The Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2014: The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective and Unscientific List

Editor’s Note: Music to accompany this post courtesy of the band formerly known as the “10,000 Maniacs” and YouTube.

So how was 2014 for the world of magazines? Let’s line up the staff and see what they have to say for themselves:

Ad sales, aw so sorry. It wasn’t a really stellar year was it? At least your bonus wasn’t a box of rocks or a pink slip.

That star of the industry, social media? Some question your worth. Seriously. What is a ‘like’ and how are we to monetize it?

Editors? Why are you all backing away from our friends at Wenner Media? Why are you scanning resumes from the folk who used to work at that space that is now vertically integrated and formerly known as The New Republic.

Production? Yeah, you guys are the bomb. And always so stressed out! Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Yeah, we get it.

Hey circulation? Where’d they go? Did we outsource everyone? Oh…What are you doing hiding in Storage Room B? The year wasn’t all that bad. OK newsstand kids, yeah, it really did stink, didn’t it.

Sorry, I shouldn’t be so glib.

But the art department? This was a great year. There were so many  beautiful magazines published. It’s clear production values and artistic integrity is something the industry has not lost sight of.

What’s the methodology here for these cover selections? It’s simple. What made me stop, back up, reach out and pluck off the rack. What did I see online that made me stop, bookmark, then head down the street to the closest newsstand to see what it looked like IRL?

So here it is: The Best Magazine Covers of 2014. The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective and Unscientific List.

1) What a great year for actress Lupita Nyong’o. Critical acclaim for her role in the movie 12 Years A Slave led to a host of magazine covers and more movie roles. But the cover that has held up for an entire year and continues to dazzle me is the Jan/Feb ’14 UK import Dazed and Confused.

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2)  I still have to pinch myself when considering the fact that The Harvard Business Review has a paid circulation base of over 200,000 copies with an average sub price of $90.00 per year. This is the cover from March that got me to stop, back up, admire, pick up, take home and learn more.

hbr-cover-balance-1

3) What fashion magazine doesn’t have a “Beauty Issue”? None that I can think of. And don’t the experts warn against ‘dark backgrounds’? The May issue of W Magazine featuring actress Rosamund Pike removing her makeup is a wonderful example of how sometimes, ignoring the warning can pay off.

W Mag May 14 Rosamund Pike

4) The BusinessWeek that we get from Bloomburg is a far cry from the staid and “very serious” magazine that the McGraw-Hill company used to publish. That doesn’t mean that the editorial is not serious. Today’s BusinessWeek is a seriously great read. But former creative director Richard Turley and his successor, Richard Vargas have shown us both the whimsical and the serious with equal forceful impact. The August 28th cover shows the serious.

Businessweek Ferguson 082914

5) Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones was a 19th century union organizer and self-proclaimed hell raiser. Her namesake magazine Mother Jones has survived into the 21st century and adapted to the digital age rather well. Leaving their politics aside (if you need to), this cover from the Jul/Aug ’14 issue really captured the old-fashioned National Enquirer/Star/Globe feel and did a great job of poking the 1%.

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6) If it seems like The New Yorker always makes these lists it’s probably because it does. But that’s because their covers are wonderfully original and there’s many to choose from. This years’ selection is actual a gif from German artist Christopher Niemann from the October 6th issue. While you don’t see the gif on the print cover, it’s a great image and a great example of digital and print complementing each other.

niemann-cover-100614

7) There are certain newsstand people I know who would be shocked by the placement of the UPC code on the Jul/Aug issue of MIT Technology ReviewBut what the heck, the combination of Monty Pythonesque head popping imagery with ’60’s style graphics is compelling. And so are the articles inside.

Jul Aug MIT Tech

 

8) How can you not love a magazine put out by a publishing company named ‘Unfiltered Media Group’ that is all about beer? The winter issue of  Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine put a clever twist on seasonal dark ale and also made a not surprising, but very solid call out to the holiday season in their skyline.

CBB-Issue-Four-Dark-Side_1024x1024

9) I’ve long been a sucker for UK and Aussie imports to my neighborhood Barnes & Noble and I’ve always loved the idea of multiple covers in a bundle. Wonderland Magazine a fashion and lifestyle import from the England kicked off 2014 with dual covers and guest editorial from actress and recent college graduate, Emma Watson.

emma-watson-wonderland-mag-cover

Emma-Watson-Wonderland-FebruaryMarch-2014-Cover

10) How many magazines and book a zines dropped the week after actor and comedian Robin Williams passed away? I lost count after six. But far and away, the one that captured the essence and humanity of the much-loved actor was the September 11th cover from regular frequency publisher Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone 091114 RW issue

So what were your favorites from 2014? Drop your covers, suggestions and thoughts in the comments section below.

Best Launch: But wait! There’s more! In 2011 and 2012 I published a “Runner’s Up” list. I gave some thought to doing that again this year but as I’ve already published two lists of the “Best of, so far” for 2014, it seems to make sense to instead offer a “Best Launch” call out.

In so many ways, Indie Chick Magazine exemplifies everything a start-up publisher is supposed to be: hard-working, dedicated to their readers and their content, willing to experiment with the format, and most of all, unafraid (or as the publishers would prefer to say, ‘Bad Ass’).

