Magazine covers are one of those subjective, often polarising topics where everyone has an opinion yet no-one has cracked the magic formula to claim 100% success. I believe that's because cover creation is both an art and a science. This is my first post on this topic which will likely become a regular feature. Enjoy my tips for for magazine cover creation (and mitigation) below.
Like art, there are rules like composition, colour and tone as well as graphic design and copywriting principles applied - both sciences in their own right. Mix all this together and you’re getting pretty close to what cover creation is. It’s elusive and layered and evokes strong emotion - if done well, it moves people to action (purchase).
I read two separate blog posts recently on the topic of magazine covers and I was alarmed to read the advice these offered;
The subscriber edition fits its purpose beautifully but retail customer’s are time poor and don’t have time (or inclination) to flick through the whole magazine in order to work out what’s inside – it’s asking them to do too much work. Really focus on making the purchase decision as easy and fast as possible for the the customer.
5 Tips for Magazine Cover Creation
1. Know thy enemy and the numbers. Review what’s worked and not worked in the past and use history to help you take calculated risks on cover choice. Look for patterns across the various design elements and content - for example cover subject, colours, tones, topics, numbers (e.g. 50 best restaurants) and times of year. Without knowing the historical performance of covers against sales you are literally flying blind no matter which category you publish. Most magazines are seasonal – so don’t mistake one for the other.
2. Find a cover formula and design that works for your brand and speaks to your reader. Find a design that differentiates you from competitors in your category for example Time has long been known for its iconic red masthead with red boarder (rather than full bleed cover). If you’re a fashion and beauty magazine, this might be cropped close ups with 10 cover-lines that gives you a consistent look your customers will easily spot on the newsstand. Try not to chop and change the overall cover look from issue to issue.
3. Learn from any mistakes quickly and share the pain. There is nothing wrong with trying something or someone new on the cover – I encourage it. But when it comes to poor circulation sales results and shaky cover choices, it’s important to act quickly, learn from any poor choices and chalk them up to experience. Know exactly what your shortfall is and plan for something extra in the next issue to bolster overall sales numbers. I don't believe in keeping sales results secret or protecting staff from bad results. If people don't know the business results they are not empowered or totally engaged in the process - which also means they can't make better decisions.
4. Have an agreed cover strategy and make changes gradually – this is particularly true if you are also considering a masthead change. You don’t want to morph into a completely different magazine overnight and alienate your readership and advertisers. Consider exactly why you’re making the change and if you can - find data to guide and support the decision making process. Often the editor has the sole responsibility of cover selection, however it never hurts to tap into all the "consumers" around you and ask for feedback from other areas of your business (e.g. finance, advertising, marketing and circulation) and actually listen to what is being said.
5. Know whether you’re selling “pleasure gain” or “pain avoidance” and market your cover accordingly. Customers are motivated to buy for two very different reasons; to gain pleasure (e.g. BMW) or to avoid pain (e.g. insurance). Get into the psyche of your readers and give them what they're looking for and solve their problems. Pull out 5 or 6 features (minimum) that will appeal to your target audience and perhaps another which might draw in casual readers (for example list articles, special features, best of the year etc.).
What are your golden rules and do you know your cover poison?
Fine Print Blog
Musings about magazines.
I'm a magazine sales and marketing consultant from Sydney, Australia.