Dear Cover Design Team

Dear Cover Design Team,

It’s pretty mind boggling how much the magazine business has changed in just the past few years, isn’t it? I mean, we now work in what is called “Magazine Media”. There’s all kinds of new players in the field. The big companies aren’t safe havens anymore. And we’re constantly told that we need to change and we need to be the future and if we don’t we’re going to get downsized and we’re dinosaurs and all that.

Wow! Right?

It’s amazing how much our jobs have changed and how many new skills we’ve acquired. How many times has your job description and title changed? Was your pay cut? This is what number job since the big crash of ’08?

So, here’s the thing. I work in circulation (OK, let’s call it Audience Development or whatever) and one of my portfolios (or buckets, or folders) is newsstand. And even though the business is entirely different from what it was even five years ago, who really likes newsstand anymore? Really.

VanityFairMarch2017Cover
Vanity Fair, March 2017

Stick with me here, for a minute.:

  • Newsstand is a bucket where money comes in. Companies need money.
  • Newsstand is the public face for our magazine. It’s how people identify us, even if they don’t buy or subscribe and only see a social media feeds or a mobile site. They know the logo.
  • Even if they don’t buy the magazine, there are more than 100,000 retailers in the US and Canada where the magazine could be displayed. Face time.
  • If someone buys the magazine on the newsstand, they are paying a premium price for your work. Therefore, shouldn’t they have a premium experience when they pick it up?
  • If they like what they paid a premium for on the newsstand, they just might buy a subscription. That means the magazine gets money up front for one or two years.
BOston Mag April 17
Boston Magazine, April 2017

So I have to ask you: Why won’t you let someone from newsstand in on the cover design meetings? Why don’t you accept some of the recommendations when we present a simple sales by cover analysis report?

I get that there are a lot of pressures on cover design. Advertisers may be expecting one thing. Subscribers another. There may be a major editorial or artistic talent contributing an article and she’s expecting an entirely different thing.

chicagomod_march2017cover
Chicago Mod Magazine, Launch Issue, March 2017

But I have to ask, if you’re trying to sell your publication to the general public, don’t you want to put the best possible face on that product and sell more copies? And if you’re trying to come up with something to appeal to the audience, wouldn’t you talk to people who have to sell what you designed to that audience?

Here’s a simple equation for you: >Copies Sold=>$s.

And the converse: <CopiesSold=<$s

Finally: <$s=A visit from the accountants and the “consultants”.

WomensRunningJanFeb2017
Women’s Running, Jan/Feb 2017. The publisher holds an annual contest for a reader to be on the cover.

Also, it’s not just the general public who looks at your magazine and makes a judgment. That cover you’re designing also gets looked at by these folks:

  • The people in the warehouse. Do you have the right UPC code, issue code and cover price on the magazine?
  • Do you understand the requirements and best practices for a UPC code? Can you accept them (and understand that maybe they are for your benefit)?
  • Do you realize that people in the wholesale warehouse handle your magazine and that they make a judgment call about it’s appropriateness?
  • Do you realize that a merchandiser who may work for a third party company puts the magazine into the rack? Does the title on the cover match how the magazine is listed in the retailer and wholesaler’s authorized file?
  • Is there uniformity in your logo? Can merchandisers and wholesalers and others recognize your title from issue to issue? If you did a redesign, did you let your suppliers know and show them a before and after for easier indentification?

In case your wondering, we really admire your mad design skills and we’re not looking to drag you down. We also think you’ll find that circulation (or Audience Development or whatever) people are some of the nicest , easiest to please and eager to please people in the magazine media world.

Love Mag Spring 17(1)

Love Mag Spring 17
Love Magazine, Spring ’17. Eight unique covers.

So please, open the door a crack. Let your circ people drop in for a few minutes. Nine times out of ten the response will be, “Hey, that looks super! Thank you!” And occasionally you’ll get a suggestion that may sell more copies.

Remember: More copies sold equals more money in the pot. The accounting team will love you for that!

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

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The Five Most Egregious Magazine Covers of 2016 (S0 Far)

There are now so many ways for a magazine to brand itself. There is, of course, the print edition. Even for the most digitally savvy publication, everything usually starts there. But there’s also the web edition, the mobile edition, the digital replica. Then there are the social media feeds, events, videos and newsletters. So which comes first?

