Days before last week’s debut of The New Republic’s redesign, its new cover was posted and circulating around the web. The buzz was on, and people were tweeting and commenting on it before the magazine itself was even available for viewing. Today, every editor and art director thinks about creating a magazine cover that can go viral, that will work at multiple sizes on a wide variety of displays and platforms and create hype. Along with this, websites like Coverjunkie, NASCAPAS, and others are now providing a visual forum for magazine covers from all over the world to be displayed and distributed.
The Coverjunkie site just celebrated its second anniversary. It was launched in late 2010, the brainchild of Dutch art director Jaap Biemans [pictured below], who has done cover designs for the weekly Intermediair and the glossy, Vanity Fair-like Hollands Diep, before moving over to art direct Volkskrant Magazine, the weekly magazine supplement of a large Dutch newspaper (it’s basically The New York Times Magazine of the Netherlands). Biemans recognized early on that for many publications, the days of covers getting “heat” on the newsstand were a thing of the past. To date he’s posted over 11,500 covers, and Coverjunkie has become a daily must-destination for magazine art directors around the world.
Biemans interned at a design firm in NYC in the late 90s, and that New York experience has informed his design and editorial sensibilities. And while Coverjunkie has a definite global reach, he has a big soft spot for very American style-magazine cover design, as well as for the funky, gonzo-style designs of altweekly newspapers like The Village Voice.
What sets Coverjunkie apart from other cover sites is both the quantity of posts, and the fact that it’s well-organized and highly searchable. Biemans collects covers by publication, theme (9/11, split-run, premier issues), and art director, and he also publishes complete credit information, a rarity. His tastes are very egalitarian; there’s a healthy mix of consumer, mass market, enthusiast, trade, city and regional, and altweekly covers, with selections from Italy, England, Germany, Russian, and of course, The Netherlands. He also has a strong social media presence on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, which helps spread the Coverjunkie cover selects fast and far.
Coverjunkie is a one-person labor of love for Biemans, but it’s a project that is helping to redefine the essence of how magazines design and promote their covers. In a recent interview, Biemans gave the lowdown on how he puts the site together, and what makes a good Coverjunkie cover.
Why did you start Coverjunkie?
Biemans: I wanted to celebrate creativity in magazine design, to spread the love for ace cover design. And it was also a response to the “print is dead” statement, which I think is a lot of rubbish! I think a cover is more than just about selling itself, it’s also a reflection of our visual culture. On Coverjunkie you can see this reflection from all around the world, as well as from different decades. How do you find the covers you post? Biemans: I browse the good old newsstand and look online and on Twitter. Right now I get 10-15 covers a day by email, some good, some bad. The best thing about Coverjunkie is that some mags send me hard copies. I love that; it gives me a fab feeling.
How do you select what goes on Coverjunkie?
Biemans: Posting everything would be impossible; I get too many covers sent to me. I post the most creative ones, the remarkable ones, the covers that stand out. The hardest part about Coverjunkie is editing the covers and then telling art directors that their covers are not creative enough, and that I can’t post them. I try to email everyone to explain. I hate disappointing people because I know they’re trying to create sweet stuff. But again, I have to be rigorous; when there are weak covers on the website it loses its strength.
What makes a good magazine cover?
Biemans: It’s the creativity that counts. My motto on the site is “covers that smack you in the face or that you want to lick!” I think the ace cover contains news, a vibe, and creativity. Most of the covers have only two out of three of these ingredients. But when it carries three out of three you have an epic one. For many magazines, newsstand used to be the big indicator, but it’s increasingly not that important, at least not in the U.S. I think a cover these days is more about making a statement instead of selling. It’s about creating a vibe that the reader likes (or maybe dislikes). A magazine cover is part of a brand, a very important part because it has a soul and it can give feeling and depth to a brand.
What magazines do you think consistently do the most interesting or memorable covers?
Biemans: I definitely prefer magazines that use a different approach with each cover, who use their cover design to make a statement or to spark and surprise their readers. I like The New Yorker when they put newsy items on their covers. And I think The New York Times Magazine and New York rock it hard. Bloomberg Businessweek, they’re crazy, and what I like about them is that creative director Richard Turley and his team take charge and are very brave. I love all the altweeklies from the U.S., like SF Weekly and San Antonio Current! They don’t have big budgets but they create extraordinary stuff. There’s Spanish Metropoli, Texas Monthly, Vice, IL from Italy, Wired from the U.S., UK and Italy, Suddeutsche Zeitung Magazin from Germany….
What advice do you have for editors, art directors and others to create great magazine covers?
Biemans: Three things: guts, guts, and guts. Mix that with talented designers with soul and a fab editor to create the best headlines. I’m a strong believer that creativity brings great pleasure to readers, whether it’s on an iPad, website, magazine or even cellphone. I don’t care as long as it’s well-designed and made with soul.