Black Stars Not ‘Big Enough’ To Sell Magazines

THE EDITOR of British Glamour has said the magazine has not featured more black celebrities on its cover because they are simply not “big enough” to sell copies.

 

From January 2004 to date, Glamour – described as the UK’s no.1 women’s magazine – has produced close to 130 issues and over 75 different cover stars.

 

But of this elite group, only six black women and three mixed race celebrities have been honoured with top billing. Of these, only three – supermodel Naomi Campbell, singers Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke – were British.

 

Glamour’s editor Jo Elvin told The Voice: “The cover is a magazine’s most important selling tool in a challenging market.

 

“The decision as to who goes on the cover has nothing to do with race and everything to do with who are the biggest stars at that particular time, who are also able to give their time for a photo shoot. For example, I’ve been trying for months to have Lupita Nyong’o and Beyoncé on the cover, but their schedules have not allowed it.”

 

Campbell and Burke had covers in Glamour’s July issue which has dual cover stars as part of its annual Woman of the Year edition.

 

In 2006, readers could choose between Campbell or Welsh singer Charlotte Church and in 2010, there was a choice of Burke, Avatar actress Zoe Saldana or British singer Lily Allen.

 

No Asian stars, such as Slumdog Millionaire actress Frieda Pinto, have featured at all.

 

Elvin continued: “In the limited pool of all people who are famous enough to meet our sales targets of nearly half a million copies each month, it’s true that a smaller percentage of these women are black. I’d be interested to know who you think we should be targeting to feature on our cover? I suspect you think I’m not considering women because they’re black when it’s actually because they’re just not ‘big’ enough to sell the cover. Believe me, I wish there were more ‘cover-worthy’ women, of all races.”

 

The discussion comes amid a wider debate about diversity in the media and creative industries in both the UK and US.

 

A breakthrough moment came earlier this year when Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o appeared on the cover of US People magazine under the title of ‘most beautiful’ while Beyoncé appeared on Time magazine for its ‘most influential’ list.

 

The two women appearing on their respective covers was hailed as evidence that the desire for diversity is achievable.

 

Magazine covers are a useful indicator of standards of beauty, modes of fashion and general popular culture points of reference.

 

With data showing that Britain is more ethnically diverse than ever, reflecting this should not be optional to stay attractive to consumers.

 

Ethnic minorities represent a growing young consumer base. They form just 5 per cent of the over-60 population, but 25 per cent of the Under-10 population. And research conducted by Starfish consultancy in 2007 idenitified that 65 per cent of black women are readers of monthly magazines.

 

In a frank interview with Cosmopolitan magazine last May, Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon spoke candidly about witnessing the politics of women’s magazine’s first hand.

 

She revealed a showbiz journalist had openly told her that they would not put a black person on the cover of a magazine because it would not sell.

 

“It made me angry because it shouldn’t be about the colour of the person’s skin, it should be about the person,” Dixon said.

 

A clear message is being sent out; shifting units is more important than accurately representing Britain’s cultural make-up – even though it could in the long-run attract a new readership.

 

In a vox pop conducted by The Voice, we asked young women who they would like to see on the cover of some British titles.

 

Popular choices included Skyfall actress Naomie Harris, award-winning singer Emeli Sande, model Jourdan Dunn and rising talent Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

 

Former Pride magazine editor Sherry Dixon said that power to effect change rested in the hands of black consumers.

 

She said: “Black magazines such as Pride, that put black women on the cover are struggling.

 

“We read other magazines, such as Cosmopolitan and Elle. When we start supporting our own like the black women in America who support Essence and Ebony then we will be taken seriously.”

 

The consensus amongst advertisers is that there is no real requirement to target ethnic minorities via ‘ethnic press’, since most can be targeted through the mainstream.

 

The issue of diversity at Condè Nast media group – the international publishing house behind magazines including Glamour – is part of a much bigger debate on structural diversity. That is, the ethnicities of those in senior editorial decision-making roles.

 

Despite its extensive portfolio of publications including Vogue, Teen Vogue, Brides, Vanity Fair and GQ, the media group made headlines for the appointment of its first African American editor-in-chief in 2012.

 

Keija Minor’s promotion made her the first since the media house began in 1909.

 

Shortly after, a second African American, Elaine Welteroth replaced Evan Chen as Teen Vogue’s beauty and health director.

 

At the time, Welteroth said: “I think magazines really benefit from having a staff with a range of different perspectives and cultural references so that any reader can feel like there is someone on the masthead they can relate to, someone they can trust to speak up for them.”

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