I don’t think I know anymore. But one thing that has not changed is the magazine cover. Think of it as the front door to a magazine brand. Sure, it means very little for the reader who drops into the website (In fact, on many magazine websites, you have to work hard to even find a mention of the magazine). Subscribers, be they print or digital, have already ponied up money for the magazine so they’re going to get that issue no matter what.

So why, even in this day and age, is the cover so important?

Because it is the front door of the magazine. It says to potential readers who you are, what you are about. What’s in between the covers.  Most importantly, if your reader picked up the magazine at the newsstand, they paid full cover for that one issue.

Sure, you could have subscribed to Entertainment Weekly  for one year for $5.00. But if you went to the newsstand and picked up the June 17 issue with the TV show Mr. Robot on the cover you paid full price, $4.99, for that one issue. So that means you must have really liked Mr. Robot and Entertainment Weekly. Right?

As far as I am concerned, there is little more unsettling in the world of cover design when a well known magazine blows a flat note and puts out an unattractive cover. What were you thinking? Why did you do that? Sometimes it’s groupthink. Sometimes it’s an experiment that just went wrong. Sometimes it’s just that there was nothing else to work with.

Last year, the Foredeck introduced the “Most Egregious Cover of The Year” of the year. The response from readers was pretty interesting. Now that we’re halfway through this year I thought I’d share with you what I think (You’re entitled to your own opinion of course) are the covers that that have made me wrinkle up my nose and wonder what went wrong.

For your consideration:

5. Outside Magazine, May 2016

The only real issue here is the simple fact that you have to stop and squint to read part of the cover line. What they were trying to tie together was the National Parks 100th anniversary and their list of 100 things to do in the national parks. Most likely this looked way better on a computer screen than it did printed on paper and placed on a newsstand.

Fortunately for Outside, they publish twelve times a year and from my perspective they usually hit triples and home runs.

may-2016-cover
Swing and a miss.

 

4. DuJour Magazine, Summer 2016

Let’s leave aside the potential political debates about this issue. They are immaterial for the purposes of this particular post. Sometimes black and white covers can work well. Heck, the Foredeck has listed some in times past. But there’s just something creepy and foreboding about this particular one. Even if Donald Trump weren’t running for president, the image of him lurking in the background is just….off.

dujour-melania-trump-8193f6b1-1ba0-4995-a43b-067b18781603
Don’t look over your shoulder Melania….

 

3. W Magazine, June 2016

File under “An Unlikely Mess.” Who doesn’t love English model-actress Cara Delevingne? But why dress her up as an emoji? Let’s hope her new movie does better.

W Magazine June 16
Not so sure I ❤ this…

 

2. Vogue Magazine, May 2016

Taylor Swift and Vogue have a long history together. I made their February 2012 cover featuring Taylor Swift as my #1 cover from the Foredeck that year. Usually Swift on the cover is instant attraction on the newsstand. It’s not that one of the most popular and powerful singers in the world can’t go out and change up her look. But in this photo, otherworldly looks unrecognizable. I’m not opposed to red backgrounds. In fact I love primary colors in the background. But this one….

Vogue May 16
…not so much.

1. Chicago Magazine, January 2016

To me Chicago Magazine is the epitome of a successful city book. I look for the latest edition of Chicago Magazine every month when I’m out at retail. Usually their covers are reliably good. It’s as if they take to heart every single CRMA presentation ever given and then make it better. “Top Doctors” editorial is generally a top newsstand seller for most city publications. Most “Top Doc” covers feature some sort of generic doctor on the cover so it’s understandable that Chicago tried to do something creative. But this?  Should we call Spiderman and let him know that Doc Ock has invaded the Second City?

 

Chicago Mag Jan 16
Paging Dr. Octavius!

The good news is that for every flop of a cover, there is usually a redeemer or two. Chicago Magazine has published several very good covers since January 2016 and for the record, may I show you what I think is one of the very best covers of 2016, Chicago Magazine’s July 2016 cover. Featuring a puppy.

ChiMag Jul 16
Who doesn’t love a puppy?

Just remember. The cover is the front door. You want curb appeal. You want people to spend full freight on that copy. You want them to love it so much that they’ll turn around and subscribe. And subscribe to the newsletter. And pay for a ticket to your event. And buy your “Buyer’s Guide.” And subscribe to your YouTube feed.

More puppies. Less octopuses.

 

 

Four Runner Ups To Best Cover of The Year. Plus The Most Egregious Cover of 2015!

