Magazines Must Be Compelling, Outside And In
We spend a lot of time finding the most appealing image and compelling copy lines for our covers, and I'm sure you do the same at your publication. I learned from my years in the book business that the old adage about not judging a book by its cover is completely untrue. You can tell quite a bit from a cover, and most readers do-they make snap judgments about whether something is worth reading, about whether they will actually turn the page and see what's inside.
At a recent conference (The ACT 4 Experience hosted by Samir Husni's Magazine Innovation Center), I was asked to lead a panel discussion about Creating Editorial Content That Sells. Panelist Steve Slon, editor-in-chief and associate publisher of The Saturday Evening Post, jumped right in and immediately began talking about cover lines. They are, he believes, the single most important thing editorial can do to sell copies. Art is obviously also crucial -- Slon made the decision to switch from the Rockwellian art longtime Post readers had come to expect to something new that would give the magazine a fresh look.
This month, many publications are featuring President John F. Kennedy on their covers in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his assassination. The Saturday Evening Post actually published a replica edition of their original Kennedy In Memoriam issue published December 14, 1963. When I saw the beautiful drawing of Kennedy on the cover, I liked it so much I wanted to use it on ours. Our senior editor Denis Wilson did not approve: "It has nothing to do with what's inside," he emphatically reminded me.
That important link is something we all keep in mind. Provocative and visually appealing covers with compelling copy are key, but without the substance to back them up, there's no there there, and readers will not engage. So yes, you can judge a book or a magazine by its cover, but if the content doesn't back up the package, readers will be judging it not worth their time. So what's the best thing we can do to create editorial that sells? Create good editorial!