4 Tips for Creating Attention-Grabbing Covers for the Newsstand
I like to think of the newsstand as one of the best direct marketing tools. It's all consumer response.
Now more than ever there is a need for niche publishers to realize mainline magazine displays are crowded. A full title retailer like a major U.S. bookstore chain typically has an active file of 5,000 titles. The best magazine racks provide only a few titles with full cover display and the majority of magazines on the mainline receive a display of approximately 4 square inches of the cover’s top left corner.
Why then do many editors and art directors refuse to put copy or bold colors on their covers or on this key piece of real estate? When you drop mail by "traditional methods" you would never send out an attractive photo and no benefit copy on the outer envelope for a new subscription effort. When you're marketing online, you would not leave an email subject line blank and have no offer, whether it is as simple as a clothing e-tailer or a food magazine. Without a strong subject line offering "Top 16 Must Have Styles For Men under $10" or “Easy To Make Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie," why would a recipient open the hard copy or the digital offer?
Looking at a variety of magazine newsstand sales histories a few items are very clear. Issue to issue, unless a title is a very poor seller or it is in a promotion, the number of copies distributed and the number of retail outlets receiving copies do not change.
The one variable issue to issue is the cover image and headlines.
As a consultant, I track sales and provide clients with a monthly report showing sales and identifying trends for the title. Do desserts sell better than seafood? Do black covers sell better than bright covers? Does larger type sell better than small type?
So as the new cover is being designed I can comfortably comment that this type treatment (or lack thereof) or image will be a strong newsstand seller (or not). Sometimes I get comments that appreciate my input, most times I hear that "we received a letter that a person is interested in this" (Note: A Person) or “this works for X or Y magazine” (but that magazine is in a different category), and I won't mention the disparaging remarks about me being a circulator.
My point, we have to reach out to consumers by providing them with:
1. An eye-catching cover that makes the title stand out from the hundreds of other titles on the rack. This might be a burst in the upper left corner, a strong sky bar message, or a bright color that makes the cover pop in the supermarket or bookstore. Someone is scanning the rack for 30 to 60 seconds. Just like your direct response piece, you have to stand out from the rest of the mail received that day before it is put into Trash.
2. A cover that avoids "insider's" headline. Newsstand is an impulse buy. Not everyone knows the ins and outs of your title. If the cover is designed for subscribers who have committed to the title by subscribing, you may be losing a new reader or the "newsstand subscriber" that buys 2 to 3 issues a year of a magazine. Using myself as an example I subscribed to Esquire for many years -- at such a low subscription price why not -- but I threw away at least 10 issues a year because I was not interested in the cover subject. I am a "Dubious Achievement Awards" and "Women We Love" subscriber. So I look for, and buy these issues in the store. Maybe, there will be another issue that appeals to me and I'll buy it but not the other nine. I don't think I am alone and this can also impact renewals. If the newest issue went directly to the trash pile and the renewal effort is received, will they consider not renewing as well?
3. Cover designs that demonstrate an understanding of your subscriber. The best example I can give is back in 1983, PC Magazine covers tended to be hardware driven. A great photo of a monitor or disk drive and the sales were outstanding. We did a cover, reminiscent of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" video with a blond model sitting on a desk, cross legged in a provocative pose which we thought was great. Readers responded. Newsstand sales were very soft and subscribers wrote to tell us "DON'T EVER DO THIS AGAIN," "IF WE WANTED SEXY WOMEN WE'D BUY OTHER MAGAZINES." Not all subscribers will write in but enough did and the response from the newsstand was so bad, we learned and only put hardware or software packages on the cover for all future issues.
4. Covers that work in the real world. Art directors, one of the draw backs of digital production is you lose sight of how a cover looks in the real world. It's just you and the monitor. Colors are bright, you're sitting 12 inches away from the screen and all looks wonderful. You share the image with the editors and staff and get comments, all from a digital perspective of a full cover display. The real world is not like that. Print the cover in color. Have a newsstand rack or shelf in your department. Put the cover on the rack next to competitive titles, and give it a partial display. Step back at least 4 feet from the rack. How does your cover stand out against the others? Can it be read? Is it bright? Would you buy it?
Remember, the newsstand browser does not know the editorial value until they pick up the magazine. The newsstand is direct marketing too. Covers must be bright, bold, and deliver a strong reason to respond.
John Morthanos is a circulation consultant specializing in niche and
special interest publications. He was Vice President Specialty Sales at
Curtis Circulation Company, Vice President Single Copy Sales at Primedia
Special Interest Publications and Cowles Magazines, Circulation Director
at Viare Publishing, and Circulation Marketing Director at Ziff Davis