Fascinating Merchandising Juxtaposition

How can I resist this one? Who would have thought to merchandise the erudite Lapham\’s Quarterly Magazine right next to People Magazine?

Well, why not? Check this out.

One of these things is not like the other....

Been There, Done That, But You Still Should Read This

I’ve had a hoot the past few weeks working with two neophyte publishers who are insistent on getting their magazines distributed onto the newsstand this year. No, they’re not crazy, they’re not planning on going broke. They both strike me as reliably sane, well organized, very intent professionals who are looking to expand the reach of their brand.

And they want to do the right thing by their readers and their advertisers.

So what they put on their covers is at the top of the list of things we discuss.

It’s surprising how many publishers don’t give much thought to their cover selection process and how important that cover is to newsstand sales. Cover appeal can equal a sale and that equals cash. Even for subscribers, the cover is the first thing they see when they open the mail. How the magazine appears to the subscriber impacts renewals. A renewal equals cash flow.

What surprises me even more, is how often publishers don’t even ask their newsstand staff (if they have one), or their consultant (who doesn’t come cheap), for input on how to select a good cover.

I always include a piece in my first informational packet on what can help them select good covers. It includes advice on getting into the groove of putting cover selection higher up the list of priorities.

Here are some of my rules of thumb for getting the most out of your single copy covers:

The Logo

Use words that convey action words. Avoid the passive.

Use a logo that is easily recognizable. It should tell your reader exactly who you are and what you are all about.

Go with bold colors. I prefer primary colors and neon colors. White and Black are good, but don’t blend it in with your cover image.

Is your logo clear in both meaning and image? Your reader should know exactly who and what you are as soon as they see the cover. Don’t be cute.


Left justified will work better than right or center. It’s how most displays work and it is where your reader’s eyes will go first.

Promote action with action words (See above). Pick up this magazine NOW so you can find out HOW TO in 10 MINUTES and why this is the BEST ever!

Avoid using inside baseball lingo. Did you really mean to be so cute? Please don’t.

Make sure your font is legible. Illegible fonts = 0 sales.

Remember action words? Here’s more that inspire action on the part of the reader: Free, Bonus, Anniversary, Best of.

Use the “Skyline” This is the area above the logo. It’s the Best Place to Promote a Lead Story (OK, see how “too cute” that was?).

Cover Image

Is the image clear? If your image is muddy, your newsstand sales will be muddy too. If it’s not clear what your image is about, then all the clever cover lines in the world will not help you. Did I say avoid cute? I meant it. Unless your magazine is child centric. Then go be cute all over the place.

Did you use the highest possible dpi? Make sure you do.

The image should be related to the primary coverline.

And Don’t Forget

Designing the cover is an integral part of putting the whole magazine together. If the cover is left to the last moment, it will show. Your readers will know that. If you have people on staff who know single copy sales and marketing, show them the cover before you go to press. You don’t have to like what they say, you don’t even have to agree. But get their perspective and understand that they know how to sell magazines. They are there to help. Really.

Below are a few covers that I have really grown to love.



The Knot's Fall 2010 issue. One of the best I have ever seen.
Fur Fish Game's January 2008 Cover.
This issue of Vogue is my all time favorite so far this year.

Why Esquire Magazine Gets It

The February issue of Esquire Magazine does not look very different from past editions of the title. It’s glossy, full of editorial that’s designed to help their audience of young urban men be hip and trendy. It’s chock full of advertising that supports the publication’s market.

What is different is that once again, the publication has mixed digital “reality” with their print product and is driving their readers to the newsstand to pick up a print copy.

The magazine actually has several interactive features in this issue. In one, readers can download an app to their iPhone and interact with model Brooklyn Decker (who’s name reminds me more of something I’d find in Home Depot instead of on the pages of the Victoria’s Secrets catalog) in the magazine area of a Barnes & Noble Store.

In another, they can use the same app to locate the Esquire Magazine logo in one of several cities that was geo tagged by the app.

Brooklyn Decker on the February Cover. No, this isn't a B&N store.