Last week, I offered up what I personally thought were the ten best magazine covers produced in 2015. The response has been mostly positive and rather enlightening. And to answer one correspondents question:

“There’s no way I could possibly see all of the magazines on the newsstand. But the person who works the receiving dock at a magazine wholesaler probably has seen most of them.”

In the end, the selections are personal.

So why offer a list of Runner Ups? Why offer what is often considered by some to be a participation trophy?

The answer is simple. My desktop folder of 2015 covers is pretty large by my standards. More than 80 different covers were considered. Thirty eight made it into the initial list for the top ten.

Therefore, for your consideration, I’d like to offer these five for you to look at, think about, and ask yourself, “Should they have made it into the top ten?”

Food for thought.

The Runner Up Best Covers of 2015 

Fur-Fish-Game September 2015 90th Anniversary Issue

FFG-Sep15-Cover
Happy Birthday!

This September, Fur-Fish-Game Magazine celebrated it’s 90th consecutive year of publishing. This monthly magazine has always featured an illustrated cover and often the images are striking. This issue perfectly captures the wilderness and the audience that the magazine services.

Entertainment Weekly Special issue honoring Leonard Nimoy

 

leonard-nimoy-entertainment-weekly-2
“Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.” Captain Kirk

The soul of the original cast of the Sci-Fi TV show “Star Trek” was found in Leonard Nimoy’ s portrayal of the logic oriented alien, Mr. Spock. This shot perfectly captures how Nimoy played this part. Not for laughs, not too stiff. But approachable, intelligent, someone to model yourself after. Someone human.

Put A Egg On It  Issue #7

putaeggonit vol9
This cover just makes me smile.

To be completely honest, I have to confess that I have never actually seen a copy of this magazine. Their distribution is tiny and it’s a long ride to the nearest store that may or may not have a copy.

And I really don’t like magazines that use issue numbers rather than cover dates (stale magazines are stale magazines).

But what a fun name! What an interesting logo. And I’m a sucker for food magazines. And I am going to go looking for a copy.

Teen Vogue August 2015

Aug 15 Teen Vogue

Teen Vogue’s August cover got a decent amount of attention for featuring three black models.

Leaving aside the fact that mainstream magazines need to acknowledge the presence and contribution of persons of color to the fashion world, it’s simply a great cover. Cover lines, poses, color. This is a great cover. And a great message.

The Most Egregious Cover of 2015

Interview Magazine December 2015

Kylie Jenner December Interview
Just…no.

Frankly, I really don’t have anything against the Kardashian clan. They figured out a way to access fame and turn their small, tidy fortune into a big sprawling fortune of fame, fashion and reality television. Well played Kris Jenner.

Likewise, while I’m a fan of social justice, I’m not the type who opposes able bodied actors portraying persons with disabilities.

But my issue with this particular part of the shoot was that it was supposedly exploring her image as an “object of vast media scrutiny.”

Sorry Kylie. Before you were 18, you were the subject of your family’s control. Now, as an adult, you are volunteering for the scrutiny. Your fame and fortune does not disable you. You’re only a poseable plaything if you allow that to happen to yourself.

What magazine covers did you see in 2015 that you think deserves mention? Anything out there that you found particularly egregious?

If you want to see what magazine covers made the cut in previous years, click on this link.

The “Top Ten” covers of 2015 can be found by clicking on this link.

 

The Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2015: The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective, Unscientific List

Well, that’s (almost) over. Depending on what list you look at, either we had a giant bumper crop of magazine start-ups, or we held our own. Print subscriptions are getting sold for next to nothing, digital subs are going nowhere, and newsstand circ is somewhere in the neighborhood of Hades.

If anyone can find a 24 foot mainline in their neighborhood supermarket, let me know.

But the actual magazines. They looked great. Lest we forget while we drool over the digital gee-gaws and debate pricing policy, in the end, it’s all about the written word, the way the written word is laid out, the way the pictures help tell the story.

How do we attract our readers? With great covers.

Other “Top Ten” lists demonstrate the best sellers or look at the top titles from the top companies. Here on the Titanic, with the deck now listing bow down at 40 degrees, the rules are the same as they were in the past two years: What grabbed my attention as I walked by? What made me stop, back up, take another look and pick it up.

For complete transparency: in a few cases some of these selections were brought to my attention via an internet based article or news release. In those cases, I went out in search of a copy (I’d highly recommend using MagNet’s “MagFinder” app) after seeing the great cover in pixels. The future of bricks and mortar retail will be in how we use digital to encourage people to leave their homes.

