Connect with FOLIO:


FOLIO: Personalities -- The Blog People Page

JC Suares

State of the Art of the Newsstand

JC Suares Design and Production - 11/15/2011-10:28 AM

If you're in the business of creating, recreating, designing or, God forbid, rescuing magazines on life support, you need to know what the state of the art is at this point.

You don't have to look very far. The dozen or so titles that define the latest details in packaging are on your newsstand.

Some sell well and some very well. And some very well for the past few decades. Examining them amounts to a master's degree in magazine crafts from how to construct a great cover to what's sexy with fashion photography and trendy typography thrown in.


1. Typography
If you want to look up-to-date these days try using very, very condensed sans-serif type. NEW BEAUTY ($9.95 at your newsstand) does it very well issue after issue. However, I can't guarantee that it won't look tired by next year. It's an old rule: the trendier you are, the faster you fall.





2. Info-graphics
Thanks to the legendary Nigel Holmes (graphics "that try to explain things"), TIME made info-graphics an integral part of the magazine since it was re-designed by the great Walter Bernard over 30 years ago. The graphics are more glorious and more frequent than ever. Seems sometimes that most stories come with a chart, a table, a map or a list.





3. Front of the Book
You can pretty much figure out how a magazine is trying to position itself by the importance it puts on the pages that precede the well.How one constructs the front of the book has become a science, from the length of the pieces, to the frequency of graphics and columnists. Esquire wants to attract young men with buying power and it does it in a skillful, literate way. No junky graphics, no quick fixes. And for the first 110 pages of the current issue.



4. Back of the Book
Bloomberg BusinessWeek gets high marks for everything from the reportage to the graphics. However, the only part that doesn't take itself too seriously and is habit-forming is the Etc. section. It's fast-moving and funny and makes no pretense at being useful. Check out "Great Moments in Nepotism", the only article in the issue that will stay with you.




5. Cutting Edge Design
Before there was Conde Nast's Wired, there was Wired. Wired only pays homage to itself and surprises all the time. Some of the graphics need a guide book but the overall package is always amazing.







6. Fashion Photography
Karl Lagerfeld's photographs of the latest couture in Harper's Bazaar are not 100 percent professional but they're straight-forward and totally up-to-date in a strange way.







7. The Sexiest Magazine
ESPN The Body Issue. Ordinary people who happen to be athletes who happen to be sexier than models and movie stars.








8. How to Talk to Women
Cosmopolitan's genius at knowing how to write edgy cover lines that barely avoid the magazine from being sold in a brown bag is still on a roll after 40 years. Although some buzz words have come and gone (last year it was "revenge"), there are still always three mentions of sex.






9. How To Talk to a Generation
Rolling Stone, like nobody else, has always known how to earmark everything that interests its audience from music to technology to politics. To say that it's influential is an understatement (it was one of the first magazines to run Candidate Obama on the cover) and its mix of cover lines is always a good barometer of current popular culture.





10. How to Look Useful
New York is the original service magazine. It's hit some high notes before but Adam Moss has redefined the state of the art. New York is packed with useful stuff presented with obsessive detail. It's the ultimate survival guide to the City and it's thicker and sells more copies than ever before.





11. How To Wow Them on the Newsstands
Vanity Fair picks big stars and big stories and world class gossip presented in elegant ways. The magazine's covers always stand out, the main headline is usually the name of the cover subject. I've counted the words on VF covers for months at a time and the average has consistently been 70, which you might also consider the state of the art.




12. How to Keep Them Coming
The New Yorker, since 1925. Newsstand copies of the magazine get a flap with the headlines on it. The result is one and a half covers: a full-bleed cartoon plus all the best magazine writing in America clearly listed separately.


JC Suares

The 10 Dumbest Things I've Heard All Year

JC Suares Editorial - 08/02/2011-08:55 AM

When you deal with a lot of people in a lot of places and have a lot of conversations, along with the brilliant stuff comes very dumb stuff as well.

Inexperienced voices should be forgiven but when the big and powerful make appalling statements you have to ask yourself how they ever got their jobs in the first place.

Here are some of the ones that have left me most incredulous.

This very respected intellectual quarterly just couldn't manage more sales in bookstores and it was clear that using a single vague cover line consisting of either one word or two (including the usual gerund) was the culprit. The editor was presented with a re-worked cover consisting of a longer main headline (with a verb) accompanied by a deck and six other cover lines that represented the best things in the next issue.