Esquire has a pretty good history of using digital within the confines of their print product and they seem to be getting better at it every time. I have to say that I was very impressed a year  ago when Esquire demonstrated their design wizardry with the  Robert Downey, Jr. cover.

Robert Downey Jr.'s Augmented Reality Issue.

This past November, when Playboy Magazine launched their “Golden Ticket” newsstand promotion, I was even more thrilled. Could it be that we publishers are finally realizing that you can use social media to push single copy sales?

I’ll be tracking the sales of this issue of Esquire. Will these efforts pay off in increased sales?

Publishing consultant, digital guru, sometime defender of ink on paper, and one heck of a writer and commentator, Bob Sacks of BoSacks.com fame commented on the Esquire promotion in a recent newsletter and wondered if

At the end of the day a printed magazine should stand on its feet and proudly be what it is – a damn good read. All the other stuff is bluster, smoke and mirrors. If your magazine is a digital magazine, have at it and be all that you…can be. If it is instead a traditional magazine, then you should be all that you can be.

I’d have to disagree. Respectfully, of course. He gets more hits on his site than I do.

I don’t see this as stunt as much as two very distinct actions. The first follows in the footsteps of the Robert Downey, Jr. cover and their 75th Anniversary cover by pushing the boundaries of printing and showing how flexible the printed page can be.

The second strikes me as a marketing program designed to attract readers to the print edition and then show those readers what exists for the magazine digitally. It demonstrates, successfully I think, that a print magazine is so much more than ink smeared on dead trees. If I had designed these promotions, I would have pointed out that we are getting Esquire print readers more wrapped up in our digital offerings. Likewise, we may be moving some digital readers to go and spend some money (!) on our print products.

Like so many things in the 21st century, a magazine does not have to fit in a very neat and tidy box anymore. Is a “crossover” car a sport utility vehicle, a mini-van or a station wagon? Is a Super Wal-Mart a discount department store, an electronics store, a hardware store or a supermarket? Will you buy your next washer and dryer combo at Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears or somewhere else?

When the technology gets there, will a “print” magazine be nothing more than ink on dead trees (or hemp)? Or will it be a hybrid of the former and then something else? Maybe something that is both print and digital.

Editorially, I admire Esquire Magazine, although it doesn’t speak to me anymore. But I truly applaud their efforts to both promote their single copy sales, and use contemporary marketing techniques to promote their, ahem, brand. More publishers should take notice.

The Completely Unscientific List of the Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2010

Around this time of year, publishers of every stripe start putting out their “Top Ten” or “Top Twenty” or “Top 100” lists. It can be celebrities, activities, places to party on New Years, last minute Christmas gifts. Pretty much anything and everything you could imagine.

Which reminds me that I need to check out the dog and cat magazine category. I wonder what they rank in their lists?

Recently “Folio Magazine”  put out their top covers as determined by design concept and execution. An interesting way to look at what is essentially a sales tool and while I don’t argue with them, I have to wonder why these lists never include the opinions of the people who actually have to sell the designs and executions to the general public.

You know, circulation people. We even sell digital now, you know.

Time Magazine” put out their Top Ten Covers list and while I liked some of their selections, they lost 4,529 points by making me click through ten separate screens to read their selection. Folks, I spend quite enough of my time clicking through power point presentations, thank you very much.

So here you have it: My completely unofficial, unscientific, thoroughly biased and  subjective “Top Ten” list of the best magazine covers of 2010:

Vanity Fair for the win.


1) Vanity Fair October 2010: At this point in the year, Lindsay Lohan had pretty much worn out her welcome. Even the weekly celeb mags that lived and died for the past three years on what pics their paps could snap of the troubled actress were tired. So here comes Vanity Fair to the rescue to make her look not only classic, but classy. Great cover lines too! I love the red tab on “Exclusive”.

See, we marketing geeks look for things like that.

Esquire has Tom Cruise looking like a movie star again.

2) Esquire June/July 2010: Here’s another publisher who managed to take an actor who’s become an all too easy punch line for late night comics and made him accessible, easy to like and easy to sell. Light colors,  good use of blues and Tom Cruise is smiling! Smiling! Get it? If your cover character is smiling, the chances are very good that the person who picks up the magazine will smile back!

