. For whatever reason,
the editors of Cosmopolitan believed that putting a vacant model on
the cover of their magazine was the best way to sell it.
Sometime in 1995, it seemed to me that the Cosmo girl woke up a
bit. Not entirely, mind you. In fact, it was quite subtle. But the gaze seemed a little less fixed;
the expression a little less slack. And the change persisted from
month to month.
Then, in the summer of 1996, Cosmopolitan decided to perform a controlled experiment. They
ran three dramatically different covers over 3 consecutive months.
- The first month, the Cosmo girl reverted to her former, vacant
self. If anything, she was more vacant than ever. Utterly
slack. Nothing there.
- The second month, she had one of her tits hanging out. You
couldn't quite see the nipple. They pushed it right to the limit of
what you can sell in grocery stores in the United States.
- The third month, she woke up. Bright eyed, engaging smile, making
eye contact with the reader. The way people look when the
haven't been hit over the head with a telephone book.
Apparently, sales were highest the third month, because the Cosmo girl
has been awake ever since.
- sell magazines
- For an inside account of this business, see Tony Rothman, A
Physicist On Madison Avenue, Princeton University Press,
- Thinking up plausible reasons is left as an exercise for the
reader. Whatever it was, it was probably a good reason: there's a lot
of money at stake in these matters.
- My wife holds that there was no change at all.
- This is conjecture on my part, but the evidence seems compelling.
- I don't recall the exact dates, or the actual order that the
Steven W. McDougall /
29 October 1997