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.

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About Me

Scott Bullock is a veteran circulation expert with over 38 years experience in both Canada and the United States. He has worked on trade titles such as Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal and Small Press in the USA. In consumer magazines, Scott was the Circulation Director for D Magazine (the city magazine of Dallas, Texas), and in Canada he was the Circulation Director for Toronto Life, Fashion, and Canadian Art. From 2000 to 2004, Scott was a partner at Coast to Coast Newsstand Services. Scott has also held the post of VP Sales & Marketing, for CDS Global, Canada. Currently, CoversSell.Com is Scott’s circulation consultancy. Active clients include: Fly Fusion, Canadian Geographic, Canadian House & Home, Canada’s History, Canadian Real Estate Wealth, Canadian Woodworking, Canadian Cycling, Canadian Running, Canadian Scrapbooker, Legion, Harrowsmith, SkyNews, and SuperTrax.

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