And then they’ll buy the magazine.

Revenue. Get it?

Los Angeles has Steve looking all cool, but it's the real estate I'm excited about.

3) Los Angeles January 2010: I am particular to regional magazines in part because the good ones are intimate with their subject. Los Angeles nails this cover. Here’s one thing you may not notice. The skyline, “10 Best Wine and Liquor Shops”. No, not the liquor, the use of the real estate. It’s the perfect use of the skyline. Oh, and Steve Martin looks totally cool. Oh, and the list of celebs who add to the story is perfect. And so is the cover line to the Left of Steve Martin.

This is cover perfection. For me, anyway.

The Knot Gown Guide. Bridal perfection

4) The Knot Fall 2010: This year, The Knot did the unthinkable and made it work. This internet publisher who sort of backed into print publishing rolled the dice and doubled their frequency from bi-annual to quarterly (Editor’s note: I work for The Knot.) Not only did they not lose their editorial edge, but they continued to show bridal publishers the way forward with smart covers and continued to sell lots of this $9.99 quarterly.

For years I’ve been preaching that if the wedding is the thing, and the bride is supposed to be happy about this day, why not photograph her smiling?

Well The Knot did and this is what they came up with for their Fall cover. Happy brides, a happy color, and all around happy cover  lines that invite you to plunk down some money and have a good read.

The circ. guy was really happy with the final numbers!

The City. The Pizza. The Cheesy Skyline.

5) Chicago Magazine July 2010: Chicago. Pizza. Need anything else? Oh yeah, the world’s cheesiest skyline tag. And it works! Brilliantly.

Yes, I am obsessed with that piece of real estate.

The New Yorker. This needs to be here.

6) The New Yorker October 11, 2010: As a rule, I advise clients to stay away from dark covers as much as possible. Stark, dark, they’re sales killers. But this illustration works so well and catches a moment in time in just the right way, I am giving it a pass and putting it on this list.

Somerset Studio. Sometimes it's the image that matters.

7) Somerset Studio July/August 2010: There’s reasons why I shouldn’t like this cover from the Stampington people. But I do. The coloring is just right for what they’re featuring and once again, I love the use of their skyline. It’s so obvious, and it’s so right. The model image captures everything that is on the cover. Believe it or not, some art directors miss this key point.

Traverse Magazine nails it for their 30th Anniversary.

8) Traverse Magazine June 2010: This small circulation regional title from northern Michigan completely figured out how to celebrate their 30th anniversary in a unique and very clever way. (Editor’s note: I used to work for this publisher). Traverse often skirts the line between really nailing their covers, and missing by just a little. This cover captures their anniversary and why you should spend your summer season in Northern Michigan.

You really should go there. It’s a beautiful place.

Thrasher Magazine kicked off the new year right.

9) Thrasher Magazine January 2010: How does a thirty year old skateboard magazine stay current and keep refreshing it’s audience? (Editor’s note: I currently work for High Speed Productions, the parent company of this magazine).  Skateboard covers are sometimes limited in terms of what they depict. In this image, the skater is doing his trick on a wall covered with amazingly colored graffiti. They also make good use of their cover lines by hawking some interesting features.

But it’s the color that got me on this one. And it was one of the best selling issues of the year.

Tom Delay goes "Dancing with the Steers" for Texas Monthly.

10) Texas Monthly January 2010: Another regional magazine works it’s way into the mix. This venerable title takes an odd but familiar pose by disgraced politician Tom Delay, and makes it funny and even a little hip. Note the play on the issue’s special feature, their annual “Bum Steer” awards. It’s in a big silver star. No way you can miss it. And, I keep pointing it out, because it’s so incredibly important, check out their unique spacing on the skyline.

So there you have it. What I think are the best covers of 2010. Quibblers and naysayers are invited to post their opinions in the comments section. People who think I am genius are encouraged to hire me out.

What do you think were the best covers of 2010?