The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective, Unscientific List of the Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2013

Editor’s Note: Music to accompany this post, courtesy of YouTube, the angel voiced Syd Straw and David Letterman.

Another year, another add to the many “Best of” lists we get to read and enjoy.

Late last week a colleague called me. He was full of laments. The year had started with such promise, he said, and ended on such a sour note. It felt like the wheels had completely blown off and everything was crashing down.

Well, that seems a bit extreme. But if it seems to you that our shallow little bay of the great magazine sea is suffering from a bad case of the red tide, you’d be on target.

In previous years, I’ve tried to judge cover selections by what conformed to some of the industry standards for cover treatment. Did the covers help newsstand sales? Was there a “good use” of cover lines or cover treatment?

This year, in honor of declining sales, added fees, relaunches that exploded on the launch pad, I’ve gone more informal. The criteria (which I changed early on) is simple: What grabbed my attention when I walked by?

So here they are in all their deck listing (at least by 30 degrees) glory: 2013’s Completely Biased, Highly Subjective and Unscientific Best Magazine Covers.

1) For the first time in two years, perennial winner, Vogue was not only tumbled from her top slot, but we don’t see Vogue anywhere in the rankings. Too much time in the checkout lanes scanning the iPhone? This year, the always fresh Texas Monthly takes the top spot with a look into the Dixie Chicks controversy. Great image, great cover lines, and bonus points for working the great songwriter Steve Earle into the skyline.

April 2014 Texas Monthly
April 2014 Texas Monthly

2) Here’s an interesting case of a magazine I didn’t see at retail (See, already broke my own rules). But I did see the image batted all around social media and my first thought upon seeing the cover was “Great image!” And then, Lorde’s new song turned into a earworm that would not go away. So does this Billboard cover set an example of a cover image that lives and promots beyond retail and print?

Billboard, September 14 Issue 35
Billboard, September 14 Issue 35

3) Cynics think that regional magazines are all about “Top Docs” and “Best Restaurants”. But regional magazines are so much more and the best can go far beyond simple service and feature journalism. The May issue of Boston Magazine expressed everything that needed to be said about the marathon bombing.

Boston Magazine May issue
Boston Magazine May issue

4) I’ve never been a big fan of cover tabs and pop up images in the corner are even less of a turn on for me. But my favorite magazine, Entertainment Weekly gets a nod this year for their excellent image featuring the upcoming YA adaptation of Divergent.

Entertainment Weekly 06/28/13
Entertainment Weekly 06/28/13

5) When I browse several nearby Barnes & Noble stores, I always scan the back of the racks where the imports are. I have a huge weakness for UK and Aussie titles. This year Love Magazine celebrated it’s fifth birthday and featured five unique covers to highlight the event. All of them are great. But this was the first one that jumped out at me and made me pay attention.

Love Magazine (Conde Nast) 5th anniversary issue
Love Magazine (Conde Nast) 5th anniversary issue.

6) The kerfluffle about New York Magazine changing it’s frequency was really much ado about nothing, as far as I was concerned. Magazines change frequency. Business plans adjust to meet new marketplace realities. That’s life. But in the meantime, look and this cover and tell me it doesn’t make you smile! And want to do a selfie on a spacewalk!

New York Magazine 05/27/13
New York Magazine 05/27/13

7) A few months ago, I was in a local Walgreens when an older gentleman walked up to the counter and asked the cashier if they had TV Guide in stock. “No,” she said, “We don’t have anything like that.” Ouch! Well, in the last reporting cycle, TV Guide  had a circulation of over 2 million, over 800K Twitter followers and more than 100K followers on Facebook. Is that has big as they used to be? No. Are they still in business and adjusting to new realities? Yes. This year, they celebrated their 60th anniversary with a selection of really great covers. Here’s the one that took me in at first glance (on display in that Walgreens).

TV Guide's 60th Anniversary 1 of 6 covers
TV Guide’s 60th Anniversary 1 of 6 covers.

8) The “Person of The Year” is a big deal at Time Magazine and this year not only did they choose well, but they crafted a cover that really captures the image and humanity of the new pope.

Time Magazine 12/23/13
Time Magazine 12/23/13.

9) I’m never sure what to conclude about this statistic. Outside Magazine’s single copy sales are about what they were when I worked at the magazine over twenty years ago. Whatever you conclude, the publication continues to create great covers with bold colors, great images, and clever, but not cute coverlines.

June 2013 Outside Magazine
June 2013 Outside Magazine.

10) Who says newsweeklies can’t catch the imagination and inform the public? Bloomberg Businessweek continued to inspire this year with a series of creative, interesting and occasionally jaw dropping covers. This one really captures not only the content of their feature article, but really makes you laugh out loud. Want to see what the art director, Richard Turley is up to? You can follow him on Twitter @Mr_Turley.

Bloomberg Businessweek 07/15/13.
Bloomberg Businessweek 07/15/13.

So for a moment, let’s drop the worry over where this ship is going. We pretty much know already. Let’s instead celebrate the great creativity that still exists in spades in this industry and the wonderful words and images we try to sell to the public each week.

What covers grabbed your attention this year?

Click here if you want to have your own copy of this years review of covers and see who I chose for the honor of “Runner Up”.

Click here for the best of 2012 and here for the “Runners Up”.

You can find the best of 2011 by clicking here.

And for the very first cover review that ever appeared on the Foredeck, click here.

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2 Replies to “The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective, Unscientific List of the Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2013”

  1. Captain of the Titanic, we have to accept what this industry has broguth us over the past almost twetny years. Nothing supposedly has gone right. We are going to see more titles fold once the other two big come out twith there formulas. The BIG guys will rejoice, since they will feel the racks are less cluttered. Dr’s Doom & Gloom wil continue to publish negative thoughts (Just what the chain buyers need to read, thank you)

    Still new titles have come out, and grown steadily, others have passed into oblivion, that is nothing new. We just have to learn to accept what it is today, and if possible fight back. Good product can still grow, just needs a little love from the w/s distribution department, not distribution for the darn make a like computer. (don’t hold your breath for that to happen).

    People who like to read still will, the magazines will do just fine, unfortunately the hardcover and paperbacks will still be in decline on the newsstand, but will continue to grow with the Nooks etc.

    1. Some interesting points, Irwin. If I can get to it, I have some thoughts on the whole “less cluttered” conventional wisdom meme.

      One point, however, I am not Captain Smith. Go back to the first post and you’ll see why I am on the foredeck and not the bridge.

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