His response: "I don't want to give away the content of the magazine on the cover. You don't get it: people will be fascinated by the cryptic headline and buy the magazine to see what's inside."

Of course, the magazine is still tanking and, curiously enough, the guy still has his job.

Referring to a photograph of two large cement balls as a cover image to illustrate a story about Alzheimer disease, a former publisher of Discover actually made this statement.

The staff still talks (and laughs) about it. However, he may have been half-right because the issue in question sold rather well in the end.

Everybody knows that buffed models sell health and fitness magazines. However, following a series of useless, confusing and expensive focus groups, this editor concluded that, "it's clear to me that 45 year-olds want to look at people their own age, not at dumb models." I haven't seen the magazine in months.

Take this Midwest trade magazine, which looks like it was last redesigned in 1970 by the cast of Happy Days. The publisher has finally agreed to a revamp. His anxiety: " I don't want to see too many improvements because I think that a lot of readers will be confused and not know what they're looking at." OK, I'll do a lousy job.

This is the conclusion that a very well respected editor of several history magazines came up with. He's forgiven because he was looking at Wired without his usual very thick glasses.

The editor of a jewelry magazine actually said that when the issue of a clear contents page and flawless navigation came up. She was overruled.

Confronted with a deadly article with no redeeming qualities, the managing editor of a legendary publishing trade magazine, seriously suggested that a headline be written that mentioned Lindsay Lohan despite the fact that she was not mentioned in the article. "This way we'll have them fooled and they'll start reading the article." True story.

The art director of a big-time health and fitness title in California made an appalling presentation where every rule of good design was violated with weird picture crops, too many color tints and outdated fonts.

Her response to people's agonizing howls: "don't you want to look different?" Their answer: maybe. But we first want to look good.

This is an exact quote and its author was the editor of a slick West Coast gossip magazine, which has since folded.

The 55+ editor of a city magazine refused to improve the magazine's web site. He said that he was afraid that people would go to the web and stop reading the magazine.

Never mind that the web presents the best opportunity to attract a new, younger audience. And who said that you could stop progress anyway?

JC Suares

Grading the Tina Brown Newsweek

JC Suares Consumer - 04/14/2011-13:46 PM

For all the fuss that Newsweek is chaperoning a new era in journalism with the print and online versions soldered together, Newsweek, in fact, is a throwback to another century.

This is because everything that appears in the magazine is dictated by one person's tastes. The big question is this: can Tina Brown's world be of constant interest to a couple of million people?

On one hand, I admire her extreme confidence; but on the other, I worry that she's sometimes off the mark.

Take this week's cover with Kate (Kate the Great) Middleton. Is there anything that Newsweek can bring to that royal party that People and US wouldn't do better?

The deck announces "In a world gone to hell-thank God, a wedding". Really? A wedding is going to bring back ten thousand tsunami victims, exile Kaddafi to Switzerland, bring back $1.20 a gallon gas and stop the ice cap from melting?

In fact, Newsweek's cover is relying on what makes The Daily Beast fun: gossip. Every cover line is either a gossip story (Kate, Madonna's African charity) or a gossipy take on an existing story (male-rape in the military, Sarkozy's supposed war advisor, Syria's evil ruling class). But is any of this indispensable?

There's good news however. Newsweek has greatly improved its design and overall packaging.

1. The cover: There is now more than a single cover line, which was the last regime's limit. There are at least five stories and, most important, cover story number two, above the flag.

The bad? There's no eye contact from Kate. Maybe it's a deliberate choice not to have eye contact this time, but eye contact has proven effective on covers because it makes them more accessible. Out of 69 covers on my local newsstand, I counted 65 with people and all of them were looking at the reader.

2. Pictures: They were considered a nuisance under the last regime but they're back. And most of them have captions.

Best new addition is NEWS GALLERY, which consists of several double page pictures from around the world with long captions, something that would have been unheard of a few weeks ago.

There are a number of mini picture essays. Most are gossip-based and superficial. Dumbest of the bunch is a group comparing Kate to Diana. Did you know that they both wore khaki sweaters? Now you do, thanks to Newsweek.

3. Navigation: It goes from a D before to an A now. The body type is easier to read, the headlines come with decks and there are pull-quotes to break-up grey pages.

