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.


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.


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%.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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?


Some More Kick Ass Music Covers

One of the services many consultants provide for magazine publishers is a cover analysis. Over the years, I’ve developed a template that can dive deeply into the single copy sales of a title. Consequently I feel pretty qualified to weigh in on how a cover looks and how it may sell. However, if you really want some input on cover and magazine design turn to Robert Newman. Mr. Newman is the former design director of Real Simple and served as the creative director of such iconic magazines as Entertainment Weekly, Details and Vibe.

Do you want to keep up on the happenings in the magazine design world? Follow his very active and entertaining  Twitter feed, or visit his Tumblr page.

Earlier this week he published an article on Adweek titled “101 Kick Ass Music Covers. The most awesome, iconic and controversial magazine images of the last 80 years.”

Newman explained it this way:

“…they also have chronicled the changes in the culture and the sounds of the times—consider Bob Dylan’s various transformations across 24(!) Rolling Stone covers. Not only have covers become part of music history and culture at large, but they also remain a potent tool for marketing artists.”

He’s right and he pointed out that fans will obsess over the images and artists on the covers. I certainly did both as a youth and today as an adult. The 101 selections are deep and cover the broad spectrum of magazines from such classic music titles as Down Beat to the cultural icon Rolling Stone to the very controversial Kayne West/Kim Kardashian cover on Vogue last month. They are all valid choices presented in a way that will make you say out loud “Yes! I loved that!” Or perhaps “What? Why that?”

But I confess, there were a few issues and covers that I remember seeing or collecting over the years that I thought should be included.

For example, one of my favorite premiere issues is the first release of Spin Magazine featuring Madonna. It was a great kick off to an interesting title that had a good run. I was a little surprised that it wasn’t included in Newman’s collection. You may recall that I used to work for the former Capital Distributing Company, the sister national distributor to copy cat publisher Charlton Publications.  I  would have included Hit Parader covers from the titles  ’80’s and ‘90’s rennaissance weren’t included.

Time Magazine‘s Bruce Springsteen cover was included. What about Newsweek’s? What about Eddie Van Halen’s Guitar World cover. I can think of a bunch of people wondering where that was.

I submit this for your consideration and not as a counterpoint to Robert Newman’s list. Here are some additional music covers to think about and maybe smile over. Because this is a blog about the newsstand, celebrate the sales history of.

Spin Magazine's Launch Issue Featuring Madonna
Spin Magazine’s Launch Issue Featuring Madonna
Spin Magazine's Second Anniversary Issue - Also Featuring Madonna
Spin Magazine’s Second Anniversary Issue – Also Featuring Madonna
Creem Magazine Featuring Grace Slick. December 1977
Creem Magazine Featuring Grace Slick. December 1977. This made the rounds of our high school newspaper office for a few months.
Guitar Player April 2001 Featuring Eddie Van Halen
Guitar Player April 2001 Featuring Eddie Van Halen
Rock & Soul Magazine Featuring Michael Jackson. September 1981
Rock & Soul Magazine Featuring Michael Jackson. September 1981
Another "version" of Michael Jackson. Rock & Soul Magazine. July 1979
Another “version” of Michael Jackson. Rock & Soul Magazine. July 1979

I love how the “cool” logo of Rock and Soul now seems so “retro”.

Down Beat Magazine November 1955
Down Beat Magazine November 1955. I picked this up at a garage sale years ago, and may have re-sold it because it is nowhere to be found.
Circus Magazine. October 1969
Circus Magazine Featuring The Beatles October 1969
New Music Express Featuring Florence and the Machine. April 2010
New Music Express Featuring Florence and the Machine. April 2010

There’s a reason these are all strictly music titles. Consider this: Music titles that report to the AAM (Alliance for Audited Media, formerly the ABC) have declined significantly. For the last reporting period (Second half 2013), the AAM “Snapshot” showed only 6 titles reporting as compared to the second half of 2008 when 10 titles reported.

Even more ominously, unit sales were down 79% and on the retail dollars side of the ledger, sales were down -$16,180,626. That got your attention, huh?

