business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

You may recall that earlier this month, there was a lot of debate about the decision by Rolling Stone to put accused Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev on its cover, with most of the complaints focused on the fact that many saw the cover photo as making the accused terrorist look like a rock star.

A wide range of retailers - including Roche Bros., Wegmans, Tops, Stop & Shop, Rite Aid BJ's Wholesale Club, Costco, CVS, Walgreen and Tedeschi Food Shops - said they would not sell the issue. And a "Boycott Rolling Stone" campaign took shape in social media.

But the actual impact on magazine sales seem to have been exactly the opposite. Ad Week reports that "retail sales of the issue jumped 102 percent over average per-issue sales for the past year, according to Magazine Information Network. Figures are based on point of sale data from 1,420 retailers from July 19 to July 29. Among those retailers, 13,232 copies were sold, more than double the magazine's average sales for the prior year."

Tsarnaev is accused of carrying out, with his brother, two separate bombings during the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 260. The brother was killed before being apprehended. Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges related to the bombing.

From the beginning, I felt that while Rolling Stone was completely within its rights to run the story and the picture, it might have been more sensitive to use another photo. But sensitive doesn't sell magazines. And, to be clear, reports are that the story itself - which talks about how young people like Tsarnaev end up being alienated from a culture that offers them so much - is supposed to be extremely well reported and written. (I haven't read it yet. But it is on the list.)

Still, the entire episode has been an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: