Magazine Covers Still Matter -- Because Understanding The World Is Valuable
As should happen when you see a very well done magazine cover, I paused for a moment when I saw BloombergBusinessweek's cover on Twitter's IPO last week. I did so because it simply and beautifully encapsulated what the Twitter IPO represents -- a social media tool that seemed to be a silly little thing just a few years ago had achieved Wall Street-levels of sophistication.
The cover gave me second pause because it is really good, and clearly a lot of thought and effort went into it. I wondered: why bother? These days when magazine issues appear as tiny app icons on mobile and tablet devices, what use is it investing resources in a fancy cover.
Let's look at a page from the not-too-distant past of music industry, which I happen to think is a good analogy for what publishing is experiencing these days. Way back in the 90's, everybody said that CDs we're destroying the album-cover-as-art. "You can't have as much detail on a 4"x4" CD case as you can on the large canvas vinyl covers," they said. Then the iPod and the iTunes browser came along and album covers shrunk further. For shame!
By the logic of the day, the practice of thinking about and designing an album cover should be as dead as disco. Well, tell that to the thousands of bands creating amazing, artistic album covers. No really, take a look at the homepage of the innovative online music platform Bandcamp. On the homepage, they appear relatively small, but click through and the album is displayed larger. Click again and it is larger still.
So why do starving musicians invest in album art in the digital era? Because they know it lends an identity and sense of cohesion to their music. Even if the songs on a given album are drastically different in musical and lyrical themes, the cover tells the potential listeners and customers what the album and band is about before they even click play. The cover artwork (along with the title) serves as a theme that can be used in marketing campaigns, on posters and t-shirts.
Magazine covers do the same, but magazine websites still struggle with how to display magazine issue content online, especially artwork. The landing pages for the "current issue" of magazines never have the impact that magazine covers do -- that is, if you can even find the tab for the magazine.
In a nutshell, magazine covers help people understand the world better. I saw the Bloomberg Twitter cover and said something corny to myself, like, "Ah-ha, the world has indeed been changed by social media. The times they are a changin." When you see those year-in-review reels around New Year's Eve, magazine covers are almost always featured because they so well concentrate the events that have transpired over the past year.
For the same reason we see publications that were born online -- Pitchfork or The Awl, for example -- are gravitating toward digital magazines, because issue-based content can offer a cohesion of thought and design that the web struggles with. They want to matter more, and a collection or issue with a cover matters more because someone has taken the time to help me make sense of it all.
Denis Wilson is the content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzes and reports on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aims to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.