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 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.

 

 

The ACT 6 Conference Addresses the Newsstand

In 2009 I was excited to hear that Dr. Samir Husni (aka Mr. Magazine) had launched the Magazine Innovation Center at the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. I thought it was past time that the conventional wisdom was challenged. Yes, the world of information is changing. Yes, digital is the future. But did that mean that digital was the only future? While we  embrace digital, revise how we look at media and magazines and journalism do we have to dance so happily on the grave of printed magazines?

One of the missions of the MIC is to host conferences that discuss the business of publishing in an open and free ranging forum. The conferences are called ACT (ACT is the acronym for “Amplify, Clarify and Testify.”) At the first ACT conference I was thrilled to see speakers beyond the usual batch of insiders who spoke at most magazine conventions. Better yet, we got to hear from a wide range of Samir’s publishing acquaintances from overseas and learned how they were addressing the changes in the magazine world. And even better than that, the auditorium in Overby Hall was filled with journalism students, undergraduates and graduates who were there to learn about magazine publishing and what the future may hold for them.

This year, the ACT conference was in the Spring (April 20 – 22) instead of the Fall.  After five conferences that focused on a wide variety of topics, this years’ ACT featured several panels on the struggles of the newsstand side of the business.

Day One of the ACT conference kicked off with an industry overview from Tony Silber of Folio Magazine. It was followed by a very lively and informative address from Sid Evans of Southern Living Magazine.

Day Two took on a whole different form.

The conference kicked off with an historical overview of the makeup of the newsstand distribution industry from John Harrington, a consultant and editor of the New Single Copy newsletter and former head of the industry trade group, The Council for Periodical Distributors of America (CPDA). John is a long time industry veteran and he was able to lay out for many conference participants how the newsstand was organized, how it had worked for many years. Finally he explained why the industry experienced such rapid consolidation and had arrived at such a precarious position in the second decade of the 21st century.

But for any newsstand veteran, the surprise was the next panel, “Reimagining The Newsstand”. This was a remarkably open and frank discussion between several publishers, a major magazine wholesaler, and the major supplier of books and magazines to Barnes & Noble. The panel was moderated by Gil Brechtel, a former magazine wholesaler and current CEO of MagNet, a data service that provides publishers with store level information on their newsstand sales. The members of the panel were: Shawn Everson of Ingram Content, David Parry of TNG, Hubert Boehle of Bauer Media, Andy Clurman of AIM Publishing and Eric Hoffman of Hoffman Media.

While it was not that remarkable to have wholesalers and publishers on a panel discussion, this panel was more lively and open (Perhaps because we were nowhere near either coast?). Before the panel opened, each participant was given the opportunity to give a short presentation on their side of the business. This was incredibly informative. I could understand, fully for a change, the incredible pressures that TNG operates under (High fixed costs, pressures from retail customers, competitors for space within those retail customers, pressure from magazine suppliers). I could see why a publisher from another country (Hubert Boehle of Bauer) would view the American newsstand with a skeptical and quizzical eye (Germany has similar sales volume as the US, yet a higher sell through and lower remittance to the retailer). It was fascinating to hear about the transformation of Ingram from a strictly magazine and bookstore reship operation into a multi-channel company that also profited from digital production and distribution was impressive and remarkable.

Did the panel fix the newsstand?

Of course not. The challenges that face the newsstand distribution business can’t be fixed in one morning. But to my mind, this was the first of what should be many open, frank, and engaging discussions. We should continue this conversation. You can watch the presentation below:

 

This panel was followed up with another MagNet sponsored panel titled “Cover Data Analysis for Editors”. This was led by Joshua Gary of MagNet and included Brooke Belle of Hoffman Media, Josh Ellis of Success Magazine, Liz Vaccariello of Readers Digest and Sid Evans of Southern Living. From my perspective, this was another successful panel. It was refreshing to hear from editors who understand that newsstand copies are the public front door to their magazine. That something designed to appeal to a potential reader could make that part time fan of the magazine a full time paying subscriber.

 

Consider the potential streams of revenue open to magazine publishers today: Events, e-commerce, newsletters, blogs, video, subscriptions. Ask yourself, why wouldn’t you put your best foot forward with every single issue that hits the newsstand? Why wouldn’t every newsstand cover be a piece of art instead of the very last thing you think of?

I don’t know. Any art directors or editors want to chime in?

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 10.33.04 AM
The MagNet cover panel discusses the impact of discounted sub on newsstand sales.

In a March editorial, Tony Silber, the VP of Folio Magazine stated that the fate of the newsstand is not the same fate of print magazines. Tony correctly points out how the channel no longer generates much, if any profit. That racks are “truncated”. That many editorial pursuits have moved online. His address at the opening of the ACT conference was inspiring. But on this point I’d have to disagree. What has happened to the newsstand could very well be the fate of the printed word if publishers do not pay attention to all aspects their business. If all they do is react.

The fate of the newsstand is the fate of any business if the participants pay no attention the rumblings of their customers or suppliers. If you don’t watch and respond to trends, the fate of the newsstand is waiting for you.

