Covers Sell

Covers Sell

Cover of the Year Nominations

Posted by Scott On May - 13 - 2010

Corduroy

What do you think?

The nominations are in, and as usual there are some very “artsy” covers nominated.

The great Paul Jones once quipped that the best way to win this award was to create a cover that was “Art with Logo.”  This was Paul’s witty way of saying that Gold Winners were often pretty, but perhaps had little or nothing to do with the primary job of a cover (for most consumer magazines) which is to help sell copies at newsstand and help generate a renewal to a subscription.

So I asked Paul, winner of the prestigious NMAF Outstanding Achievement Award in 2004, to comment on this year’s covers competing for Gold.

“Implicit in the judge’s selections is a disregard, bordering on disrespect, for words.  No cover lines.  Tiny cover lines that suggest words are an inconvenience or an embarrassment.  Big cover lines in which words serve mostly as indecipherable design elements.  Was the Vancouver Magazine cover the only deserving nominee with substantial, legible cover lines?”

According to the NMAF web site, since 1998 the Gold award for Cover of the Year has been won by controlled circulation magazines 6 out of 11 times, or 54.5% of the time.  Report on Business has won it twice and so has Saturday Night, with FQ winning in 2004 and Shift in 1998.  FQ, Saturday Night and Shift (4 of the 11 winners) are sadly no longer publishing.

Wayne Leek, publisher of Food & Drink, who used to work for Shift said, “We were delighted, but amused, because the award-winning cover was such a poor performer at the newsstand.”

By way of disclosure, I have twice been a judge for the Cover of the Year.  I was one of three judges.  Both years I was involved, my top pick for Gold didn’t even make the short-list of the top 5 covers in the first round of voting.

Now, take a moment to Vote for the cover which you think should win this year?

14 Responses to “Cover of the Year Nominations”

  1. Deb Morrison says:

    Thanks for the post Scott, it is indeed interesting to see these covers lined up together. I agree with Paul – none of these covers except for Vancouver follow any of “the rules” for strong newsstand covers. Artsy covers for The Walrus, Prefix Photo and Lush make more sense to me but I don’t really get what Corduroy and Urbania are even about which should be job #1 for a cover.

  2. This looks like a selection of contrasting covers – either artsy with minimal cover lines, or cover lines with minimal image – there isn’t any cover in between the extremes. Definitely important to keep in mind who will buy these and the style of the magazine altogether – see Lush, keeping along the lines of their usual cover style, and Report on Business, selling the actual story. Personally I think Vancouver magazine – this October 2009 cover – has the strongest appearance, with food being the new interesting subject on everyone’s mind. The weakest tied between Flaveurs – classic “look at us” cover, and Urbania (although this is one of their best to-date…). Thanks for the post Scott, love your blog!

  3. Peter Lebensold says:

    The question is … What is the cover’s JOB?

    For newsstand-sold magazines, obviously, the cover is primarily a Point-of-Purchase display item. It’s a package – in a strictly-retail environment. Like the outer envelope of an effective direct mail piece (‘member those?), it needs to attract attention, intrigue the casual observer, and then move her/him to action (“Open this envelope!” “Leaf through this issue!”). All the while being consistent with – and reinforcing – the magazine’s brand.

    To judge the cover of a retailed magazine – without knowing if it “worked” at its primary task – makes no sense. After all, 40% of any Ace Award-winner’s score is based on “the marketing objectives, cost considerations and response levels” of the campaign.

    Perhaps the problem lies in attempting to judge newsstand-sold and controlled titles against each other.

    And, by the way, there’s nothing to say that a successful cover cannot be visually arresting, or even “iconic”: For inspiration, spend a moment at http://hypebeast.com/2010/04/george-lois-esquire-covers-moma-book/

  4. Sandi says:

    I’m really drawn to The Hockey News. I think it’s a good caption and good photo about something people care about even if they don’t care too much about hockey stats.
    Not knowing what the Walrus is apologizing for, but interpreting it to be a comment on the stereotype of Canadians’ apologetic natures, I think it’s cute, but the yarn is too crafty. Maybe carving I’m sorry into a tree trunk would have done it for me. (but not a real tree, just in photoshop!)

  5. Brian says:

    One of the jobs of a cover is to sell magazines but an equally important consideration is that, over the course of the year, they present the range of work the magazine publishes.

    I know the circ people will like Vancouver magazine’s cover but this look is getting so cliche already. And didn’t BC Magazine do “50 Things To Do Before You Die? last summer” Were any of them among Vancouver’s “101 Things To Taste Before You Die”?

    The only two covers that I believe find the balance between words and images in a functional and aesthetic manner are The Walrus and The Hockey News. Now pardon my ignorance (i.e. I’m Sorry) but what is that on The Walrus cover – knitting yarn? Whatever, I can barely read the copy.

    So my choice for best cover is The Hockey News. Despite hiding so much real estate with the body-checking players I have no trouble reading the copy. And the image slamming the words is powerful and engaging while the feature is a timely one. I’ll go so far as to say it should win and WILL win.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Will win or should win?

