Justin Bieber magazine cover a sales bomb

Justin Bieber's Vanity Fair Cover Bombed at the Newsstand

Justin Bieber’s appearance on Vanity Fair is the publication’s worst seller in the past 12 years.

At the start of 2011, magazine sales figures proved putting Lady Gaga on the cover of your magazine is a sure-fire way to guarantee blockbuster sales, while featuring Taylor Swift front and center is an almost certain bust. Now that numbers from the February 2011 issue of Vanity Fair starring Justin Bieber are in, we know how the 17-year-old heartthrob ranks amongst pop-star cover models and it is not good — in fact, for Vanity Fair, the numbers are nearly horrifying. Bieber’s issue is going to have the dubious distinction of being the Conde Nast monthly’s worst-selling in 12 years.

According to Women’s Wear Daily, who cites results from the Audit Bureau of Circulations’ Rapid Report (preliminary newsstand sales figures reported by magazines but not yet confirmed by the Bureau), Bieber’s VF issue sold 246,000 copies, 28 percent below the magazine’s average of 342,000 for the first half of the year. Since editor Graydon Carter took over the magazine in 1992, only two other covers have performed this poorly — a 1999 Will Smith issue and a 1993 Harrison Ford one.

More shockingly, the Vanity Fair bomb actually wasn’t an anomaly. According to WWD, Bieber also appeared on an October 2010 Teen Vogue cover that sold 121,054 issues, 12 percent below the magazine’s 2010 average. His April 2010 People cover sold 961,762 copies, 25 percent below the weekly’s average, making it the publication’s third-worst seller of the year.

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“Worst” and “seller” and not words commonly found in stories about megastar Bieber, who has the highest-grossing concert film in U.S. history and the fourth-best-selling album of 2010 with 2.3 million copies. So what’s the blame for the singer’s lack of traction at the newsstand?

The answers vary by the publication: Vanity Fair isn’t geared toward the teens and tweens who usually snatch up every piece of Bieber memorabilia. The other stories featured on the February 2011 cover include the words “Warren Buffett,” “Wikigate,” and “The Kennedy Inauguration” — not exactly kiddy catnip. Scans of the issue likely hit the web as soon as the first Belieber got his or her hands on it, proving that the story itself wasn’t actually all that revealing. Bieber talked about loving Michael Jackson and being a regular kid — the kind of uncontroversial topics he usually tackles.

The Teen Vogue story was likewise not filled with earth-shattering gossip, and the People cover got more attention for its goofy photo than anything else. Bieber’s most talked-about magazine cover in recent memory is certainly Rolling Stone’s February 2011 profile in which writer Vanessa Grigoriadis tried to quiz the singer on topics like abortion and politics. Sales figures for the Rolling Stone issue have not yet been reported.

In general, Bieber keeps his fans updated on his everyday doings via Twitter, so unless a magazine story includes extra sexy photos or the promise of never-before-heard tales, Justin’s followers just don’t need to shell out the extra cash. And while he’s still a bona fide superstar, there have been a few chinks in Bieber’s usually pristine armor recently — in May he was pelted with eggs while performing in Australia and last month he had a particularly icy cameo on David Letterman’s show.

For the record, Lady Gaga is still pretty darn good at selling magazines. Per AdWeek, Vogue’s March Lady Gaga cover sold an estimated 445,000, well above the magazine’s average of 370,000 for the first five months of 2011. The secret to her newsstand success? Always being ready with a wacky quote and an even wackier outfit.

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