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[MADAME NOIRE] September Covers Show the Publishing Industry is (Still) Behind the Times

Summer is on the cusp of its sweltering climax which means one thing: September issues are around the corner. If you work in publishing you already know what a big deal September is. Those issues aren’t hefty for no reason. September is a fresh start. A new season complete with new fashions that need to be rolled out to the public. This equals more ads and more revenue for magazines. It’s a lucrative time for the industry. Naturally, they want to show advertisers that the issue they invest the most in reaps the rewards of high readership. Perhaps it’s this performance anxiety that encourages the publishing industry to cling to old values when fall comes around.

Women’s Wear Daily has a round up of what we’ll see on the newsstands next month. “For fall, fashion titles are banking on reliable bestsellers with all-American sex appeal and relatability, and TV starlets — and almost everyone is playing catch-up with those celebrities who have already done the other cover rounds,” it reads. Movie stars (Jennifer Lawrence for Vogue), supermodels (Kate Upton for Elle), and television darlings (Zooey Deschanel for Marie Claire) are all accounted for. But for all-American sex appeal to be the theme, a significant portion of the country goes unrepresented. Where are the women of color?

Historically, the publishing industry has viewed women of color as risky cover girls. Publishers are internally vocal that Middle Americans won’t buy magazines that don’t feature White women. In 2002 the New York Times treated Halle Berry’s cover of the December issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as a miracle. David Carr wrote “in many broad-circulation magazines, the unspoken but routinely observed practice of not using nonwhite cover subjects — for fear they will depress newsstand sales — remains largely in effect.”

But the industry wouldn’t hold on to this dated thinking in 2013, would they? Publishers can’t really think Americans are more comfortable checking a Black person’s name on their voting ballot than seeing their face on their coffee table, can they?

Politics aside, women of color are among the top influencers in pop culture. Forbes‘ 2013 Celebrity 100, a list that gauges fame based on media mentions, Internet presence, and celebrities are viewed by American consumers, features four women of color in the top 20 slots. Oprah Winfrey tops the list, Beyonce comes in at number four, and Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna rank 12th and 13th respectively.

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