Smith ascribes this to the giant word "SEX!" blaring out from the cover, judging from the massive influx of angry letters ("The mail began arriving the moment copies came back from the printer and kept on coming — it's coming still — and pretty much all of it has been unfavorable"). Meanwhile, says Smith, he thought the cover was tame; here are some of their other classy cover ideas:
Our May issue was not only one of the worst newsstand sellers of the year, or of the last (ahem) seven years — it was, apparently, the second-worst newsstand seller in the magazine's thirty-four-plus-year history. It could end up being the worst, period.
I could only imagine what the reaction would have been if, say, we had gone with the shuttle with a condom pulled down over it. Or the sign on a shuttle door that read, "If this shuttle's rockin', don't bother knockin'." Or the sign that read, "Do not disturb: Entry in progress." Or the wordless shot of a shuttle entering a black hole.
He also notes that by the time the mag came out, interest in the astro-sex story had long since waned: You will recall that it was knocked clean off the map by the death of Anna Nicole Smith, and that was back in mid-February. Oddly, Smith does not acknowledge that — which seems extra-surprising, seeing as Smith (other Smith) was from Texas which probably made the crazy all-encompassing media storm around her death that much more intense. Were it not for Anna Nicole the Nowak story might well have lingered on as the cable news fodder of the day, explored in all its lurid twists and turns; but, it did not, and the immediacy of its disappearance (like through a wormhole or something!) should have been editor Smith's first clue that his cover might not sell. But also, to be blunt, it's a terrible cover.Smith's kicker, however, is perhaps the most interesting part of his editor's letter:
Ironically, the other type of letter we got — in droves — asked why we didn't put John Spong's magnificent Iraq story on the cover. The answer is that we were sure it wouldn't sell.
Update: This post has been corrected; ETP originally wrote that the blog post was actually Smith's editor's letter and was in the magazine; it was not. Our intel from deep inside Texas was incorrect, though we're pleased to have the opportunity to use the phrase "deep inside," if only to assure Smith that he's not as depraved as his readers might think.