Words That May Help Sell a Story

Jeff Bezos: A tin ear for words.

At the Washingtonian, the cover word “best” sold the most copies: 100 Best Restaurants, Best Places to Live, Best & Worst. The absolute best newsstand seller was Top Doctors—we had to use “top” because someone had trademarked Best Doctors.

A cover usually had five or six cover lines to go with the main cover story. I didn’t like to use “best” more than once on a cover so at times struggled to find for other ways to say it. Over one year, these were the cover words used most often:

Great, beautiful, fun, favorite, inside, big, bargain, hot, new, delicious, top, friendly, charming, cheap, cool, real, undiscovered, expert, smart, talented, bold, wild, classical, popular, award-winning, romantic, youthful.

I was surprised not to find “free”—the most powerful word in retailing—on any of the covers.

Magazine distributors often told us that the Washingtonian was among the three top-selling magazines on Washington-area newsstands, beaten out only by People and Cosmopolitan. I looked at an issue of Cosmo and these were its cover sell words:

Sex, sexy, sexiest, hard-core, secret, naughty, free, fun, hottest.

People magazine has been a newsstand star for many years and its founding editor, Dick Stolley, once came up with his laws of magazine covers. A little tongue-in-cheek but pretty accurate:

1. Young is better than old.
2. Pretty is better than ugly.
3. Rich is better than poor.
4. Movies are better than television.
5. Movies and television are better than music.
6. Movies, TV, and music are better than sports.
7. Anything is better than politics.
8. Nothing is better than a dead celebrity.

At the Washington Post, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, after buying the paper five years ago, came up with a new page one slogan for the morning paper: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” How did someone with that kind of tin ear for words come to be worth $150 billion by selling things?

Speak Your Mind