With newsstands heavy on celebrity titles, consumers often devote mere seconds to each before making their selection. Will it be "Angelina's Shrinking Waistline" or "Britney's Gone Bald"? Or perhaps another "Jen's Post-Pitt Hopeful" spread?
But who's the best bet? Jennifer Aniston, according to Forbes' first-ever analysis of the top-selling celebrity faces.
We looked at the newsstand sales of the six leading celebrity weeklies — People, Star, US Weekly, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style and OK! — over a six-month period ending June 30, as supplied by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. We eliminated all non-celebrity and collage covers as well as special issues with exceptionally large rate bases. Then we counted how many more — or less — issues the celebrity's cover sold, as compared with the magazine's average newsstand sales. Next, we factored in the number of full covers a celebrity graced. Finally, we ranked his or her consumer appeal using data from Encino, Calif.-based polling firm E-Poll Market Research to rule out flukes.
Aniston earned the top spot thanks to strong performances across the board. In addition to garnering a high appeal score of 36, making her the second-most-liked cover subject behind Sandra Bullock, she proved a success at the newsstand. Appearing on every title except In Touch at least once during the time period, her face collectively sold more than 5 million copies.
Just how important is a tabloid's cover model?
Incredibly, says Candace Trunzo, who took over as editor in chief of Star magazine in April. "Brand loyalty isn't what it used to be in terms of celebrity magazines," she explains. "Each week, people decide on what they are or aren't going to buy based on the cover, and if you don't draw them in with it, you lose that undecided portion of your audience."
Not to mention that publishers recoup up to 55% of a title's newsstand sales, according to John Harrington, a circulation analyst. Back of the envelope, that means Trunzo's Star earns about $1.27 million a week from single-copy sales. Each 10% bump over Star's recent 726,000 newsstand average means an additional $139,000. For industry titan People, with its 1.4 million newsstand readers, the decision is even more crucial — and potentially lucrative.
The former Mrs. Pitt's allure as a cover model comes as no surprise to Trunzo. "She's the classic wronged woman," says the editor. "I think that most women can relate to and empathize with someone that was so in love with a man who, in an incredible Hollywood twist, leaves her for his co-star in a film."
More than two years after their divorce, Aniston's ex has little trouble scoring big sales on his own. Pitt's two Life & Style covers, for instance, were the weekly's first and third best-selling issues during the six-month period, proving that the right man can shill tabloids. With the A-lister on its cover, sales shot up by 17% and 22%, respectively. The title's second best-selling issue belongs to a May 7 cover featuring Pitt with Aniston, which saw sales up 18%.
If couples as entities were counted on our list, those of Brad and Jen would have placed second, thanks to seventh-place rankings in sales and appeal, while those of the trio — Brad, Jen and current squeeze Angelina Jolie — would have landed fourth. Faring far worse: Brad and Angie covers, of which there were nine, would have placed 26th. The couple, commonly dubbed Brangelina, had mixed results at the newsstands, earning a disappointing 44th in the cover sales category.
It took more than one good cover to land on our list. Consider Larry Birkhead, whose exclusive first photos with daughter Dannielynn in OK! magazine's April 30 issue sold 41% above average. But with poor results in the other categories — only one cover and a dismal likability score of 5 — the late Anna Nicole Smith's ex didn't fare well enough to make the final cut.
Other stars, like Reese Witherspoon and Carrie Underwood, who respectively ranked fifth and seventh on our list, were helped by adoration from fans. Though their cover appearances, all of them successful, were rare — two single covers for Witherspoon and one for Underwood — both ranked in the top five for appeal, with respective E-Poll scores of 35 and 31. To put that in perspective, the average celebrity on our list garnered a likability score of 17.
Congeniality doesn't always translate at the newsstand, however. Take Bullock. Though the chick flick star topped the list in appeal, scoring a 46 on E-Poll's likability index, her March 26 cover of People sold 13% below average, the weekly's worst-selling issue during the sixth-month period.
The biggest disappointment at the newsstand? Yep, it's Britney Spears. Ironically, she landed 18 single covers during the six-month period, which also makes her the most popular cover-subject choice. With her face on the cover, glossies collectively sold some 600,000 issues below average, placing her last among cover subjects when it comes to sales. Also working against the former pop tart: an abnormally low appeal score of 3. In fact, the only celebrity faring worse was celebutante Paris Hilton, who scored a 2.
But why the purported disinterest in the tabloid fixture? Consumers have grown tired of Spears' consistently bad behavior, says In Touch Weekly Editor In Chief Richard Spencer.
"Usually there's a roller coaster of emotions," he says. "But unfortunately for Britney, there's been no roller coaster lately — there's just been the downhill."