Even More Great Covers From 2014

It is hard to believe that we are already well into the fourth quarter of this incredible indescribable year. As we approached the end of the summer, I put out what I thought were the top ten contenders to date for the best covers of the year.  In spite of falling circulation, dire warnings of the end of the industry, a new way to calculate the worth of our business, and endless chattering and clattering about who we are and what we should be doing, our industry still produced beautiful covers and wonderful editorial to go with it.

So for your consideration, here are some more potential candidates for the upcoming completely biasedhighly subjectiveunscientific list of the best magazine covers of 2014.

1) This particular cover of Essence Magazine has been on my shortlist from the first moment I saw it on the racks in a nearby Jewel-Osco supermarket. Let’s leave aside all the politics and perhaps even pretend for a moment that the figure on the cover is not our First Lady. Heck, let’s pretend for a moment that I didn’t just spend some time listening to the editor of this magazine hold an entire auditorium of publishing professionals and students spell bound for forty-five minutes at the last ACT conference in Oxford, MS. This is simply a great cover. Smiling, inviting, intriguing cover model (who is also the First Lady)? Check. Great colors? Check. Great cover lines? Check. Banner? Check. Done!

It just makes you want to smile back.
It just makes you want to smile back.


2) Have a seat. Did you know that the Harvard Business Review has a circulation of more than 200,000 copies? Did you know that they sell more than 40,000 copies per issue at the newsstand? At a cover price of $16.95? With an average subscription price of more than $90.00 per issue? Well now you do. And how about this awesome cover?

So how do you feel about that $10.00 sub offer that comes with a tissue thin t-shirt made in China?



3) I equated the end of last year with the sound of a piano dropping. The news that New York Magazine was cutting its frequency was purported to be another giant piano crashing onto 5th Avenue. But in the end it was more like a ten minute ground blizzard. Was this an end to the magazine’s creativity and editorial coverage? Hardly. Take a look at the June 2 cover featuring the collaboration between actresses Shailene Woodly and Brie Larson.



4) Outside Magazine has a long history of putting out creative and engaging covers. It’s a frequent visitor to these pages. This year, there are several that I think could make the final top ten, but a copy of the February issue featuring Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso still dominates my office magazine rack.



5) What is it with city magazines and food covers? I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the mouth-watering pictures of delicious food that you can actually get somewhere down the road from where you live. After the incredibly cold and miserable winter we suffered this year, how could you not get excited by seeing the luscious “Springtime Recipes” featured on their March/April issue?

M-A LA Life 14


6) While some history nerds had fun pointing out that John Hancock did not sign the constitution that graces Julia Louis-Dreyfus tailbone, the fact remains that this is an excellent cover. Is it controversial? Yes. That is sometimes what makes a cover great.



7) We often hear that dark covers, covers with a black background disapear into the swirl of color on the newsstand. But as so often happens with convential wisdom, there are exceptions. The May issue of W Magazine featuring actress Rosamund Pike is a great example 0f how sometimes, conventional wisdom is just conventional.

W Mag May 14 Rosamund Pike


8) The August 28th cover of Bloomburg Business Week shows that while new Creative Director Richard Vargas may not be as whimsical as his predecessor, Richard Turley, he has no trouble making impactful and meaningful covers. This cover shows the depth and breadth of the magazines coverage of the issues facing Ferguson, MO.

Businessweek Ferguson 082914


9) I counted at least six different magazines and book-a-zines covering the life and times of Robin Williams. But the best cover produced by a publisher of a regular frequency magazine was the 9/11 cover produced by Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone 091114 RW issue

10) Tie between the June Marie Claire issue featuring actress of the moment Jennifer Lawrence, and the September/October Wonderland Magazine featuring former actress of the moment and current paparazzi fodder, Lindsay Lohan. These two covers are a really solid juxtaposition of a contemporary mainstream, big publisher title, and an upstart indie title. Both really stood out on the racks and took an interesting spin on their cover subjects.

Wonderland S-O 14
The September/October Wonderland Magazine.
Marie Claire Jun 14
June 2014 Marie Claire featuring Jennifer Lawrence.

