Covers Sell

Covers Sell

New Yorker Mar 29, 1976

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

This classic from the New Yorker trumps the rule to avoid illustrated covers.

In a New York second, it communicates the ego-centric perspective that citizens of The Big Apple are often accused of having with respect to their place in the world.

Memorable, funny, original, and often imitated, these are sure signs that a classic cover was achieved.

New Yorker Mar 29 1976, is it Hall of Fame worthy?

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Vanity Fair Aug 1992

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

Wishing to repeat their spectacular success on the newsstand with the Demi Moore pregnant nude from August 1991, Vanity Fair’s Annie Leibovitz got Demi Moore to pose for this cover.

According to Wikipedia:

“In the Demi’s Birthday Suit August 1992 issue of Vanity Fair, Moore was shown on the cover in the body painting photo by Joanne Gair.
The painting is the best-known example of modern body painting artwork.
It made Gair an immediate pop culture star as the most prominent body paint artist, which prompted consideration for an Absolut Vodka Absolut Gair ad campaign.

Much of the media buzz focused on how quickly Demi had “recovered” from pregnancy (see August 1991 cover).

According to ABC, the issue sold 541,944 copies. The other 11 issues that year averaged 332,108.
Therefore it beat the others by 209,836 copies or 63% more copies sold.

Vanity Fair Aug 1992, is it Hall of Fame worthy?

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Vanity Fair Aug 1991

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

An Annie Leibovitz classic, this cover sparked considerable controversy, and lots of free promotional support, when it hit shelves in August of 1991.

According to Wikipedia “the frankness of Leibovitz’ portrayal of a pregnant sex symbol led to divided opinions, ranging from complaints of sexual objectification to celebrations of the photograph as a symbol of empowerment.”

Demi Moore was 7 months pregnant when the picture was taken.

According to ABC, the issue sold 546,766 copies. The other 11 issues that year averaged 292,874. Therefore it beat the others by 253,892 copies or 87% more copies sold.

Vanity Fair Aug 1991, is it Hall of Fame worthy?

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National Lampoon Jan 1973

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

This cover is arguably one of the most controversial covers ever produced.  It is doubtful PETA would let this classic cover go unanswered in today’s politically correct environment.

The cover earns high marks for risk taking, cutting through the clutter of predictable mediocrity, and evoking strong emotions.


National Lampoon Jan 1973, is it Hall of Fame worthy?

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Maclean’s Dec 2000

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

While it is usually true that illustrated covers don’t sell as well as covers using photography, this classic cover from Maclean’s proves that rules are meant to be broken. The winking beaver cover has so much attitude, and promises so much fun, it simply refuses to be ignored.

This cover sold 293% more copies than the average issue of Maclean’s, in 2000, and the sell-through efficiency was 26.5pts higher that the average too.

Maclean’s Dec 2000, is it Hall of Fame worthy?

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New York Mar 24 2008

Posted by Scott On June - 7 - 2010ADD COMMENTS


This classic cover earns high marks for its “radical clarity”, humour, and less-is-more approach to cover design. The black border signals it is an important cover. The white background lends “pop” factor. The circulator’s arrow device finishes the job.

This risky cover paid off with sales that were 35% better than their average for 2008.

New York Mar 24 2008, is it Hall of Fame worthy

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Filling the House

Posted by Scott On June - 4 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

The opening night Marquee Event for the 2010 MagNet Conference was a standing-room only sell-out.

David Granger, the innovative editor of Esquire, delivered an inspirational presentation for Canada’s best and brightest magazine professionals.

Think Ketchup, Granger told the audience. While the stuff inside the old glass bottle has always been great, finding a better packaging device, like the new upside down squeeze bottle, makes a great product even better.


For those in attendance, the buzz was electric, as Granger shared highlights and insights from his collaboration with the editorial team, design team, production team, advertisers and senior management at Hearst.

The presentation was candid and personally revealing, as Granger spoke about “desperation, despair and disillusionment” being a driving force that editors use (if they are any good) to fuel creativity and innovation.

While Granger made it crystal clear that great content is key to Esquire’s success (referencing a recent article about Roger Ebert, which resulted in over “800,000 people reading the story online)”, much of his presentation focused on packaging. Many of Granger’s best-selling covers hit the screen in all their glory.


Jul 2007 Jolie

As the MagNet brochure pointed out:

“Granger’s uncompromising—and sometimes contentious—vision about the role of covers has earned Esquire a reputation as being unafraid to push the envelope. Esquire merged an innovative digital technology with a mass-produced print product be embedding an electronic paper display in its 75th Anniversary issue. In early 2009, Esquire again entered into the fray by putting a ‘trap door’ in its cover and then creating the first ever ‘mix-‘n-match’ magazine cover.”