4. Graphics: There's a concerted effort to bow to the state of the art with side bars, info-graphics and time-lines.

The most ominous is a two-page chart right out of the old SPY magazine called THE DESPOT INDEX which compares ten dictators around the world.

The stuff is fun; however, by no means indispensable. Did you know that Kim Joong-Il's trademark is matching pajamas? Did you know that Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko's vice is roller-skating?

Now you know, thanks to Newsweek.

5. Pet Peeves:

*Dumb section names: "The Big Fat Story" is especially irritating.

*Me-too graphics: "Conventional Wisdom" which sports arrows pointing up and down looks like it's been xeroxed out of Time.

*Gratuitous pictures: A full page portrait of a model pretending to be a repentant Marine illustrates "The Military Secret Shame". It's clearly not a news picture, but will everybody know it?

JC Suares

Cover Critique: Glamour Makes ‘Em Feel Good

JC Suares Design and Production - 07/20/2010-09:25 AM

There are no stars in Glamour, this year’s winner of ASME's Magazine of the Year category. There are mostly average-looking women in their early 20s looking thrilled to be there.

Glamour positions itself as the Champion of the Average. It’s accessible, empowering, useful and happy. It’s the anti-chic, anti-supermodel, anti-bitch bible of the majority, even though sometimes the magazine confuses its readers with the average zombie.

“Glamour never ceases to make me feel like a million bucks”, writes reader Alison Wilhelm of Southbridge, Massachusetts, “thank you for recognizing that women of all shapes and sizes and colors are unique and beautiful” (page 30).

The August 2010 cover does its best not to be elitist or controversial starting with the model, semi-celebrity and “Zac’s Best Friend”, Vanessa Hudgens (“I love animals, love, love, love, love animals”, page 143). She’s so average that she might go unnoticed if not for the two docile ASPCA kittens she’s holding.

The six cover stories are all service or advice including two health-related ones. The one possible think-piece candidate, Glamour columnist Katie Couric interviewing Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the legendary ocean explorer, didn’t make the cut.

Every cover line is accompanied by a deck. Five out of the six decks have a verb in them. Two out of the three most effective buzzwords have made it to the cover. “Sexiest” and “free” are very evident. The only one missing is “new”. The main cover story, “The Sexiest Jeans for Your Body”, is backed by a medallion that promises free jeans inside. The story includes models, pedestrians, readers and other subjects wearing all kinds of jeans. They’re mostly under $100, although a single pair of Armanis at $295 has sneaked in. Jeans are the uniform of the masses. You couldn’t pick anything less controversial. Glamour points out inside that this is The Jeans Issue. It’s no doubt a guaranteed money-maker year in and year out.

The cover design combines day-glo pink with red and black cover lines against the all-purpose white background. You can see the pink logo from ten feet away on the newsstands. Glamour’s 70 words of cover lines show great skill in communicating with its readers and with its even larger potential audience.

Glamour’s trick is to address the reader directly, “Find your perfect pair”, “Do the quick self-check today”, “Don’t worry, your boss does it too”. The results are two-fold: they help create a sense of community and they make everyone in the audience feel counted—no matter how average they are.

JC Suares

Summer Covers: What’s Hot and What’s Not

JC Suares Design and Production - 07/07/2010-11:13 AM

With its July issue, GQ writes the rules for creating a cool cover. They’re not complicated rules and they should be of help to just about anybody worried about lagging behind in perception by newsstand buyers. Esquire’s June/July cover gets caught with a potential loser in Knight and Day star Tom Cruise, trips up on its own cover lines and design, but wins points for its service orientation.

Rule One: Pick a cover subject under 20. Taylor Lautner can hardly act but he’s hit the jackpot by playing a werewolf in the Twilight movies. And, most of all, he was born in 1992.

Rule Two:
Write 100 words’ worth of cover lines without looking crowded. Some of the text is small but there’s plenty of room to spare and it’s easy to read.

Rule Three: Use nothing but caps. Caps are supposed to be harder to read but when they’re set in a modern sans serif font they’re, in fact, very manageable.

Rule Four: Set all the type in either black, red or silver.

Rule Five: Use a white background. Sill the most effective attention getter on the newsstands.

Rule Six:
Label your best reportage SPECIAL REPORT

Rule Seven: Switch the traditional placements around. Instead of appearing on the top left, under the logo, the main headline is the top right hand corner where the snipe usually appears. The snipe is now on the right where the less important cover lines should go: they’re on the left this time.

