2013’s Best and Worst Magazine Cover Stars

Kardashians still dominated as J.Lo lost steam

Headshot of Emma Bazilian

As 2013 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at the big celebrity cover trends for the past year. Between all the Kardashians, the Royal Babies, and the Jennifers Aniston and Lawrence, who were the big winners? 

For celebrity weeklies, reality stars are still proving to be a far bigger draw than their Hollywood counterparts. Many of the year’s best-selling tabloids featured Kardashians (Kim, as always, was the clan’s best-selling member, followed by Khloe—although mom Kris proved to be tabloid poison for certain titles), Bachelors, or cheating Housewives on their covers. The Royal Baby was also a hot topic, breaking into the top three covers at People and Life & Style. 


People’s biggest sellers this year turned out to be cover stories about “real” people. A cover featuring the Cleveland kidnapping victims brought in the most newsstand dollars, followed by the Gosselins of Jon & Kate Plus 8. A recent cover story on the McStay murder case was also newsstand gold.

People managing editor Larry Hackett said the success of reality star (and real-life) stories over traditional celebrities speaks to readers’ need for a juicy story above anything else. “A life-changing story will do better than a celeb story, all things being equal,” he said. “If you’re a famous person who’s not doing much of interest at that moment, you’re not going to sell covers anymore. People want a narrative, and they’ll take a narrative even if it’s about someone that makes many of us scratch our our heads and go, ‘Why do people care about them?’ They care because it’s a good story.”

For the fashion glossies, Kim Kardashian's tabloid appeal hasn't always translated—her Allure (March 2012), Glamour (January 2012) and Marie Claire (December 2011) all sold poorly, netting significantly lower-than-average newsstand sales—but her April 2013 Cosmopolitan cover was the magazine's biggest this year, selling 1.2 million single copies versus an average of 1 million copies during the first half of the year. (Figures are from the Alliance for Audited Media and are publishers' estimates.) 


Otherwise, fashion glossies still have more success with proven Hollywood stars. Several titles' September and March issues, which typically go with safe picks because they're the largest editions of the year, performed well thanks to A-listers like Jennifer Aniston (Glamour, September), Drew Barrymore (InStyle, September), Sarah Jessica Parker (Harper's Bazaar, September), Beyoncé (Vogue, March) and newly minted fashion icon Jennifer Lawrence (Vogue, September).

"We lean towards the faces that are most recognizable," said InStyle editor in chief Ariel Foxman, who had the year's biggest successes with Drew Barrymore in September and actresses Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis in March. Reality stars "don’t have the same recognition [as actresses or singers], or they have recognition for infamous reasons," Foxman said.

Former reality star Lauren Conrad seems to have shed her Hills association enough to become a serious fashion contender, giving both Marie Claire and Lucky its second-biggest sellers this year. And despite the actress not having appeared in a project since Gossip Girl went off the air, Blake Lively delivered Lucky and People StyleWatch's biggest issues this year.

Vanity Fair proved yet again that celebrities need no longer be living to sell magazine covers. Its biggest seller of the year was Princess Diana on the September issue, selling 316,386 copies versus an average 252,651 copies for the first six months of the year, followed by Audrey Hepburn in May. (When the magazine did try to go young—like with Taylor Swift in April or Jennifer Lawrence in February—sales were weak.) 


As for the year’s worst-sellers, Jennifer Lopez was one celeb whose star seems to have faded. Her covers for Harper’s Bazaar in February and Cosmo in October were bottom-sellers for both titles. Other poor sellers were Jessica Biel (Elle, January), Heidi Klum (Marie Claire, February), Katy Perry (Vogue, July), One Direction with model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Glamour, August) and Julianne Moore (InStyle, October). While One Direction has proved a big seller for both Teen Vogue and Seventeen this year, the boy band may have been too young for Glamour's readers. As for Moore's InStyle cover, Foxman speculated that her October cover suffered from being on newsstands right after a massive September.


Looking ahead to 2014, Hackett predicted that Prince George will continue to be a popular subject, while Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston’s upcoming nuptials should also appeal to newsstand buyers. As far as fashion magazines, Foxman expects to see Scandal star Kerry Washington (who made her cover debuts on Vanity Fair, Glamour and Elle this year), up-and-coming actress Shailene Woodley (who appeared on Elle's Women In Hollywood issue) and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o (a recent Golden Globe nominee for her role in Twelve Years a Slave) become established cover stars. 



@adweekemma emma.bazilian@adweek.com Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.