  7. Scott says:

    Stephanie,

    Both. The first Poll is for WILL win. Click submit and it will display the results to date. Then there is a tab that says:

    Next Poll

    click that and it asks which SHOULD win.

  8. Greg says:

    I figure good covers are the product of two processes: how well those responsible choose their topic(s) and how well those responsible communicate that to potential readers. My opinion is that the former is much more important but that this award is only about the latter. Otherwise, they would have to include sales figures or some other measure of effectiveness in their decision.

    That makes the award a lot less interesting but still valid, I suppose. Even with this narrower mandate, these are mostly odd choices given all the covers that must have been submitted. I understand why Hockey News and The Walrus covers would be seriously considered and the rest are a mystery for me.

  9. Chris Bird says:

    Hey Scott,

    I struggle with this one. Our magazine in the “pre-Circ3″ era was all about art. All of our cover images were selected based on their artistic appeal and we went out of our way to avoid the traditional cover. The problem is that our most artistic covers, the ones that we were the most proud of, have provided us with the poorest sales. Its simple, we weren’t on the same page as our audience.

    That said there is a desperate need for more creativity on the newsstand. Everything evolves – my good lord, look at what magazine covers looked like in the 80′s. I’m not sure if “drab” would cover it.

    This is the same discussion as the digital vs. print debate – the verdict is NOT up to the publishers, editors and award giving judges. This decision will be made by the consumer.

    Good publishers will just be sure to have a foot in both worlds, testing regularily, until a consumer driven transition has taken place. In the meantime it is clear that the newsstand consumer is not ready for creative covers (there are of course exceptions). Any “cover of the year” award given to a magazine that does not also show clear leadership in the sales and efficiency areas is given without merit.

    Being the best looking contestant on American Idol only takes you so far. In order to win you have to sing and the winner is selected by the audience, not the judges.

  10. P.J. Brown says:

    To me, this award is not about what I traditionally believe makes a great cover (read: retail cover) – to make a comparison to the fashion world, this is haute couture.

    It can be interesting and awfully nice to look at, but also confusing, and in general, isn’t practical and shouldn’t necessarily be used in real world situations – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place – as art, and for award shows.

    That being said, you can achieve both a visually striking cover that conveys the magazine’s subject matter as well as the issue’s content – as the Hockey News does here.

  11. Scott says:

    PJ,

    You are quite right. Like haute couture, only a few fancy folks purcahse the edgy stuff.

    ROB, Urbania, Prefix Photo, Corduroy and Lush sold 560 total copies between them on these nominated issues.

    The other four titles sold roughly 18,000 units between them, but tellingly had many, many other issues that sold considerably more copies, more efficiently.

    I know that these are not the Readers Choice Awards we are talking about. However, there does appear to be a wide chasim between what we as an industry value and reward with honours, and what our audience and customers value and appreciate when they support us with their wallets.

  12. Christina Baird says:

    We know that covers are the selling feature of the magazine, providing the first impression that makes both newsstand buyers and subscribers pick up the copy with excitement and continue to pay the cover or subscription price year after year. If this award is for covers that don’t sell at the newsstand, the logical assumption is that these awards are for the artistry behind the covers. Artistry certainly has its place in the world, and surely these cover images evoke emotion and reaction in a way that only art can. But as a circulator I have to ask the question: are covers about art, or sales? In the current economy, after layoffs and cuts, I watch with respect every day as my colleagues across the industry work intensely and tirelessly doing more work for less. Knowing full well that our jobs are directly linked to how much revenue the company earns, I don’t’ much feel like celebrating a cover that has no cover lines or sell features, that is obscure and where its contents are completely up for interpretation. I’ll celebrate it as a form of art, but not as a successful cover.

  13. Amy says:

    The question is … What is the cover’s JOB?

    For newsstand-sold magazines, obviously, the cover is primarily a Point-of-Purchase display item. It’s a package – in a strictly-retail environment. Like the outer envelope of an effective direct mail piece (‘member those?), it needs to attract attention, intrigue the casual observer, and then move her/him to action (“Open this envelope!” “Leaf through this issue!”). All the while being consistent with – and reinforcing – the magazine’s brand.

    To judge the cover of a retailed magazine – without knowing if it “worked” at its primary task – makes no sense. After all, 40% of any Ace Award-winner’s score is based on “the marketing objectives, cost considerations and response levels” of the campaign.

    Perhaps the problem lies in attempting to judge newsstand-sold and controlled titles against each other.

    And, by the way, there’s nothing to say that a successful cover cannot be visually arresting, or even “iconic”: For inspiration, spend a moment at http://hypebeast.com/2010/04/george-lois-esquire-covers-moma-book/

  14. alex says:

    Pretty cool post. I just came by your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. In any case. I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you write again soon!

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Scott Bullock’s Newsstand Cover Quiz Show is legendary in the industry. Using covers as the catalyst, this interactive and entertaining format is a light-hearted but hard-hitting spin on Packaging 101. Testing the cover savvy of magazine professionals across disciplines, the Quiz Show pits publishers against editors, circulators against art directors, retailers against wholesalers -- ultimately leading to new common ground in the quest for better covers. Scott is the Owner of Circ3, Smart Circulation Solutions, a circulation consultancy. www.circ3.com

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