Exploring being female (for that's what we are) in a world of media myths, publishing incompetence, and marketing madness -- as well as the female submission and subscription to those messages.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Who Reads Cosmo?

I'm pretty relentless in my mocking of Cosmo; I make no secret of stealing people's copies of the mag to protect them from the rag. I can't think of a single person, let alone a demographic, which should be reading it.

So just what are Cosmo magazine's supposed demographics anyway?

Historically, the magazine's readership has been described as:

Brown always focused her magazine's editorial slant on the reader she termed "the mouseburger." Clearly a self-referential term, Brown defined it for Glenn Collins of the New York Times in 1982: "A mouseburger is a young woman who is not very prepossessing," Brown said. "She is not beautiful. She is poor, has no family connections, and she is not a razzle-dazzle ball of charm and fire. She is a kind of waif." With a heavy editorial emphasis on sex and dating features, tell-all stories, and beauty and diet tips, Cosmopolitan had become an American institution by the 1970s, and the term "Cosmo Girl" seemed synonymous with the ultra-liberated woman in her twenties who had several "beaus," a well-paying job, and a hedonistic lifestyle. The magazine also introduced the male centerfold with a much-publicized spread of actor Burt Reynolds in its April 1972 issue.

Yet the reality was somewhat different: Cosmopolitan's demographics were rooted in the lower income brackets, attracting readers with little college education who held low-paying, usually clerical jobs. The "Cosmo Girl" on the cover and the few vampy fashion pages inside reflected this--the Cosmo style was far different from the more restrained, elegant, or avant-garde look of its journalistic sisters like Vogue or even Mademoiselle, which focused on a more middle class readership. Though often a top model or celebrity, the women on Cosmo's covers were usually shown in half-or three-quarter-length body shots, often by Francesco Scavullo for several years, to show off the low-cut evening wear. The hair was far more overdone--read "big"--than usual for women's magazines, and skimpy beaded gowns alternated with lame and halter tops, a distinctly downmarket style. The requisite "bedroom eyes" and pouty mouth completed the "Cosmo Girl" cover shot.
Currently, Cosmo pushes themselves via their media kit, which varies, as you can see, from the information gathered by Quantcast.

You can argue the comparison of Internet apples to paper magazine subscriber oranges (and the supposed fact that, according to a very small study, only 7% of magazine subscribers visit that magazine's website) and third party metrics all you'd like, but it's clear that Cosmo tweaks their numbers by regrouping them creatively.

Tweaking/regrouping numbers to make themselves more impressive -- I guess that's a common enough biz sin. But wouldn't they do better to actually deal with the realities of women -- and I'm guessing that might start with actually facing their own demographics.

And seriously questioning why readers seem to out-grow (become bored with, not just 'age out of') the magazine.

Also, while some joke that Cosmo is really a magazine for men (I think the magazine is far more dangerous than that), Cosmopolitan magazine numbers indicate that just 15.03% of subscribers are men; Quantcast shows 39% of site visitors are men.

Make of this what you will; I just wish Cosmo would clean-up their predatory act.


Anonymous said...

Well noticed! I was wondering if the same applies to male magazines like GQ. Who does buy those magazines and what is the profile of the ideal reader...

Keep up the good work.

Pop Tart said...

Hey, Fab, we haven't gotten to GQ (yet), but Slippy's got a post on Maxim...

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