Why did you pick up that magazine, anyway?

The art of crafting engaging covers

While custom magazines don’t typically compete with other titles on the newsstand, employing tactics by those that stand out among hundreds of other titles can make a big difference in readership. Why? No matter where or how your publication is distributed, the competition is still fierce for your readers’ time and attention. Regardless of whether a magazine is for sale, mailed or simply competing for a flip-through at the doctor’s office, cover design comes down to one imperative goal: grab attention.

A cover has approximately three seconds to wow before it’s overlooked. That’s why making all the basic tenets for composition, type, color and copy work well together is so important. And why large consumer magazines spend hours upon hours gathering feedback from focus groups, editorial, design and circulation to achieve that “newsstand friendliness” factor.

Take Road King, which Parthenon publishes for TravelCenters of America. It is distributed through more than 160 truckstop locations across the country. Like all other magazines, it must engage the reader so he or she will pick it up. The May/June 2008 cover is a great example of each element working together to capture the reader’s attention and then lure them inside. It’s straightforward, but with enough dazzle to stand out and get noticed across the room. Here’s some basic cover wisdom we always keep in mind:

  • Don’t lose your brand. The name of your magazine is an important element that readers have come to trust. Readers can identify magazines like National Geographic or Sports Illustrated without being able to read the name. Others, with less famous identities, need to be careful about hiding their brands behind a great photo.
  • Don’t tease what you can’t deliver. “Lose 10 Pounds By Tuesday” may be a huge attention-grabber, but readers will feel alienated if it’s really just a roundup of reduce-fat-and-workout-more advice they’ve heard a million times.
  • The focus of the image or artwork must be clear and tell the story. It shouldn’t have to rely solely on the adjacent coverline for explanation. The tighter the crop, the greater the photo’s impact. Intimacy lures readers in.
  • Coverlines should be service-oriented and make the reader want to turn inside. The most important coverline should be set aside graphically from the rest, with a distinctive font, size and color treatment. Make the copy enticing and stick to active tense. Remember, too, that numbers are irresistible sellers: “One driver, 28 years, 3.75 million miles.”

Think about a cover that’s caught you off guard lately in the supermarket – or that was so captivating from years ago, you decided to keep it. What made it so classic? The American Society of Magazine Editors compiled a list of their Top 40 covers of the past 40 years and their cover finalists for 2008.