Do music magazines still have viability on the newsstand and in print. Well, far more titles don’t report to AAM than do. And, as Newman’s list showed, there are a lot of great music oriented covers and articles out there in magazines that are not totally devoted to the music industry.

If you have any covers you want included in this list, please send them along.





The Top Ten Magazine Covers of 2011: The Completely Biased, Highly Subjective and Unscientific List

Every year around this time, newspapers, magazines, blogs and digitally based publications swamp us with their “Top Ten” lists. They cover everything from ‘The Year in Review’ to what not to wear to a holiday party to the ‘Hottest Songs of the Year”. Inevitably, we come across the “Top Magazine Covers” of the year.

The presentations are interesting and offer up very attractive covers. But they’re rarely from the perspective of people who have to work with the results of the art and editorial departments. You know, the circulation folks. You know, those guys and gals at the back of the office? The ones that flinch every time the CFO walks by?

Halfway through this year, the Foredeck posted what we thought were the best covers so far.

So what’s changed? Who stayed on top from that list? Who’s dropped off and who’s been added? You’ll see below. And because there were so many really great covers put on the newsstands this year, I decided to add a new category: “Honorable Mentions”.

1. Vogue Magazine – January 2011 Featuring Natalie Portman: When I first saw this cover a year ago, I swore it was one of the best covers I had ever seen. Only two other covers have ever affected me like that: A neon colored Vanity Fair cover of rock stars, and a Chicago Magazine whimsical creation that offered up the “Secrets of the City”. The coloring, the positioning of the actress, the class and elegance that exude from this cover are the elements that do it for me. Heck, I actually bought a copy! And no, it wasn’t the best selling cover of the year. But it did well.

Vogue's Natalie Portman cover gets first position in the life boat.

2. Interview Magazine – September 2011 Featuring Anne Hathaway: This fascinating cover made it on my October “Two More Contenders For Best Cover of the Year post from October. I hadn’t paid any attention to Interview Magazine on the racks for a number of years, but this cover was front and center and jumped off the rack at me. Generally I warn clients to stay away from arty black and white covers. But the editors at Interview have clearly figured it out. Guess what? This does appear to be one of the best selling issues of the year.

Looks like Anne get's a seat next to Natalie!

3. Outside Magazine – May 2011 Featuring Steven Colbert: I pointed out in my June “So Far” review that aside from the great cover image, one of the selling points for me on this cover was Outside’s use of the skyline above their logo. They use it well. Moreover, while this longstanding newsstand favorite uses a lot of cover lines, their lines for the Colbert story are clever and funny without being too cute. That’s rule #1 in my book for cover lines. You can always be too cute. Was this one of their best selling covers of the year? No, it was not. Didn’t I say this was subjective and unscientific?

We'll let the Comedy Central funny man steer the lifeboat, but he loses points for a low sale. It happens sometimes.

4. Bullett Magazine – Vol. #4 Featuring Saoirse Ronan: This  magazine lives in a well traveled niche covering the world of fashion, art, music, film and entertainment. They compete directly with the likes of Interview Magazine in a category that is so crowded, you have to ask what makes you so different? Your editorial will certainly differentiate you but how do you grab readers from a crowded bookstore newsstand? If you’re Bullet, produce cover after elegant cover with the newest stars. Volume 3 features a close up of the striking Irish actress Saoirse Ronan of Hannah.

Yes, it does appear to be on of their better selling issues this year.

Bullet Magazine Vol. #3

5. Esquire Magazine – May 2011 Featuring Jeff Bridges: I’ve liked just about every single cover that Esquire has produced this year. Even the much hyped but underperforming Brooklyn Decker feature from February actually sold better than this cover. But I chose it to illustrate how even a middling performing cover from Esquire has all of the elements that make a good cover. A great image, cover lines that inspire and ask you to pay attention, good use of color, and a kick you in the seat of your pants use of the skyline. And this year I officially became an old guy so Jeff’s my guy.

We could give Esquire their own lifeboat.

6. Entertainment Weekly – March 17 Featuring Nathan Fillion: There is absolutely nothing wrong with this cover featuring Castle start Nathan Fillion. The colors are right. The cover lines scream exactly the right measure of “OMG” and “FTW”. The skyline has everything an entertainment junkie could like. Have I mentioned that Entertainment Weekly is my favorite magazine?

