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,

 

 

 

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.