NEW YORK -- D'Agostino Supermarkets, Larchmont, N.Y., has begun to conceal the covers of Cosmopolitan displayed at checkout lanes.
The retailer's decision last month to shield the covers of the magazine came after Morality in Media, a national interfaith organization, based here, asked supermarkets to pull or shield the covers of magazines at checkout racks that contain articles that may offend customers. Membership in MIM, founded in 1962 to combat illegal hardcore pornography and uphold morality and decency, consists of 5,000 religious and community organizations.
"Cosmopolitan is one of the better-selling magazines and still is on checkstand magazine fixtures with its name visible. But we've concealed the rest of the cover," Nicholas D'Agostino Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of the 24-store chain, told SN. The retailer also plans to block the cover of the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, when it hits the street this winter.
In a letter sent to some 350 supermarkets in June, MIM said it was launching a nationwide campaign to urge family-oriented supermarket chains to stop displaying magazines with sexually-blatant cover headlines at checkout counters.
MIM president, Robert W. Peters, cited Cosmopolitan as an example "of the many national women's magazines that contain sexually explicit headlines that children and their mothers see as they pass through checkout counters." He said these magazines "often contain articles that one would expect to see only in porn magazines."
While the letter singled out Cosmopolitan, Peters said it "is just one of many magazines featuring such material." In a follow-up letter to chains last month, Peters referred to the cover headlines of July issues of Mademoiselle, Redbook and Glamour, which he described as "Cosmo-type magazines at checkout counters." MIM, he said, is asking "its entire membership to help us identify which supermarkets in their communities display Cosmo and Cosmo-type magazines at checkout counters, and to make complaints to store managers."
Kate White, editor-in-chief for Cosmopolitan magazine, New York, could not be reached for comment. However, Paul Luthringer, director of public relations for Cosmo, told SN the publication was aware of MIM's letter.
An official for New York's Hearst Distribution Group, the magazine's distributor, told SN that "Cosmopolitan has the highest newsstand sales of any monthly magazine. More than half of the two million copies of Cosmopolitan sold each month are sold in supermarkets. And each of those purchases represent a consumer who is satisfied with the magazine's content. Cosmopolitan produces the highest per issue profit of any magazine sold in supermarkets."
Said Richard Brown, executive director of the Periodical & Book Association of America, New York, whose organization represents publishers, "I am certainly against [Morality in Media's efforts]. I don't see anything that harmful in their covers. Does that mean we have to start putting black plastic over all the TV screens to keep kids from seeing soap operas and other things? It's an infringement on free speech. There is nothing that borders on salacious or pornographic or anything of that nature." Brown characterized MIM's efforts as "intimidation of the retailer," and asked where imposing one's personal goals and desires on others stops?
D'Agostino said MIM's agenda was pretty reasonable. Covering up the front of the magazines "seemed a reasonable request," despite the fact that customer complaints have been nonexistent, he said.
He contends that in the case of Cosmopolitan, "it should stand on the quality of its [editorial] content, and not on the shock value of the front page sexually titillating statements to attract readers."
Peters said stores that are in other ways family-friendly display "this moral trash so that children and adolescents cannot help see it."
Chains responding to MIM's letter included Albertson's, Boise, Idaho; Shaw's Supermarkets, East Bridgewater, Mass.; and H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio.
The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, was not aware of MIM's campaign and, therefore, had no comment.
Managers at Shaw's already place shields over magazine titles that customers find offensive, said Deborah Murphy, the chain's consumer response specialist. "We also encourage our customers to write directly to the publisher to express their opposition to a magazine's cover and/or content," she said. "Shaw's is committed to providing all of our customers with a range of products that allow them to make their own shopping decisions," she added.
The periodicals policy at H-E-B is to review magazine covers for objectionable and controversial material weekly, explained Scott McClelland, senior vice president for marketing, in his response to Peters. H-E-B "also keeps a close ear to our customers to ensure that we are acting in their best interest," he said. If the chain decides that certain magazines "have pushed beyond an acceptable limit of contemporary values, we refuse to carry that particular issue," McClelland said.
The process of reviewing titles on a case-by-case basis has worked well for the chain, McClelland said. "We respect the rights of our customers to purchase the magazine they want."
The long-standing policy for Albertson's has been not to carry magazines or tabloids that are generally considered to be offensive due to their content or nature, "such as Penthouse or Playboy," said Mike Read, vice president of public affairs, in a July 15 letter to Peters.
Read said that while Albertson's has no control over the art or content of the publications it carries, the retailer continually contacts publishers to relay customer complaints and suggestions. Occasionally, he said, publishers will send a written response.
In a letter from Cosmopolitan last October, Albertson's was assured that the publisher was very interested in feedback from retailers who sell Cosmo. The letter further stated that Cosmo editors wanted to strive to produce a magazine that Albertson's and others would be pleased to carry in their stores, Read said.
"Every cover of every subsequent issue to November will be reviewed by Hearst Distribution Group and Hearst Circulation to ensure that it has a proper combination of acceptability and sales potential," the letter said.
Read noted that whenever Albertson's pulls a magazine from stores "we are severely criticized and called into question by the media." Albertson's has no plans to eliminate certain magazines, and Read said there is a high level of demand for magazines "from a significant portion of our customer base."
"We clearly don't sell magazines that we feel are generally offensive or pornographic," Read told SN. "A particular magazine could be pulled nationally or in a neighborhood on a case-by-case basis. Store directors have the latitude to pull an issue based on the sensitivity of a community."