Covers Sell

Covers Sell

I love editors. They are very smart. They are super conversationalists at cocktail parties. They read more, travel more and typically have better expense accounts than most circulation professionals I know. Most editors know how to have fun. I wish I had been an editor. Frankly, I am jealous. That’s the truth.

{Terry Sellwood, whose wit is legendary, once said:  “Ad Directors get all the money.  Editors get the awards.  And Circulators get the complaints.” }

But when it comes to covers, something strange sometimes happens. Editors ocassionally stop having fun, become uptight, rigid, earnest and territorial. And when it comes to covers that editors nominate for awards, they are often not smart at all.

Too often the covers that win awards have no relationship whatsoever with achieving key goals: improving newsstand sales with core demographic targets; attracting a broader audience of new readers from newsstands; increasing subs from insert cards; creating controversy that generates free PR and drives newsstand sales and traffic to a magazine’s web site.

All of these things in turn drive renewal rates, make advertisers happy, which in turn generates money to invest in editorial.

I think it is great that ASME has partnered with  Very cool and smart, actually.  I love it.  Asking web browsers to vote on their favourite covers helps expand our reach and sex appeal.  Plus, Amazon is helping us sell product.  It’s great to see the collaboration between editors and circulators to expand our audiences.

But let’s face it, readers have already voted…with their wallets.   We can look to ABC statistics for some insights into what our customers actually did with their money.

Let’s start with the first category News & Business.  Here are the covers that the editors have nominated:

Editors presumably have their pulse on what is newsworthy, right?

Reality Check on Fortune Cover:

According to ABC statistics, the nominated cover sold 16,724 copies.  Their average for the 12 issues published in the Jul/Dec 2009 period was 25,438.  Therefore this cover sold 34% worse than the average issue.  Newsflash:  Fortune’s fortunes not improved.  Not newsworthy, not good for business.

Reality Check on The Atlantic Cover:

According to ABC statistics, the nominated cover sold 38,743 copies.  Their average for the Jan/Jun 2010 period was 39,950. This cover may be powerful visually, but clearly it failed to generate enough excitement for people to put down their TV remotes, get off their fat rear ends, and waddle over to the newsstand.

Reality Check on the New Yorker Cover:

According to ABC statistics, the nominated cover sold 31,400 copies.  Their average for the Jan/Jun 2010 period was 31,178.  Two issues later, New Yorker sold 54,700 copies, or 74% more copies.

Reality Check on the Time Cover:

This fabulous classic portrait of Steve Jobs hit the mark.  According to ABC statistics, it sold 93,300 copies.  Their average for the rate base period was 72,164.  Therefore this cover sold 29% more copies.  Of the 25 covers in this rate base period, only two others sold more copies…impressive.  I think we have a winner.

(Note:  the other two covers are not ABC audited.  I love the Advocate cover.  It could easily be nominated…and win…for the Funniest category).

We will break down the other categories in future posts on And report back with the results.

Leave a Reply


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.



    Activate the Flickrss plugin to see the image thumbnails!