The Magazinist
Critical Thinking for Publishers
Stolley's Laws

People Weekly, which for decades has consistently generated more newsstand revenue than any other American magazine, pays very close attention to what sells on covers…and what doesn’t.  Armed with some of the richest data imaginable, People’s founding editor, Richard Stolley, developed Stolley’s Law of Covers in the late ’70s and has kept them updated since.  Bear in mind the subject matter: laws that work for People may not work for, say, Cat Fancy. 

1.  Young is better than old.  America, as we’re constantly reminded, is a youth-obsessed culture. 

2.  Pretty is better than ugly.  No matter how notorious, off-putting subjects hurt sales. 

3.  Rich is better than poor.  Stolley sums up this rule by asserting that our culture is more interested in Daddy Warbucks than in Little Orphan Annie. 

4.  Movies are better than television.  Stolley believes this has flipped since People was founded in the late ’70s, when TV had the edge. 

5.  Movies and television are better than music.  He acknowledges that music has its hot spells, however. 

6.  Movies, TV, and music are all better than sports.  People sells in supermarkets, and most supermarket shoppers are neither male nor sports-obsessed.   

7.  Anything is better than politics. 

8.  Nothing is better than the celebrity dead.  Stolley wrote:

"I did not understand this when Elvis died in 1977, a blunder not repeated when John Lennon was murdered in 1980. That cover was People's best-seller until Princess Diana's death in 1997.

"The top 10 People sellers of all time also include the unexpected deaths of Princess Grace and John F. Kennedy, Jr. For any magazine, cover success with this grim but fascinating subject is as inevitable as … well, you know."