Keep flying. He will always be Captain Mal Reynolds to me. Maybe he should have taken the helm of the Titanic.

7. The Knot – Spring 2011 Issue: The Gown Guide enters it’s second year of higher frequency publication with a cover that I was sure would be a hard sell (Editor’s Note: XOXO Group is a client.). But look at that dress! And look at those blues! And look at those cover lines! Not only is this cover the best selling of the year, the sales volume in many of the largest retailers was through the roof. In this case, the ice berg warning from the Foredeck was pretty far off. Thank goodness!

The Knot scores with another killer cover.

8. Rolling Stone – May 12 Featuring Steven Tyler: Shouldn’t this magazine for aging Baby Boomers be as cringeworthy as a critique from the American Idol Judge and Aerosmith frontman? Well, no. I picked up this issue of the magazine because the image drew me in. What is Tyler looking at? What about “Game of Thrones”? Many publishers now do what RS does with their skyline, put three different stories up on top. They lose points for simply dropping names, but get them back for solid cover lines in the body and great images.

Steven Tyler on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

9. Kiteboarding Magazine – Feb/Mar 2011: This bi-monthly action magazine from Bonnier shows how to mix action, color  and the right way to to put multiple lines up on the skyline. Rather than simply list names (We’re talking to you, RS!), they let the action picture speak for itself and promise more action with cover lines like “24 Hot Kites” and “World Speed Record Broken”.

Kiteboarders don't need lifeboats.

10. Arizona Highways – September 2011 – Photography Issue:  I’m a huge fan of regional magazines and this venerable state publication shows another way to do a black and white cover that draws you in and says “Pick Me Up!”

You have to take a highway to get here.

But wait, there’s more!

Today’s social commentators have enormous fun pointing out that we live in the age of the participation trophy. Everyone’s special, therefore no one is special and all our standards have been lowered. Nonsense. There’s just a lot more of us now.

And there are more magazines than ever and more selections than ever. So this year, we made room on the Foredeck for some “Honorable Mentions” in the world of newsstand worthy cover images.

1st Honorable Mention. Newsweek -Feb 7, 2011 – Featuring the Egyptian Revolution: Hi Time Magazine! Yes, we’re talking to you.

Feeling a little anxious, are we?

2nd Honorable Mention. Portland (ME) Magazine – Sep 2011 – Featuring Patrick Dempsy: McDreamy goes to Maine? This small city regional manages to get it all right on one cover. A memorable image, great color; sharp, short, snappy cover lines. Oh yes, great skyline.

McDreamy has dinner in the 1st Class Dining Room.

3rd Honorable Mention. Juxtapoz Magazine -Apr 2011 -Featuring Art in The Streets. This one is counterintuitive. When the magazine first arrived in the office (Editor’s Note: I work for High Speed Productions, the parent company of Juxtapoz) my reaction was unenthusiastic. But every store that I visited that carried this issue had it out on the front lip of the front shelf. It was one of the best selling issues this year. Why? A memorable topic (Street Art), simple design, an online ad campaign to back the issue and an image that grows on you.

Art in the Streets sells off the racks.

4th Honorable Mention. Hour Detroit – Jun 2011 – Featuring The Best of Detroit. What I like best about this cover is how different it is from most typical “Best Of” covers. The illustration, the embracement of what makes Detroit a great city.

Hour Detroit's "Best Of" is a winner.

5th Honorable Mention. Lake Superior – Sep 2011: Well, why can’t the greatest of the Great Lakes have it’s own magazine? And why not a really colorful illustration that shows off the fun to be had?

The greatest of the Great Lakes shows off it's best stuff.

So there you have it. The best for this year and five “Honorable Mentions”. While beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, you should always keep in mind that you have many audiences for your cover. Newsstand cover design is a mixture of art, science, algebra, voodoo and strong opinions. For my short hand on how to develope a good newsstand cover, click here.

Are these your favorites? What are your selections for the best covers this year?

Want your own copy of this years’ list? Click here: 2011 Best Covers

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