Rolling Stone's Boston bomber cover is backfiring

The magazine's photo depicting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a heartthrob may lead to a sales decline amid calls for a boycott.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 17, 2013 10:50AM

August 2013 Rolling Stone cover (© Rolling Stone)Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET.

Magazine editors look for cover images that will startle and fascinate readers, prompting grocery store shoppers to add a copy to their check-out hauls.

But Rolling Stone's latest cover is striking many people as simply offensive, leading to mounting calls for readers to boycott the issue. The problem? The publication is depicting alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a heartthrob, devoting the cover to a photo of a baby-faced, tousled-haired young man with dreamy eyes. 

Adding to the furor, the cover copy hints at a sympathetic view of the bomber, promising readers to reveal how "a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam, and became a monster."

Twitter users are urging people to not only boycott the magazine but to also skip supporting the issue's advertisers. One Twitter user wrote, "Boycott Rolling Stone Magazine and all their advertisers. No reason to legitimize a mass murderer." 

The furor has prompted CVS (CVS) and New England-based Tedeschi food stores to ban the magazine from their shelves, Boston Magazine reported on Wednesday. CVS said in a statement, "We believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones." Tedeschi wrote on its Facebook page, "Music and terrorism don't mix."

For Rolling Stone, a boycott would most likely be felt first in its single-copy sales or in purchases of the magazine at newsstands and stores. As of June 2012, Rolling Stone relied on stores to sell about 75,000 copies of each issue (26 a year), according to an Audit Bureau of Circulations statement. The publication is owned by Wenner Media. 

Rolling Stone relies on subscriptions for the bulk of its sales, 1.34 million of them as of June 2012. While a respectable number, it's smaller than those of other celebrity-focused publications such as Time Warner's (TWX) People and Entertainment Weekly. 

The real danger for the magazine will be whether the furor prompts longtime subscribers to cancel their accounts. Some outraged readers are urging people to take that step, and the hashtag #boycottrollingstone is gathering momentum. Meanwhile, the boycott has time to grow, because the issue hits newsstands on Aug. 3, according to CNN. 

As for the story itself, Rolling Stone is vowing a "deeply reported account of the life and times of Boston bomber Jahar (sic) Tsarnaev." 

Among the revelations it promises are that Tsarnaev "played down the fact that he was a Muslim" at his high school and that he "shared few details of his troubled home life with even his closest friends."

But based on the angry reaction, it's not likely the teasers will convince folks to actually get beyond the cover. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.

More on moneyNOW

Jul 17, 2013 11:12AM
Wow, just wow....whatever happened to common sense?  Or to responsible reporting.  A fluff piece on a terrorist bomber responsible for mass murder and countless serious injuries?  I've never purchased a copy of Rolling Stone, didn't much care for it.  Now I know why.  My sympathies lie elsewhere...not with this a-hole that caused so much pain and suffering.
Jul 17, 2013 11:09AM
We need to take a stand against this profit at any cost. We all know they wrote this to boost sales. I say boycott, boycott, boycott! Make them know we will not put up with this. Not only should we boycott the Mag. but we should boycott any store that sells it
Jul 17, 2013 12:26PM

Trying to search for all Rolling Stone advertisers to let them know they should pull-out of the magizine or be boycotted!  This has got to be one of the worst business decisions I've seen made by a mag!!!


Jul 17, 2013 11:37AM
Rolling Stone done lost their %$^&*ng minds
Jul 17, 2013 11:46AM
Jul 17, 2013 1:25PM

We need to stop glorifying bombers and mass shootings!  When media propagates this trash it only increases the likelihood that it will happen again.  Companies that think they will create a controversy (and hence more sales) by printing offensive material deserve to be boycotted!  Someone should post the companies who are advertised in the magazine, let them share the spotlight… that would be one way to make a real impact.

Jul 17, 2013 3:06PM
I don't give a care what society or his parents didn't do for him. This Kid shouldn't be on the cover of any magazine! Let alone Rolling Stone. I'm not one to start saying boycott but I will say "SHAME ON YOU ROLLING STONE"
Jul 17, 2013 1:30PM
The editor and person who put the story together needs to be FIRED....
Jul 17, 2013 1:06PM
The cover photo would be appropriate if there was a noose around that big f-in radical Islam A-holes neck.
Just sayin.
Jul 17, 2013 1:39PM
Boycott Rolling Stones NOW!!!!!!!  The editor should be hand cuffed and perp walked out the front door for the whole nation to see.
Jul 17, 2013 6:02PM
I agree that Rolling Stone and it's advertisers should be boycotted. Not only this issue, but future issues. They really do not care what we think unless they feel it in their bank account.
Jul 17, 2013 11:51AM

This is a surprise?  Who'd have thunk it?  ROLLING STONE is a subversive, propagandist, political publication?  No way!  I thought they were a legitamate music mag like HIT PARADER or CIRCUS or GUITAR MAGAZINE.  Not.


I just hope The Rolling Stones (rock group) don't suffer on account of public confusion over headlines and article titles.  

Jul 17, 2013 4:58PM

The fact is that whom ever controls the media controls the culture. So whom controls the media?? Or owns Rolling Stone magazine... It's part of the constant infiltration of advertising brain wash.  Music and terrorists do not mix.


Let the media portray terrorists as being sexy?? something is seriously wrong, another spiral down hill for society.



Jul 17, 2013 4:24PM
If I see this magazine anywhere, I'm going to pick it up, drop it, and accidentally kick it under the news stand.  Or maybe turn it around, hide it behind other things, or otherwise chuck it in a trash can.
Jul 17, 2013 12:35PM
Jul 17, 2013 9:32PM

What an insult to the people that died and the family's friends ,to  see this on the shelves. Maybe news week , but this guy on Rolling stone.  People lost their lives and some will never recover fully. God help America.


Jul 17, 2013 6:17PM

Stop shopping at any store that is selling this "trash"......the only way to get a message across to the mass media

Jul 17, 2013 5:06PM
The magazine has so gotten away from its roots..
Jul 17, 2013 7:44PM
To glorify the SOB with a glamour shot is an insult to the nation.  I hope their readers are terrorists, because they lost me as a reader and any  American or American friend with a conscience.  I hope they get boycotted this issue and the next would be a fair penalty for their poor taste. And, yes I have evaluated the whimsy factor and it is also bad art.
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