If we want readers to buy newsstand copies, we have to give them a reason to do so. If we want the newsstand channel to be profitable, then the participants in the channel have to cooperate and on the same page about who, how, when and how much they will get paid.

Recently a supplier contacted one of my customers and rather (Rudely I thought) informed them that they were not profitable, that they would have to switch to another form of discount and that they would have to agree to this right now this very minute or else they would be dropped. A quick review of this distributors sales showed that their sales losses were significantly higher than anything else this title had ever experienced. Moreover the discount structure that the title was currently declared “unprofitable” had been imposed by the distributor in an earlier “either/or” declaration. In other words, the losses this distributor incurred were self inflicted. Why? Because they took their eye off the ball and didn’t think long term.

When will sales stop declining? When we give readers a compelling reason to buy. When the producers of the content, the publishers decide that it is a channel of sales that they should pay attention to. In fact, during the ACT conference, we heard from several publishers who are doing well on the newsstand precisely because they are paying attention to their business.

It’s my hope that the discussions that were started at this years ACT conference continue. The alternative is a continued drift. At a certain point, we need to stop the drift and chart a new course. That point really is now.

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.”

 

 

 

 

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.

imgres

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%.

mojocover_JA14_250x330

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.

 

Thanksgiving Potpourri

So what am I grateful for this year? You mean aside from being gainfully employed and working in an industry that continues to fascinate, infuriate and confound on a regular basis? Yes, there are things to be grateful for. Here are a few of them:

MagNet Reports: I’m grateful that buried about halfway down last week’s third quarter news dump was this interesting tidbit: While everyone knew that Source Interlink’s ungraceful exit from the newsstand biz was a sales killer, same store sales looked pretty good. In other words, sales in retailers that weren’t Source supplied and didn’t have their deliveries interrupted were, well, not bad.

Data reported to MagNet suggests that retail sales in retailers unaffected by Source saw their dollar volume rise (in part because of price increases in celebrity weeklies. Unit sales, for the months of August and September declined by 6.5% (a significantly better picture than the entire market and entire 3rd quarter which was down by 26%) but dollar volume rose .75%.

IMG_1441

I can tell you from my own experience that I am seeing stronger sales in both units and dollars since this summer and I am projecting much better 3rd and 4th quarter results for most of my clients.

Strong Covers: I don’t know about you, but I am seeing some great covers this year. It’s going to be very hard on the foredeck to select this year’s top ten! I’m grateful that we continue to turn out some pretty tremendously great magazines. While our industry has struggled from declining circulation and ad revenue, we haven’t experienced a creative brain drain on the editorial and design side.

Should DuJour's two tone high gloss logo from their Fall issue make the list?
Should DuJour’s two tone high gloss logo from their Fall issue make the list?

Maybe our leaders should start pumping some revenue back into circulation and marketing? Maybe we could budge the numbers upwards with a little support?

Honest reckoning in the world of digital circulation: I have to confess that when I hopped into the world of digital newsstand and subscriptions, I thought the world would be much like the one I inhabited and I also thought sourcing and maintaining these readers would be a snap. Maybe I’d have to eat some crow and admit the fanboys were right.

Nope.  Not so much. Digital circulation has its own rules, its own weirdness, and is not that easy. Obscure provider service, buggy apps. Price sensitivity. Building what is essentially an entirely new business model on the fly is, well, wicked hard.

I’m grateful that maybe, just maybe, we can finally have an honest discussion about how digital and print circulation can coexist and support each other in the long term goal of growing a magazines’ readership. Because that’s our ultimate goal, right?

Taylor Swift: No! I’m not a creepy internet stalker. And I don’t turn her music off when it pops up on the radio. And I don’t roll my eyes when the spin instructor starts off another week with a T. Swift single.

Taylor was on three magazine covers (that I’m aware of) last week. That’s probably not a record but it’s bound to help sales and that’s always a good thing considering how many other covers she’s graced this year.

With that in mind, I’ll be putting out my top ten unscientifically chosen covers next month and I want to know if I you loyal readers think there should be a special Taylor Swift category.  I already took an informal survey of some of the national distributor AE’s I work with asked them this question:

“Should the Foredeck of the Titanic have a special award for 2014 Taylor Swift covers?”

And the answer was:

So what do you think?
So what do you think?

Chime in with your answers below.

So what are you grateful for this year?

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.

imgres

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.

emma-watson-wonderland-mag-cover

Emma-Watson-Wonderland-FebruaryMarch-2014-Cover

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.

imgresimgres-1imgres-2

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.

tatiana-maslany-in-entertainment-weekly-magazine-march-21st-2014-issue_1

 

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.

th_f77Jgyvw4JLekpHqnnrWK0BNfnCpMju2

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.

CV1_TNY_01_13_14McCall.indd

 

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.

recoil_13_350x424

 

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.

prince_cover2

jamiebody1

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.

mojocover_JA14_250x330

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.