Covers Sell

Covers Sell

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Posted by Scott On March - 30 - 2010

Or My Mother Isn’t Always Right

I love my mother, but let’s face it: some clichés used as object lessons, just don’t apply to the wonderful world of newsstand sales.

According to Wikipedia:

The very common English idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphorical phrase which means “don’t determine the worth of something based on its appearance.”

But isn’t this precisely what happens every day at busy magazine checkouts and cluttered mainline racks?

Wikipedia then quotes Francois Rabelais (from the 16th century) who warned:

“Wouldn’t you yourself say that the monk’s robes hardly determine who the monk is?  Or that there are some wearing monk’s robes who, on the inside, couldn’t be less monkish?”

Well, yes.

I get it that mothers might prefer to be cryptic to protect us from some ugly truths and to warn us against being too trusting, about making snap judgements, or about being led astray by superficial appearances.

The object lesson is not completely without merit at newsstands.  Don’t over promise on the cover and under-deliver inside, or the first sale may be the last sale.

But, make no mistake, we are judged, often in 3 seconds or less, by the cover of our magazines.

While it may be superficial to judge a magazine by its cover, to pretend that this isn’t what really happens at newsstands, is delusional and masochistic.  Covers are what make the difference between selling a lot of copies or selling just a few copies.

Need proof? Here are the results:

Let’s look at British Columbia Magazine.  This fabulous (quarterly) regional magazine has been publishing for 50 years. Their distribution is very mature, so the number of dealers that carry the magazine is relatively static, issue to issue.

The newsstand allotments are essentially the same, seasonality has been eliminated as a variable, and the 2008 issue sold for $6.95 while the 2004 issue sold for $5.95.

It’s all about the cover. Your magazine too will be judged by its cover, whether you like it or not.


About Me

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.



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