uncovering covers

emily williams

Perched in the second row she stood out from all the others; a bold name complete with a gorgeous, glossy face, fierce air-brushed eyes, pore-less skin and a blinding smile. Her words were what set her apart: “Get perfect skin,” “153 fresh fashion finds,” “Love your hair and learn total body toning.” She knew precisely what females wanted to hear that month. Her editors were ecstatic and proud because they had successfully created the perfect magazine cover, complete with perfect cover lines. Apparently, this doesn’t come around with ease or regularity.

Just ask Ceri Marsh, editor-in-chief of Fashion, which sells about 10,000 copies on the newsstand per month. “The cover is not like any other kind of label. It is constantly changing, and the circumstances around it are constantly changing, so it’s a real challenge. It’s the hardest thing that we do.”

Jane Francisco, editor-in-chief of the recently launched Wish magazine, which averages 20,000 copies in newsstand sales, agrees. “Sometimes you hit the cover right on and sometimes you look back and think ‘oh, we could have done this better.’”

Crafting a cover is no simple task. It involves many variables. There are, however, certain things that, if done correctly, could prevent the magazine from tanking in newsstand sales.

Nancy LePatourel, editor of Glow, which has average newsstand sales of 12,000 copies per month, says there are a couple big visual things not to do. “Never cover the logo. A lot of times people think that if a title is well known then people will just recognize it, but they won’t.”

It is also important for the cover slugs to match the picture. “If the model on the cover has short hair then there can’t be a slug about great long hair next to her. The reader will not believe you,” says LaPatourel.

Francisco says it can be a mistake if the model’s eyes are hidden when the magazine is on the newsstand because eye contact is so compelling in a large face shot.

Overselling a story is another hazard. Marsh warns: “If you over-advertise a story on the cover – when it is really only a small item on a page – then readers get annoyed. You have to deliver.”

Having too many words can be a problem, as well as having too few. “One of the biggest and easiest mistakes made by editorial is being too literal about the stories inside. You need to tell what the reader is going to get out of the story, not what the story is about,” says LaPatourel.

Obviously there are successful covers despite all these possible pitfalls. Correct formulas to create selling products do exist; the most popular is keeping with the personality of the magazine.

It is not wrong to examine the newsstand either. Looking for what the successful magazines are doing is smart – after all the U.S. magazines invest more money in researching what makes a cover sell than Canadians might – but it is vital not to lose the individuality of the magazine while doing so.

Francisco says, “A successful magazine will have a cover that caters to its specific audience’s needs.”

Marsh says breaking the rules can often be a good idea because there is so much similarity on newsstands. “Little imperfections can be compelling to people,” she says.

Fashion and Glow editors believe that, for their magazines, it is better to have a celebrity grace the covers rather than a model, but only if the celebrity links to the content of the magazine.

“You would not see so many people doing it if it did not work to sell,” Marsh says. On the other hand, Wish magazine never has celebrities on the cover.

Glow and Fashion include mathematically large numbers on their covers. They say their readers enjoy having vast amounts of information and many choices.

Wish uses smaller numbers to cater to an audience that likes being given select information.

Trying to engage their readers with audience-appropriate language is another common strategy. Though, again, they differ in its execution.

Wish, according to Francisco, uses words such as “better,” “easy” and “new” on its covers because it caters to an audience of women who are not necessarily trying to achieve perfection. Enticing the reader with lines like “what you need” is Fashion’s tactic. Glow puts its readers into action with lines like “Get toned legs.”

“Most people are very repetitive on a cover and it seems to be a fine thing to do,” explains Marsh. “No one seems to mind.”

Frank Auddino, president of Coast to Coast Newsstand Services says, “a cover is similar to a store window. A store with beautiful clothes displayed in it says ‘come on in, look around.’”

“A great cover does not only hold credibility but it will also invite readers to look inside.”

Photos by Emily Williams