Why OC Weekly Put Two Hot Chicks Making Out on the Cover For Our Pride Issue
"Too wonky" I told our arts critic, Dave Barton. He suggested we publish, for the Pride issue that is out this week, essays by activists in OC's LGBT community reflecting on how life for them has changed over the past 25 years in this wacky county of ours. Don't get me wrong: I'm all about the wonk. I dare say no other newspaper, alt-weekly or otherwise, is so devoted to regional history and nerdiness as ours. But as editor of this infernal rag, I have to ensure that our great feature stories get read--and I also know that our audience mostly picks up an issue based on what the cover image is for any particular week. And Dave's idea, as awesome as it is, ran up against a disturbing reality: whenever we have run anything LGBT-friendly on the cover, no matter how important or wonderfully written the story, pickup rates for that particular issue will bomb.
How do I know this? Because I obsess over our weekly circulation rates (we're getting picked up more than ever before in general, thank Jeebus), and I've noticed the disturbing pattern. We have run a cover of two hot guys kissing on the cover with an awesome story proclaiming OC to be America's gayest county--bombed. We have run a cover of two regular-looking, recently married guys embracing on the cover--bombed. We have run a cover of a transgendered beauty on the cover for a story highlighting the The Center OC's great Hermosa y Protegida pageant--bombed. We have run an artistic rendition of a story we published regarding the coalition of LGBT folks and allies formed in the wake of Proposition 8--bombed.
I wish I could show you the covers I just mentioned, but I'm in the wilds of Arizona right now, and the covers online were lost in one of our endless web updates. But to the left is an LGBT-themed cover I can show: a story we ran earlier this year, about the career of pioneering LGBT Long Beach councilwoman Gerrie Schipske. Great story--and one of our least-picked up issues in years. And that fact--and the lackluster pickup rates for our other LGBT covers--aches me to no end.
If we were going to do the roundup of essays Dave proposed, one I think everyone in OC should read, then I needed to guarantee that it would get picked up (online, thankfully, stories get read regardless of cover art). Hence, I asked Dustin (our art director) to have two hot chicks make out on the cover, because I knew that would guarantee our awesome package would get picked up by as many people as possible. See, pickup rates go through the roof whenever we put beautiful women on the cover regardless of what's inside--that's society for you, folks.
Yes, putting two women on the cover making out is pandering--but if that means we're guaranteed that more people will pick up an issue, especially an issue that they otherwise wouldn't read, then so be it. I would love to live in a world where we could create a beautiful, thoughtful LGBT-themed cover that didn't have to pander to the lowest common denominator, one that everyone would pick up--but we don't. We live in Orange County, a place that's improving its relations with LGBT folks and allies but has a long way to go. And we have the circulation figures to prove it.