There’s still two more months to the year and who knows what else will be coming along. What are some of your favorite covers?


The Future of Publishing is Found in it’s Youth

I vividly remember my reaction to Dr. Samir Husni’s announcement that he was forming the Magazine Innovation Center at Ole Miss University. It was the winter of 2009. The economy was deep into a slump. The smoldering wreckage of Anderson News was still wreaking havoc on newsstand distribution. It seemed like every day there was another article in the industry trades about the death of print magazines. The web was full of snark and Schadenfreude and the Reaper at Magazine Death Pool was getting more coverage than most writers who covered the magazine world.

Dr. Husni had an interesting response to this roiling mess. Thoroughly fed up with the news that another magazine  was shutting down, he announced that he was fighting back. The Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi was going to be a place where publishers could re-imagine, amplify, clarify and testify to the future of print.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.56.37 AM

I don’t think anyone would every say that Samir Husni isn’t bold. My reaction that day was a fist pump, and loud “Yes!” that startled the cat.

A year and a half later, after a job transition, several client changes, and more non-stop bad news in the industry trades, I made my way down to Oxford, MS for the very first ACT I conference. Two thoughts crossed my mind as I looked at the agenda during the first full day of the conference:

“I had never attended a publishing conference that wasn’t thoroughly dominated by the largest magazine companies in the industry.”


“I had no idea that so many students still wanted to go into magazine publishing.”

Over the next three days, an Ole Miss student and a young startup publisher and me swapped notes, ideas, advice and hope while we listened to a panel of speakers that included consumer, B2B, custom and foreign publishers. We learned about the potential, promise and pitfalls of digital publishing. We learned that in the world of print publishing, the future didn’t have to be an early grave and a post in the Reaper’s Blog if we were nimble, willing to change, willing to work hard and produce quality publications.

That was the best feature of the conference. Not that the speakers weren’t excellent. They were. Not that the speakers spoke about a diverse series of topics ranging from custom publishing, digital editions, social media and e-commerce. They did. But for the first time in a long time, I was able to interact with the next generation of magazine publishers and it was revitalizing to see how committed they were to their career paths.

Last week I landed in Oxford again for ACT V. ACT stands for “Amplify, Clarify and Testify” and there were surely plenty of speakers who attested to that fact. The keynote address was from Michael Clinton of Hearst who gave a good case for how and why Hearst print magazines and their digital cousins co-exist and mean so much to each other.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 8.55.57 AM

But the next day, it was the students who responded enthusiastically to the presentation by Vanessa Bush, the eloquent and engaging editor of Essence Magazine.* Billy Morris, the CEO of Morris Communications connected the dots between magazine publishing and the need for continued journalistic integrity. Greg Sullivan, one of the founders of the successful startup Afar Magazine, kept the audience spellbound with his description of how the magazine got started and all of the other avenues, many digital, that the magazine has taken the publishing company into.

For me the experience was much like going back to college. And sitting next to the schools undergraduate and graduate journalism students reminded of how important it is for our business to recruit the talented, the dedicated, the enthusiastic, the committed. A few snarky comments written by a reporter who’s never spent five minutes understanding the intersection between social media and circulation shouldn’t control the future of magazine publishing. Clearly these kids don’t think so.

If the future of our industry lies in the hands of the four talented, engaging, thoughtful and interesting women and men who joined me for dinner last Thursday night, our business has nothing to fear and nowhere to go but up.

This week, it’s back to work. It’s back to the grind of airlines, presentations, galleys, reports and Account Executives. That’s fine. I’m armed with a bevy of information, hope and excitement for the future.

 *Note: Essence Magazine is the creator of the Essence Festival, a live event the magazine hosts each year. The Festival features performers, speakers and a wide range of activities that attracts African American families from all over the country. This year, the event was hosted in New Orleans and attracted over 500,000 participants. That’s larger than ComicCon, Coachella, South By Southwest and Sundance. Considering that this event doesn’t get mainstream media buzz, can anyone wonder or deny the power of branded magazine publishing?






