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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.