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Battle of the Magazine Covers: Vogue vs. Harper’s Bazaar

Does their expertise extend to their sense of self-promotion?


JC Suares By JC Suares
02/23/2010 -15:41 PM






Buy the most recent issues of both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and you'll have a total of 1,000 pages of fabulous spring fashion previews, including the most beautiful photography on the planet and the most lavish ads anywhere.

It's hard to tell which magazine is better than the other because they're both equally savvy, colorful, upbeat, gossipy and fun. But does their expertise in fashion journalism extend to their sense of self-promotion? Do their covers really tell you what's inside? The truth is that, in both cases, the inside is better than the outside.

God knows that they both try hard to have an impact on the newsstand, but the work is formulaic at best, let alone trying to elevate the state of the art like it did for decades at a time. Bazaar is the more cautious of the two with a close-up of old reliable, back-from-the-dog-house Kate Moss. There are only two verbs (out of 32 words) on the cover and every cover line has run before including a litany of buzz words which have been tested 100 times: Exclusive, Best, Special, Win, New, Chic, Cheap, Secrets, Now.

Trouble is that constant overuse of these words is turning them into spam or, as Shape editor-in-chief Valerie Latona calls them, white noise. Bazaar should consider more adventurous images on the cover. A quick flip through yields many exciting pictures, including some cutting edge ones that would certainly appeal to a younger audience and others that would at least give a welcome hint of the great fashion inside.

Also missing on the cover are several articles, which certainly would have newsstand appeal:

1. Paloma Picasso's Moroccan "manse"
2. Eight pages of pictures by the one-and-only Karl Lagerfeld
3. Six pages of the divine Cindy Crawford
4. An interview with Sarah Palin skeptic Katie Couric

I even prefer the inside headline “Step Into Spring: The New Shapes” to the chosen main headline.

With 50 words on the cover, the latest issue of Vogue sports a gold logo. The attention-grabbing image is a very sexy Tina Fey who should do well on the newsstand although she's not a fashion icon. With 10 entry points, Vogue manages to throw out a fairly big net by offering a mix of fashion and serious articles, even a workout “that works.”

Articles inside include interviews with Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geitner and Twilight star Robert Pattinson. However, there is no hint (except in general terms like "visionaries,” "influencers" and "muses") of the fabulous fashion spreads on the inside. Who are the visionaries? Who are the muses? Where were some of these world-class spreads shot? What are the cutting edge fashion themes so beautifully shown inside? And what does '"The Power of Fashion" mean anyway?

With the type covering over 50 percent of the real estate, Bazaar hardly lets the image breathe. Vogue shows more self-assurance and manages almost twice as many words in half the space. This permits the picture to take over the cover as opposed to the other way around. Vogue avoids spam and concentrates on cover lines that project a sense of timing. Everything seems up to date or looking into the future.

Vogue’s best covers have always been the ones with spectacular pictures and a minimum of type. Unfortunately, the era of minimal text is probably over because of the intense competition on the newsstands. I've found that some women's magazine have 100 words on the cover with a dozen cover lines meant to appeal to every reader from the core to the wannabes.

Nevertheless, one can't help longing for the days when Vogue and Bazaar broke ground with every issue and when the true DNA of the two titles was clearly reflected on the covers instead of just inside.

Final grades: Vogue, A-, Harper's Bazaar, B





JC Suares By JC Suares -- JC Suares has been working as a creative consultant for more than 100 magazines in the U.S. and Canada over the past 10 years. He has worked with publications such ESPN, Fast Company and INC to improve their newsstand performance.

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