Indie Chick got their first issue out onto the stands this year and while the national draw was small, the response from readers has been terrific. What’s also really stood out for me is that the publishers also offer a website that goes deep with editorial, a radio podcast and very active and entertaining social media from both the formal magazine site and the owners. Even more impressive, the publishers funded their Fall issue with an IndieGogo campaign.

Congratulations to the thoroughly ‘Bad Ass’ publishers of Indie Chick Magazine for a great start in 2014 and the best wishes for an even more successful

Indie Chick Summer

If you have a launch from 2014 that you think deserves some special mention, drop me a line. I’d be happy to give them a call out.

 

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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?

hbr-cover-balance-1

 

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.

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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.

Outside-February-2014-issue-cover

 

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.

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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?

 

Why Does What Works, Work?

While the phrase “Disruptive Technology” has been with us since the late 1990’s, I didn’t seriously think about it until I began my adventure with Twitter several years ago. All of a sudden, my morning “In the office not traveling” routine was tossed out of whack. How do I fit the now necessary “Advancing my Brand” on social media into the more mundane “Stuff that pays the bills”?

To be fair, being on Twitter and here in Word Press has brought in a few paying jobs, but still.

I got to thinking about “Disruptive Technology” today when a recent post from fellow Word Press blogger Laura of “The Well Prepared Mind” showed up in my in box. Laura writes about the digital book industry and in the post, she quotes Harvard Business Review writer Grant McCracken. In “Will Netflix Flourish Where Hollywood Failed” McCracken cites the amount of data Netflix now generates about their viewers and how the use of that data could lead them down some significantly wrong paths.

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Laura compared his warning to what could happen in the digital book business if data on when, how and what people were reading was suddenly used to try to tailor what kinds of books to produce.

McCracken’s point was this:

“Knowing that something works leaves us a long way from knowing why something works.”

Read McCraken’s full post here for some insight into the entertainment industry and how that world is also being turned on it’s ear by new technologies. It’s nice to know we magazine folks are not going this alone.

In considering the impact of data collection on the reader of digital books, Laura applies his thesis to digital reading:

“Readers can stop, start, reread or skip and it doesn’t really tell you anything unless you know what is happening in their heads.”

As she points out, you may have stopped reading a book because you were on the bus and needed to get off. That doesn’t mean you weren’t still thinking about the book.

Now, let’s move over to the magazine business for a moment. First, though, let’s stop at the top of the dune, look towards the bay to the east, the one that leads out to the shallow little sea that is called “Newsstand”. That’s the sea where everyone is an expert and all attention is focused because…

There’s a ton of data in our industry. And inexplicably to me, we give a lot of it away for free and without explanation or exposition. At one time, collecting it was a huge chore. As I pointed out in a previous post and more personally back in April of last year, our industry used to maintain large field forces dedicated to what was often the simple act of copying a wholesaler’s store level sales records.

That is now so 1982.

There are a lot of rules in our industry and many variations of those rules. Think about both the generic and sometimes data driven advice we give on cover treatment. It’s entirely possible to follow all of that advice right down to the letter and still…

Flop.

Consider great editing. Do you remember the wonderful literary magazines from the 1980’s like Wig Wag and my personal favorite Spy Magazine? Only The Donald seemed to dislike the latter. But where are they now? They followed all the rules about great content.

Spy's demise made Donald Trump a happy man.
Spy’s demise made Donald Trump a happy man.

You can carefully tailor your editorial and design for the target audience. Spend weeks researching the appropriate retailers and regional locations to focus the newsstand distribution. Your new magazine can reach the stands at exactly the right peak sales moment with not a copy withheld, not a truck lost or detoured, not a shipment accidentally shredded or lost in transition over the Canadian border. The weather across North America can be perfect and the economy humming and…

Flop

Maybe the weather was too perfect. No one was shopping.

For more than 10 years we have had access to both demographic data and store level sales data. We can sort it by zip code, chain, state, wholesaler, distribution center, depot, POS and almost anything else you can desire. We can compare to prior year, prior quarter, prior issue or multiple years. We can compare to red covers, blue covers, covers where the model is facing right.

Yet single copy sales have declined during this period. Efficiencies have not improved.

Has access to all of this data helped us? Or hindered us? Where we better off when we operated on “hunches”? Were we more efficient when Harry the Distribution Manager took a look at the sample, clacked through a few screens on his IBM 5151 and said, “Yeah, I like this. OK, give me 500 copies”?

Personally, I think the data has helped. At least it’s helped me. But I also know that the data only tells me what happened, not why. And when I put a few hundred thousand copies of a periodical out onto the newsstand racks, I have no real way of knowing what caused each copy to sell and the rest to be recycled. This is a sales business, not an accounting business.  I am neither an accountant nor a psychologist.

I am not sure where all of this goes, but in this post audit period, Grant and Laura have given me something to consider.

Many years ago, a client asked me to give a presentation on newsstand covers to his college level journalism class. For their final, they were divided into teams and had to create magazines. I was invited to talk about the world of circulation in general and the newsstand world in particular. I went through a pretty straightforward discussion of  how product moves from printer to wholesaler to retailer, how the financing works and how cover images can impact sales. Lastly, I discussed my role in all of this and what national distributors were.

A student raised his hand during the question and answer period.

“Why do you go through all of that?” he asked. “I just want to sell my magazine.”

Score one for the kids.