Rule Eight: Unlike Men’s Health, put the styling credits on the inside instead of the cover.

Esquire’s June/July cover sold its soul to Hollywood publicists to score Tom Cruise. But the summer release, Knight and Day, got demeaning reviews across the board. The result is that the cover is pitching a loser, but that’s not all.

Uncool: The main headline HOW TO BE A MAN. It doesn’t work in combination with Scientologist Tom Cruise. I’ll leave it at that.

Uncool: YOUR BALLS, a cover line that may have shocked us in 1968, but that was a long time ago. Now it just sounds dirty.

Uncool: The messy design had its day three years ago. Now it looks tired and vain. In fact, the cover is so messy that it’s run out of room after 40 words.

There’s no mention of Jennifer Lawrence, the prettiest person in the issue.

Uncool: No mention either of the 25-page MaHB (Man at His Best) section. Funny how magazines forget their perennials.

Cool: Esquire’s cover lines have page numbers. Except for Reader’s Digest, they’re found mostly on trade magazine covers, but they’re being used more and more because they save time.

Except for fashion and food, GQ makes no attempt at being useful while Esquire is all service. It’s paid off before and will, no doubt, work this time regardless of the uninspired choice of cover subject.

JC Suares

Battle of the Magazine Covers: The Atlantic vs. Harper's

JC Suares Design and Production - 03/24/2010-08:54 AM

One would think that at least one of two magazines that have been competing for attention on the newsstands for a combined 200 years would be a bit savvier about what they put on their covers. It seems as if neither the Atlantic (founded in 1857) nor Harper's (founded in 1850) have learned many lessons about newsstand culture over the past 100 years or so, let alone the past five or six.

God knows both magazines have lived through many a crisis. They've managed to survive near-bankruptcy and sudden changes of editors (Harper's) as well as new owners, new editors and having to abandon their native city after 150 years (The Atlantic) and yet, they're better magazines than they've ever been (although Harper's needs a redesign).

If only the covers followed some basic rules:
1. Does the cover really tell you what's inside?
2. Is the main headline compelling?
3. Is the main image compelling?
4. Are you blowing your horn?

Harper's main headline “The Vanishing Liberal” is accompanied by a bland illustration of headless bodies, some holding signs—proof that the editors meddled. Unless you're attracted to depressing 5,000+ word essays, there is nothing in the combination of the two that might make you want to pick up the magazine. If only the cover were clearer and gave the reason liberals are vanishing. To quote from the piece: "No other president in our history had so thoroughly spurned his political base in so short a time.” Does that mean that Obama betrayed the liberals who voted for him? Are we getting somewhere now?

Harper's uses a New Yorker-like flap to sell newsstands. It's gratifying to see that they've sold advertising on the flip side of the flap, but the flap itself is underused. They should look at the New Yorker's and count the words. They should also look at the pecking order and the clever use of decks with each cover line.

Number of elements on the single contents page: 20
Number of stories on the cover: 6
Number of bylines: 6
Number of stories on the flap: 5
Number of times the autism piece is mentioned on the flap: 2
Number of times “Exclusive” and “Special Report” are used on the cover: 0
Number of depressing pieces out of 6: 5
Number of pieces translated from other languages: 3

The Atlantic’s Obama cover package, “Why He’s Right” doesn't exist. It's a compilation of three pieces in different parts of the magazine, none of which claim that Obama is right about anything. In fact, the “On the Economy” cover line refers to “Inside Man,” Joshua Green's 10,000-word piece on Timothy Geithner, which is by far the longest in the magazine. By the looks of the pictures, it's obvious that Geithner was headed for the cover, but the editors must have had second thoughts when they realized that their subject was slated to appear in a half-dozen other magazines, including Vogue.

The main headline would have benefited from a long, chatty deck that cleared up “Why He’s Right” and tied the three articles under a single umbrella but, as it is, it's got no clarity, no drama—even Obama is looking in the distance—and, therefore, no impact.

Number of entry points on the three contents pages: 27
Number of stories on the cover: 7
Number of bylines: 3
Number of decks: 0
Number of times Exclusive” and “Special Report” are used on the cover: 0

Final grades:
Harper's: C
The Atlantic: C

JC Suares

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

JC Suares Design and Production - 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