Will Rolling Stone Ban Put A Dent In Sales?

MTV News asks the experts and former RS editor how the mag will be affected after stores like 7-Eleven and CVS refused to sell Boston bomber issue.

It may be harder to find the new issue of Rolling Stone at your local chain pharmacy or quickie mart this week. After concerns were raised about the magazine’s decision to put the now-infamous selfie of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the its cover to illustrate the story titled “The Bomber: How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster,” a number of major retailers have announced that they won’t carry the issue.

7-Eleven joined the list of boycotters on Thursday (July 18), which already includes CVS, Walgreens, Kmart and Rite Aid. The New England-based Tedeschi Food Shops also said it would not carry the issue. Before it was posted online, the article’s author, Janet Reitman — who reported the piece over two months and spoke to childhood and high school friends, neighbors and law enforcement sources — wrote, “It’s kind of astonishing. No one has even read it yet!”

Much of the controversy has focused not on the content of the piece, but rather on the decision to put Tsarnaev on the cover, in what many have said is a pose that seems to glamorize him and make him look like a pop star. The same image has also appeared in the New York Times and other media over the past few months.

The magazine, which has long mixed music journalism with world affairs and political coverage, has released a statement defending its decision to feature Tsarnaev.

“Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families,” it read. “The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.”

A spokesperson for Rolling Stone could not be reached at press time for reaction to the ban, or questions about how it might impact newsstand sales and why the cover image was chosen. According to Ad Age, the boycott may not put much of a dent in the magazine’s bottom line.

“In the last half of 2012, single-copy sales of print and digital editions of the magazine were 81,552, or just 5.5% of its nearly 1.5 million overall circulation, according to the Alliance for Audited Media,” Ad Age reported.

Sid Holt, chief executive of the American Society of Magazine Editors and former RS editor, told MTV News that the RS ban is not that rare in the magazine world. “It doesn’t happen a lot but it’s not unusual for mainstream magazines to be banned, usually because the cover offends local standards of taste (the most common reason is nudity on the cover),” he wrote in an email.

Holt continued, “Newsstand sales are such a small part of Rolling Stone’s total circulation that losing sales at a handful of retailers won’t have much effect. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if newsstand sales are higher than usual, given the amount of attention the cover has received. Overall, I don’t think this will have any effect on Rolling Stone except to remind readers and advertisers how much they care about the magazine.”

Spokespeople for the independent Trident Booksellers and Café and Brookline Booksmith stores in Boston told MTV News on Thursday that they preferred not to comment on the controversy, or discuss whether they will carry the issue.
At press time, there were more than 3,500 comments on the story on the RS website. One person said that they had just signed up for a subscription to the magazine, writing, “I appreciate honest journalism. I also believe in freedom of the press,” while others said the photo didn’t glamorize Tsarnaev, but just showed how “unnerving [it is] to see how normal and similar he is.”

Many, though, were incensed by the piece, writing comments such as, “Mr. Editor, I challenge you to meet me at the site of the Boston Bombing. I would like for you to hit me as hard as you can in the face, kick me repeatedly, bruise me, burn me with cigarettes and then spit on me as I lay in the street. THAT you POS is what you just did to the victims of the bombing.”

What do you think of the new Rolling Stone cover image? Let us know in the comments.

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