Any press is good press, right? Especially when the press is talking about the press itself.
Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone magazine decided to put a giant image of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. Not a photo of Tsarnaev in handcuffs, or bloodied in the back of that boat. Nope, Rolling Stone decided to put a big dreamy-looking photo of the terror suspect on the cover - one that made him look more like Jim Morrison than a terrorist.
And that was the point, at least according to Rolling Stone.
"The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens," they said in a statement.
Basically, the whole point of the article was to look into how this sort of thing happens. How this seemingly normal kid (by all accounts) could turn into a monster. Because he looks like a rock star.
Explanation or not, Rolling Stone knew that the cover would spark outrage. And it did. Twitter was a mess for a few days. Various chains like Walgreens and CVS boycotted the issue. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino wrote a strongly-worded letter to Rolling Stone about their "obvious marketing strategy."
The police photographer who took the photos of Tsarnaev as he was being apprehended even lashed out at the cover, calling it "an insult to any person who has every worn a uniform of any color or any police organization or military branch."
The point is - people were mad. Very mad.
But people still bought it.
According to Magazine Information Network (via AdAge), the Tsarnaev issue sold 102% over average of the per-issue sales for the past year. Among 1,420 retailers, 13,232 copies were sold from July 19th to July 29th - that's more tha double Rolling Stone's average sales from 2012.
Not only did the "boycott" not work in dampening sales, but the controversy actually increased sales - by a huge margin. When you take into account the fact that retail sales only account for a few percent of Rolling Stone's total circulation, you can see that people went to the stores for this issue specifically.
Rolling Stone knew what they were doing. And anyone that thought this issue would sell less was delusional. Sex sells. Violence Sells. Scandal sells. Controversy sells.