Please stay tuned because in the next post  I’m giving you four “Runner’s Up” and for the first time ever on the Titanic, a brand new award: “The Year’s Most Egregious Cover”. Is it going to be clickbait? Oh, you bet.

The Ten Best Covers For 2015

#1: Time Magazine May 5, 2015

Here’s a great case where black and white and white and limited cover lines tell the story. How stark. How immediate. How recognizable. The point is quickly made and simple to understand.

Time May 11 2015
Is this Ferguson in 2015? Or 1968?

 

#2: Hi-Fructose Magazine Spring 2015

Timing is everything. About the time the movie Big Eyes about the artist Margaret Keane arrived, Hi-Fructose Magazine put a perfect demonstration of a perfect illustrated cover onto the rack. Again, all of the cover lines rules are broken, but in this case, they are not necessary.

Hi-Fructose-v34-cover-e1419442347590
The illustration says it all.

#3: Paleo Magazine June/July 2015

Food magazines continue to thrive on the newsstand. Take a look at any sized mainline and what you will see is both regular frequency and book-a-zines taking up more and more space. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the “paleo” diet movement. After stopping, backing up, picking up, and then buying the June/July 2015 issue, I learned something new. And come on, that salmon looks really good.

06-15_Paleo-Magazine-cover
Seriously, that looks really delicious!

#4: Hour Detroit Magazine August 2015

All city magazines have “Food” issues and “Best Restaurant” issues and “Best New Chef” awards. They sell well, everyone likes them, and they’re a great way to show the world something unique about your community. But doing a good food cover is not easy. Hour Detroit accomplished that feat this year. Who knew vegetables could look so good?

hour-aug15-issue-da003c65
None of those vegetables came from my garden.

#5: Wonderland Magazine March 2015

While I don’t think I match the target demographics of this UK lifestyle import, I look for every issue at my local Barnes & Noble, follow them on Instagram and just find their editorial and their social media very intriguing. For the second year in a row, Wonderland gets placed in the top 10 covers. This year they break the rules about black and white covers. Successfully.

Wonderland Feb-Mar 15
Kristen Stewart was featured in the March issue.

#6: Tie – Ebony Magazine November 2015 & New York Magazine July 27, 2015

How many covers did the Cosby Show snag back in the 1980’s? How many young men and women wished their dads had the wit and wisdom of Clifford Huxtable? The sheer immensity of the rape allegations against Bill Cosby and the betrayal the black community felt because of them is clearly, poignantly and brilliantly on display in both of these covers.

#7
A sad story, powerfully told.

#7: Tie – The New Yorker  January 19, 2015 & Bloomburg Business Week April 6, 2015

It takes a moment to remember that before this Fall’s terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, there was another attack in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine. This illustration says everything with just a simple twist on the iconic Eiffel Tower. No cover lines are necessary. On the other hand, Business Week’s cover says everything with the image. But the headline, “The IRS Sucks” will fool you unless you read the tag line and realize that they’re talking about the people who work for the embattled tax collection agency.

Copy of Entertainment Weekly
Two eloquent covers, one with words.

#8: Redbook Magazine September 2015

While “authentic” is an overused and abused buzzword in the world of marketing, Redbook went with it anyway with their powerful Fall cover that featured “Real Women” (Not actresses or models). Did it work? You bet.

o-REDBOOK-SEPTEMBER-COVER-facebook
Real women, real fashion.

#9: Dazed & Confused September 2015

I have to admit that this difficult to find UK import was one I didn’t find on the racks. I follow them on social media and this issue made me click through to see the cover. I think it’s a perfect example of how the alternative fashion ‘zine world completely obliterates all of the rules about successful newsstand covers, and is still successful. If I’d seen this on the racks? I would have stopped and picked up a copy.

Dazed September Covers
Click on this!

 

#10: Canoe & Kayak  June 2015

This activity magazine from the publisher formerly known as Source Interlink hits all the right high notes with their traditional but engaging cover. Beautiful blue serene waters? Check. Great cover lines focusing on the “Best” and even “26 Best”? Check. Does anyone know the science behind the trend of three separate topics in the skyline? I see it everywhere and I actually like it.

Canoe Kayak June 15
Admit it, you want to be there.

And there you have it. A completely subjective list of the best covers of the year. In the comments below, feel free to chime in with your selections for the best things you saw out on the newsstand.

Next up! The runners up for best cover and the first annual “Most Egregious Cover of The Year.”