Granger dazzled the audience when he demonstrated his “augmented reality” interactive magazine. Canadian editors, art directors, publishers and circulators were salivating.

During the Q & A that followed, a brave soul questioned why so much of the presentation revolved around packaging as opposed to content, as if to suggest that packaging was fluff.

Granger must have had to bite his tongue to remain polite. After all, since assuming the editorship in June of 1997 Esquire has won 13 National Magazine Awards and has been a finalist for 47. Remaining composed, Granger pointed out that great packaging helps “fill the house” with readers. Ultimately, that’s the job editors are hired to achieve. He went on say that he hates focus groups, because “I don’t want to give people what they want. I want to give them what they never could have expected.”

Let there be no doubt about it, David Granger gets it.

Hello! To big Seller!

Posted by Scott On June - 2 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

Check out the latest SIP from Rogers Publishing. This issue is sure to sell a ton of copies.

According to their press release the issue promises:

“Coco Channel. Audrey Hepburn. Sarah Jessica Parker. George Clooney. Madonna. Lady Gaga. These highly recognizable stars all have one uncommon thing in common: They possess an enduring and awe-inspiring sense of style.

These icons are just a few of the high-style celebrities featured in HELLO! Canada!’s highly anticipated Style Icons inaugural special issue. In a mix of old-world glamour and modern-day celebrity, this glorious 116-page issue is rich with beautiful photographs, fascinating facts—and memorable quotes.”

We will report back later in the year on the success of this fantastic cover.

Q & A with John Macfarlane

Posted by Scott On May - 27 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

Q. At the 2005 National Magazine Awards gala, during your acceptance speech for the prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award, you talked about how “the plumbing” might be evolving, with respect to circulation acquisition through the net, and delivery vis a vis the web, but that quality content and packaging was still and would always be the keys to success. Do you see the IPad as a game changer?

A. I see the IPad, and similar technologies, as “game changers” in the sense that I think they’ll allow publishers to distribute magazines on another paid-circulation platform. This will help fix the business model. But I continue to believe, notwithstanding the internet, that content continues to trump plumbing.

Q. As editor of Toronto Life, you launched their first two Special Interest Publications: Eating & Drinking, followed by Shopping. Both were huge newsstand success stories. Both featured upgraded cover stock, perfect binding, and were premium priced. Clearly, these grew organically out of your “Red Book” concept. Tell us how you convinced the publisher to invest in these high quality vertical brand extensions, and why they continue to sell so well at newsstand.

A. Actually, it wasn’t difficult to convince the publisher to invest in the SIPs because the numbers were so attractive. The costs were relatively low, since we’d already paid for the content, and we knew we could get a premium price at the newsstand, making the reward more than worth the risk. As for why they continue to sell, it’s easy: they provide the consumers with useful information they can’t get anywhere else.

Q. As Editor of Toronto Life, what are your 3 favourite covers, and why?

A. Choosing three covers from more than a hundred and fifty is tough. And I have to admit that the ones I liked the best weren’t always winners at the newsstand.
So I’m going to cheat and pick six: Doug Gilmour (March 1994)a beautiful black-and-white photograph by Nigel Dickson; Best Restaurants (April 1995) a whimsical hand-tinted photograph by Nigel Dickson, who used his children as models; Dalton McGuinty (March 1999) which I like because it’s bold and cheeky; Ben Johnson (March 2000), another great photograph by Nigel Dickson, although it probably bombed on the newsstand (athletes don’t sell for Toronto Life); Stephen Lewis (December 2006) Nigel Dickson does it again, making a potentially boring subject playful; and Conrad Black (October 2007) while illustration is normally a no-no on the newsstand, this one (by Anita Kunz) sold very well—which proves what?

Q. The Walrus has always sold remarkably well on the newsstands. It punches above its weight class with respect to “thinky” books like Harpers or Atlantic Monthly? Why do you think that is?

A. The novelist John Irving has pointed out that the Canadian best-seller lists are more up-market in literary terms than American ones. Apparently, Canadians are more interested in good writing than Americans, and I think the same applies to long-form narrative journalism. And it’s not a recent phenomenon. When I published Saturday Night in the 1980s, it had a greater penetration of the Canadian marketplace than Harper’s, the Atlantic and the New Yorker combined had in the United States.

