Lance Armstrong Wins TexMo Bum Steer of the Year Award

And there you have it. In 2005, Lance Armstrong appeared on the cover of Texas Monthly wearing a Livestrong halo. Now he appears as the state’s biggest twit of 2012. Here’s editor Jake Silverstein’s introduction to the annual issue, in which he outlines Armstrong’s spectacular fall.

Now for a little magazine dorkery. A couple years ago, I explained why we stopped doing our annual wrap-up, which we called Best & Worst. Short version: Esquire invented the genre with its Dubious Achievement Awards. As the editor of that magazine, David Granger, explained when they stopped doing it in 2008, the round-up of wacky news items has been made obsolete by imitators and social media. Obsolescence and newsstand sales are two different things, though. Seeing this TexMo cover (which I rather like) made me wonder how their recent Bum Steer covers have performed. Here come some data.

In 2007, they did this great Dick Cheney cover. You’ll recall that he shot a buddy in the face while hunting caged doves. It sold 8 percent above average for that year. With 60,870 copies distributed to newsstands, 35,281 of them were purchased, for a sales rate (“sell-through” is the industry term) of 58 percent. Very solid performance.

In 2008, Coach Fran got his butt chewed by Reveille. Slight problem: while the cover line told Fran to “hang in there,” he’d already resigned by the time the issue hit newsstands. Monthly magazine lead times are a bitch. They put 64,200 copies on the newsstand and sold 29,805 of them for a sell-through of 46 percent. It sold 8 percent below average that year. Not awesome but for a non-reader-service cover, you’ll take it.

Next up came this Roger Clemens cover. They called it the “2009 Bum Steeroid of the Year.” I didn’t like it. The image doesn’t communicate quickly, and I think the joke falls flat. Why not illustrate Clemens on the mound but beef him up comically, maybe even turn him into a bull, with hooves and a ring through his nose? Anyway, it sold 10 percent below average for that year. They put 62,240 copies out. Sold 28,058. 45 percent.

2010 brought us Tom DeLay as John Travolta in a Dancing With the Stars spoof. DeLay, you’ll recall, didn’t last long on the show, though. Stress fractures in both feet did him in. TexMo dialed back its distribution to 56,364 copies, and 21,516 of them found a home, for a 38-percent sell-through. It sold 15 percent below average for that year. But now is not the time to panic, people!

Because in 2011, Jerral Jones and Bevo took a turn together. They sold 2 percent above average for that year. TexMo put out 58,553 copies and sold 28,231, for a sell-through of 48 percent. One imagines Jake Silverstein and Brian Sweany sharing a solid bro hug when they got these numbers. The franchise lives!


And then came Rick Perry, the gift that keeps on giving. I loved this cover. You’ll recall the three departments he said he’d mothball. Except he couldn’t remember the third. The Post-it Note on his head says: “VERY IMPORTANT: Commerce, Education, Energy!” We still don’t have data for the entire year, so I can’t tell how it sold compared to the other issues of 2012, but of 60,076 copies on the newsstand, 27,866 rang the cash register, for a 46 percent sell-through.

The final analysis: what the hell do I know? In the case of TexMo, at least, the public has not yet tired of the round-up of wacky news stories. The Bum Steer franchise marches forward just fine, thank you. I won’t bore you with more covers, but I dug through the sales numbers going back even further. They consistently kill it with this concept. I expect this Armstrong cover will be no exception.


  • RAB

    Seems like a whole lot of trees were chopped down for nothing. Why not just print 28,000 copies, since that’s about the most they ever sell?

    • Tim Rogers

      Good question. Think of magazine newsstand sales like a shotgun shell. That shell might have 400 pellets in it, but you only use maybe three or four of them to kill the bird.

      And your assumption about their sales is wrong. I only gave you numbers for their Bum Steer issues. In 2011, this was their top seller:

      They put Draw 56,707 copies on the newsstand and sold 42,480 of them, for a 75 percent sell-through. Which is amazing. They blew that quail away. Probably didn’t even leave enough meat to cook. For comparison, the following month, they published this cover:

      That’s the worst seller of 2011. 53,644 copies, 16,454 sold, 31 percent. That quail only took a couple pellets. It was injured but still alive. They had to wring its neck.

  • Hurricane

    This reads a job cover letter gone wrong. Silverstein will be there for a few more years.

    What happened to the annual predictions issue? One and done?

  • Frank King

    When I think about what happened to Lance, my mind goes to Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods and even Jim Bakker (remember him?). Together, they inspired me to write this essay:

  • Frank King

    When I think about what happened to Lance, my mind goes to Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods and even Jim Bakker (remember him?). Together, they inspired me to write this essay: