Covers Sell

Covers Sell

Woke Cover Costs National Geographic 10,000 Subscribers

Posted by Scott On September - 14 - 2018

In a fabulous article, which I urge you to read, Judging By the Cover: How the Magazine Industry’s Identity Crisis is Playing out on the Front Page, writer Alyssa Bereznak references the historically important, the enduring, yet changing role that magazine covers have played, and will continue to play in the future.

It’s a compelling read.

In the article was this nugget, from the new editor-in-chief of National Geographic, Susan Goldberg:

“Somebody from our marketing department once said to me, it would cost us up to $3 million a month in advertising to get as much exposure to the public as having our magazines out on the newsstand,” said Susan Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of National Geographic. “Even when there were more newstands, it was never our biggest source of revenue, but it’s worth a lot to us to just have it out there and have it in the public consciousness.”

The writer then goes on to point out how the role of the cover is changing at some magazines, like National Geographic:

“They have adjusted their editorial visions, often confronting their brand’s history with more challenging, culturally inquisitive subject matter. Magazine covers are now beginning to better reflect society—not only with their changing cover subjects, but with stories that strive to better understand identity and representation in the world of pop culture and beyond.”

That’s interesting.  Then the writer goes on to say:

“And even science-centric magazines like National Geographic have begun to engage with hot-button issues like gender and race with provocative (if sometimes clumsy) cover subjects.”

Really?  That sounds risky. Tell me more.   Then the writer goes on to say:

“But this enlightened era has also created a fractured audience: younger, less committed readers who exist in the digital sphere, and older, loyal subscribers who feel alienated by change. In a fight for survival, the average mainstream magazine is undergoing an identity crisis. Stop and look, and you’ll see it playing out in the most public place possible: the cover.”

Wow, now we are getting to the “crisis part.”  The writer finally gets to the nub of the “identity crisis”.

“Magazines now face an even greater threat to their leverage: social media.”

Oh.  I see.  So to deal with the new competition from Instagram etc, the writer points out that covers must try to compete for buzz on social media by caring less about newsstand sales, and more about click bait.

Now that a magazine cover’s success is no longer measured by just newsstand sales, they look much different.”

Go on…tell me more.

But as entertainment has proliferated and evolved to serve more niche audiences, editors must now consider what their subjects represent ideologically and why it deserves to be highlighted.”

Must they? Ideologically?  Can you give me an example?  So the writer does…

“National Geographic ran a cover image featuring a 9-year-old transgender girl in January 2017 for an issue dedicated to gender.”

Yes they did.  I remember that one.  So what happened?

Goldberg (the editor-in-chief) said National Geographic’s gender issue drew “hundreds of millions of people” to the magazine’s content on various digital avenues. But it also resulted in the loss of about 10,000 print subscribers, either because they were upset by the content, or disappointed that the magazine addressed it poorly.

Ouch.  That’s rather costly.  The writer then offers this cautionary advice:

…for magazines whose main revenue source still depends on a core group of older subscribers and newsstand readers, revamped covers risk siphoning off valuable revenue sources.”

Fact Check:

The Jan 2017 National Geographic gender issue sold extremely well on Canada’s newsstands.  Sales were up 8,885 copies or 102% from the Jan 2016 issue.  Plus it was the 3rd best-seller in 2017 in Canada.  We like Woke covers apparently.

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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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