Q. You’ve invited readers to choose the cover for your upcoming Summer Reading issue. I know that you are a gambling man….so, do you have a bet going with your Circulation Director, Stacey May Fowles, on which cover will emerge and how well it will sell?

A. No, we didn’t make an actual bet, but we were on opposite sides of the fence. I liked the bear, and she liked the girl. Happily for me, the bear won. I just pray it does well on the newsstand.

Q. Name 3 Canadian and 3 U.S magazines that you look to for inspiration or that you admire. Who is doing great covers, in your opinion?

A. Canadian magazines I admire: Explore, for its literary ambition; Vancouver, for the precision of its editor; and Toronto Life for reasons that should be obvious.
American magazines I admire: The New Yorker for its literary achievement, New York for its innovative flare, and Vanity Fair for its prowess at playing high-low.

Q. Greydon Carter at Vanity Fair (a Canadian) gets cameos in Hollywood movies. George Lois at Esquire is lionized as a celebrity in the Untied States and gets book contracts.  I think brilliant editors and art directors are the superstars of any great magazine. And by them being held up as celebrities, it brings a certain swagger and sex appeal to the magazine medium, which I love. So why do you think here in Canada, brilliant editors such as yourself, and great art directors, like Ken Rodmell, aren’t treated like celebrities in Toronto, our media capitol?

A. First of all, I’m not sure I’d compare myself to Graydon Carter, David Remnick, Kurt Anderson, Clay Felker or any of the other American editors I’ve admired over the years. But the reason they get treated like celebrities is that they’re more powerful and, like professional athletes, they make more money. They’re more powerful because they have larger audiences. And they make more money because in a market of three hundred and fifty million people their success generates big profits for the companies that employ them. In Canada, a much much smaller country in which magazine publishing has always been financially marginal, it doesn’t work like that.

Q. Speaking of Ken Rodmell, he used to talk about great covers that were “clichés with a twist.” When pressed, he talked about plugging into peoples “collective memories” and using that power of stored up equity. He created covers that tapped into that reservoir, but always did it with style and verve. Tell us about your favourite Ken Rodmell anecdotes, pithy sayings, and fabulous covers.

A. Ken Rodmell is a born teacher. He loves to figure out how things work and then pass that knowledge on to others. He trained a generation of Canadian art directors, and one of the most important things he taught them is that at the newsstand you have about three seconds to reach the prospective purchaser so your message better be clear and bold. Most bad covers simply require too much time and effort on the part of the newsstand buyer.

Q. You’ve always fought the good fight for investing in editorial quality. I remember vividly your passionate arguments to invest in the best writers, illustrators and photographers possible, to protect editorial page counts, and to invest in upgrading cover stock, going to perfect binding, and fighting passionately against any trim size cuts or downgrades in quality. Given the cut backs recently on the advertising side of the ledger, do you still believe that the best way forward is quality content and quality packaging?

A. It seems so obvious to me that that’s still the case. My favourite metaphor in this debate is the automobile. The people who buy Mercedes couldn’t tell you the thickness of the sheet metal in the body or the grade of leather in the car’s interior, and it’s probably the case that in any given year the company could cut back on these and other things without consumers noticing. But if they did it year after year the buyer would eventually catch on—and at that point they’d have destroyed the meaning of the brand and lost the discriminating buyer forever.

Q. You’ve always been a circulator’s dream editor. By that I mean that you embrace the idea that newsstand sales, and renewal rates, are the best barometers of editorial success. How important are great covers in achieving your goals as an editor?

A. Covers are important, obviously, but at the end of the day it’s the content of the magazine that determines whether a reader is likely to buy the magazine repeatedly, either as a newsstand buyer or subscriber. On the other hand, a reader isn’t going to try the magazine in the first place if its covers aren’t in some way compelling. The question is: what makes a cover compelling? How important is design? How important are coverlines? No one really knows, of course, but my own view is that subject trumps everything else.

Breaking News…New Look for Maclean’s

Posted by Scott On May - 26 - 2010ADD COMMENTS

As hinted at by Ken Whyte on Coverssell.com, Maclean’s magazine, is unveiling a new look this week.

Encouraged and inspired by the outstanding sales success of the Maclean’s Olympics SIP, the new look features a white border, a re-worked sky-bar area treatment, and uses both a starburst and cover slash device.

The issue is on sale in Ontario, Thursday, May 27th, British Columbia and Quebec on Friday, and all other Provinces on Monday.

The cover price remains the same, at $5.95.

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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. www.circ3.com

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