The Tina Brown method of magazine editing, put succinctly, involves ginning up as much controversy as possible in order to get people to talk about you. She was in textbook form this summer, with two zombie-themed covers, one of a Photoshop-aged Princess Diana at 50 and the other of a possessed-looking Michele Bachmann. Brown succeeded famously in getting people to talk about them. We talked about them! Multiple times. And here we are, doing it again. But is generating that buzz, as Brown famously calls it, a smart strategy for Newsweek, a magazine whose subscriber base isn’t exactly … shall we say, in thrall to trends?
Maybe not. The arresting Bachmann cover sold just 47,225 copies at the newsstand, barely above the single-issue average. The ghostly Diana also didn’t draw many more readers than is typical. One controversial cover that did do well was the Mitt Romney dancing Mormon, which sold an estimated 80,000. Perhaps the lesson — as any women’s magazine editor or possibly any human alive in 2011 could have told Brown — is that Americans are only interested in buying magazines featuring women if they’re made to look prettier and younger than they are in real life, rather than the opposite.
Update: Despite unexceptional sales for the crazy-eyed Bachmann issue, a Newsweek spokesman emailed to note that newstand sales are up approximately 30 percent since Brown became editor.