The Best 2014 Covers … so far

Editor’s Note: Music to accompany this post is brought to you by former hippies and Seals and Crofts.

Summer is waning and Fall is approaching more quickly than we may care to consider. The second quarter is done, quarterly estimates have been paid. Tomatoes and beans are ripening on the vines and we’re well into the third quarter.

Very soon, AAM will release the 1st half 2014 circulation numbers and there is no doubt that the next round of “What Should Publishers Do Next” articles and “How Low Can The Newsstand Go?” will flood our morning news feeds.

If the prospect of those soon to be published dark and dolorous articles is putting an edge on your morning, here’s a look, a very unscientific and very biased look at the best 2014 magazine covers. So far.

1. Dazed and Confused: Jan/Feb ’14. I absolutely love finding this magazine on my local bookstore rack. Do you hear Led Zeppelin in your head every time you see this title? The Jan/Feb issue of this UK import featured actress Lupita Nyongo on a brilliantly colorful layout.


2. Wonderland Magazine: Spring ’14. Another UK import, this title kicked off the new year with two covers and guest editorial from actress and recent college graduate, Emma Watson.



3. MIT Technology Review: Jul/Aug ’14. Don’t act all shocked and everything. Why can’t tech heads and geek gods create beautiful magazines? This may not be the most mainstream of newsstand covers, but it is creative and engaging.

Jul Aug MIT Tech

4. Essence Magazine: May ’14.  This publisher rolled out three unique covers for their May issue. Erykah Badu, Ledisi and Solange Knowles each got their own covers featuring stories on learning to love their natural brand of beauty.


5. Entertainment Weekly: March 21, ’14. This weekly pub, now liberated from their corporate overlords, reached out to their sci-fan base in March as BBC America’s Orphan Black and the talented Tatiana Maslany showed three of her many characters from the ground-breaking show.



6. Food Network Magazine: Jun ’14. This title has been a top rated newsstand performer since it’s inception. We know food covers perform well. And who doesn’t love a good burger? Usually we see this sort of cover on a city magazine so it’s nice to see the burger on a national cover.


7. New Yorker Magazine:  Jan. 13, ’14. Remember the winter of 2014? OK, so you don’t want to remember it. The Jan. 13 cover of The New Yorker is far back in the rear view mirror but perhaps this cover, both spare and whimsical at the same time will bring a smile to your face and a shiver down your spine if the day is too hot.



8. Recoil Magazine: Jul/Aug ’14. This “gun lifestyle” magazine from the publisher formerly known as Source Interlink continues to produce dark, stark, serious covers. This one achieved its goal  – I could not drag my eyes away from it. Why is a well dressed man holing a semi-automatic? I picked it up to find out. Mission accomplished.



9. ESPN Magazine – The Body Issue: Every year ESPN Magazine’s  “Body Issue” generates a ton of publicity as it coaxes athletes to disrobe for a series of pictures. This year, two of the most buzzworthy covers come from baseballer Prince Fielder who showed us that size matters and that you can be graceful no matter. He was joined by olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson who managed both athletic prowess and cheesecake at the same time.



10. Mother Jones Magazine: Jul/Aug ’14. Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones was a 19th century union organizer and self-proclaimed hell raiser. Her namesake magazine, now almost forty years old, follows in that tradition and its July/August cover features a very clever take off on a tabloid cover. Leave the politics aside, this cover is spot on.


In the past year, the newsstand world has been rocked by a series of seemingly endless retailer shifts followed by a major wholesaler bankruptcy. Have we finally reached the shores of wholesaler stability? Does anyone out there really want to rework their CVS distributions again?

Let’s set aside all of the articles about the troubles of the newsstand: we know what is wrong, we know it needs to be fixed, and many of us have some ideas as to how the industry could be healed (or at least staunch the bleeding). For now, let’s just enjoy some of the beautiful product we get to sell.

More importantly, what are some of your favorite covers so far this year? Drop them into the comments or email them to me.

Coming up next: The runners-up.


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