A recent Zoom event for readers of new York magazine asked the question: what makes a good magazine cover? “The idea is really to talk about how our idea for a cover has intersected with this crazy time that we live in,” said Chris Bonanos, the town’s editor. Perhaps he was referring to some sort of madness, one being the collapse of the newsstand market; according to public release figures, more than 95 percent of new Yorksales of are from print and digital subscriptions, not one-off purchases. As editors showed examples of top-notch coverage (an illustration of Donald Trump pinned under a giant peach, on his first impeachment; “Don’t Panic” with the first word crossed out, since the start of the pandemic), a member of the public – a digital subscriber, presumably – typed into Zoom chat: “I love these covers. Where can I see them online? “
In the internet age, does a magazine cover still matter? “I think the realistic answer is no, it’s not as important as it used to be,” Arsh Raziuddin, who designed blankets for Atlantic and recently started as Creative Director for Enjoy your mealétit, noted. Josef Reyes — the design director for Bloomberg Markets, who worked for Wired and new York– okay: “The main purpose of designing a magazine cover is that it sticks out of the newsstand, right?” I think it’s a bit outdated now.
Beginning in the 1920s, magazine executives relied on covers for attention to drive newsstand sales, which turned out to be more lucrative than subscriptions. TO People, Richard B. Stolley, the founding publisher, is reported for developing a ranking methodology for the stars of the cover: the young are better than the old, the pretty are better than the ugly, the rich are better than the poor, the cinema is better than the television and everything is better than politics. The cover lines deployed techniques that today’s readers would recognize as click bait. In 1973, National Lampoon mocked the desperate magazine covers with one of their own, featuring a dog next to a man with a gun and declaring, “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”
Much has changed since then. “I think the covers are an example of what generally happens in the magazine industry, which is that we are always asked to do more with less,” said Lindsay Ballant, who until recently was artistic director. of The New Republic. “If I hear about a cover, it’s usually because it’s bad,” she added. “I just don’t think of any covers that are really as powerful as they were in terms of driving conversation.”
Yet for many mainstream magazines, Raziuddin has said that “the cover is the baby.” DW Pine, Creative Director of Time, has been there for twenty-three years; the team working on the cover is the same size as when it started – around ten people – and the budget is the same. “The actual process hasn’t really changed that much,” he said. “It’s still an eight by ten and a half inch blank canvas that I look at and we have to figure out how to fill it. “
The main difference today, he continued, is that most readers see Time‘s cover digitally. “I’m now approaching the cover like a journalistic poster,” Pine said. Many texts, which could have been posted in an airport newsstand, do not translate on social networks. “People see them, most of the time, in a smaller format. “
However, many of the old rules apply online. “Let’s say you’re standing about twenty feet from a newsstand,” Reyes said. “Ideally you can see the cover sticking out, can’t you? In order for it to stand out, you have to have some really strong shapes in it. Bright colors. And it’s actually the same dynamic on a timeline.
“We did more illustrations than I ever imagined,” Emily Kimbro, design director for Texas monthly, noted. An artist’s work stands out in a world awash in telephone photography. For one of the most popular issue of the barbecue magazine, Kimbro published a still life portrait of a plate of beef brisket in the style of a Dutch master.
TO new YorkCinematographer Jody Quon has maintained her confidence in covers and over the past decade has managed to keep a budget and staff the same size. “What the cover does, it gets people talking,” she said. Sometimes that requires playing on the magazine’s highlights as a physical object – think election issue covers with “I voted” stickers.
The pine took Time in another sense: NFT blankets, sold as digital collectibles. “Once a month, we do a new drop,” he said. The plus: “I just had a piece at Sotheby’s. It was a collage of over five thousand Time the cover lines (“Is God Dead?”, “Are you Mom Enough?”, “Yes, I’m Gay”) surrounding the magazine’s iconic red frame. In October, a collector named Amir Soleymani thought it was worth something: he bought the piece through Sotheby’s new “Metaverse” catalog for nearly ninety thousand dollars.
CJR AT COP26: The end of the road?
Caleb Pershan is a member of the CJR.
TOP IMAGE: Courtesy of New York Magazine