Connect with FOLIO:


FOLIO: Personalities -- The Blog People Page

Robert Newman

Are You a Cover Junkie?

Robert Newman Design and Production - 01/31/2013-10:49 AM


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.


Robert Newman

Behind Mother Jones’s Recent Dual Cover Strategy

Robert Newman Consumer - 10/12/2012-13:59 PM


For their November/December 2012 issue, the editors and creative director at Mother Jones decided to do a split run cover, with a completely different cover story and image for subscribers and newsstand buyers.

Subscribers get “No Way Out,” a long-form investigative piece on solitary confinement in California state prisons written by Shane Bauer, who himself was imprisoned in Iran for 26 months, six in solitary, when he was picked up on the Iraq border in 2009. The cover image is a realistic illustration by Tim O’Brien of a tormented man in a prison cell.

The newsstand cover story is “Sweet Little Lies,” a story by Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens about the sugar industry’s 40-year long campaign to cover up evidence about the bad affects of the sweet stuff: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and its addictive nature. For that cover, also an illustration by Tim O’Brien, there’s a pitcher of Kool-Aid with a grinning skull superimposed on it.  (Note that on the newsstand the issue is simply dated December 2012.) By Mother Jones standards this is considered a lighter, more accessible story!

“No Way Out is a great story, but we felt that it might not sell that well on newsstands, where the potential buyer is not as familiar with our magazine,” says Mother Jones creative director Tim J Luddy.

Early last year Mother Jones did another split cover for similar reasons. Editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery wrote about their decision for the January/February 2011 issue to put a story about gang rape in Haiti on the subscriber cover, but deliver a newsstand cover story that highlighted the pot business: “As compelling as all that is in a story, it’s a tough sell on the newsstand. Even assuming that anyone tempted to buy this magazine probably isn’t expecting cheerful (our joke is that the Mother Jones tagline should be ‘It’s Worse Than You Think’), rape gangs are pretty heavy stuff to hit a new reader with on our first encounter.”

That both current covers were illustrated by Tim O’Brien was more by chance than design, says Luddy. “I did a separate set of conceptual sketches for the Sugar and Solitary covers. Once we decided on final ideas, it just happened that Tim was our top choice for each image.”

The actual cost for producing and printing two separate covers for Mother Jones is minimal, since they already print different covers with a UPC code and a subscriber address. And Mother Jones does its own in-house proofing. As Luddy says, “The only additional cost is the extra wear and tear to the creative director and editors,” along with the additional fee for the illustrator or photographer.

How does Mother Jones handle the covers on other platforms? On their website, or for any online editorial use, they rotate between the two. For their Zinio app or other digital versions that require a cover, they use the newsstand version. For development and fundraising, they use the subscriber cover, since according to Luddy, “That’s the kind of story our donors like to support.” For circulation (blow-in cards, etc.), however, they go back to the newsstand version.

Are split covers worth the effort and is there a payoff? There’s a long history of entertainment magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly doing multiple covers. But they usually promote the same story, albeit with different cover images (like doing a separate cover for each cast member of Lost). It’s much less common to take the Mother Jones approach, although idiosyncrasy for a smaller independent title can work to its advantage.

When I was creative director at Reader’s Digest we tried a similar split cover strategy for several issues, but found that it confused readers, and got us plenty of complaints. It also didn’t pay off at the newsstand; in fact one of the covers was the worst-selling of the year. And Luddy reports that last year’s Mother Jones split cover was also one of their worst-selling issues for 2011.

So why bother? Newsstand sales are only about 10 percent of Mother Jones’s total paid circulation, so featuring a “softer” story at retail is a strategy that’s aimed at luring in new readers rather than one that’s designed to materially boost single copy sales.

Nevertheless, I wondered whether the strategy had any downside for the brand overall. Liz Gettelman, Mother Jones’s public affairs director, put it this way:

“The game has changed when it comes to print magazine covers. In the print era you would rarely see a logo separate from a cover image. But now, the logo is a much more prominent feature, since that alone (without cover art) is usually a publication’s branding image on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and on websites. The split covers signal to readers that we are versatile and robust enough to be able to highlight various types of coverage. So long as they all feel like Mother Jones stories, then we are actually staying true to our brand.”


Robert Newman

A Look at the Design and Influences on Fairchild’s New M Cover

Robert Newman Design and Production - 09/26/2012-19:08 PM


The first issue of M magazine, the luxury men’s magazine last seen in 1992 and being revived by Fairchild Fashion Media, came out on Monday with a very distinctive and unusual cover. It’s not the cover subject, Bradley Cooper (People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive of 2011), but the design, format, and photographic style that makes M very different from the usual newsstand fare.

According to M creative director Nancy Butkus, the cover design was influenced both by European men’s magazines like Port and Huck, as well as vintage issues of Fortune. “We had a stunning 1930s Fortune as our cover inspiration, and in some way we just updated what they were doing—they had borders on the cover and so do we, but ours are asymmetrical.”

Like Fortune, M’s cover was printed on a rich, thick, uncoated stock, with a felt finish, making it both a visual and tactile treat. I’m guessing, however, that M will not be mailed to its subscribers in heavy cardboard cases the way Fortune was until the early 1950s. The idea that upscale magazine consumers will respond positively to superior production values has been floating around for a while; it’s nice to see someone actually trying it out.

Although I would have loved to see M try to resurrect the very-80s expanded logo from the original magazine, they hired noted logo designer Jim Parkinson to draw a smart, modern, updated version. Parkinson has been creating and revising magazine and newspaper logos for years, but this is his best and most impressive work in some time (and that’s saying something!). It’s also very different for the Condé Nast/Fairchild magazines, most of which tend to have flat, relatively straight-forward type logos that aren’t nearly as “designed” as this one.

There’s a lot that’s “off” on this cover: the varied white bands on the right side and bottom, the quote running down the side, the use of the issue theme “Ambition” as the main headline. There’s a definite effort to make M feel stylish and a bit European, and for a luxury men’s magazine trying to distinguish itself from the crowd, that’s probably a smart move.

The photograph of Bradley Cooper, by Jason McDonald, is also very different from what appears on other American men’s magazines. It feels simple and authentic, almost non-stylish, and ridiculously friendly and intimate. Not to mention the power of those blue eyes, which are undoubtedly making members of both sexes weak in the knees.

Like everything else on the cover, it’s a smart way to establish a visual identity for a new magazine. The challenge for M will be in pursuing this idiosyncratic and slightly skewed cover approach every issue (it’s a quarterly), and not giving in to the demands for a more straight-forward, traditional design.

Robert Newman

George Lois Featured in Fast Company App

Robert Newman Design and Production - 09/12/2012-10:45 AM


Fast Company’s annual design issue celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first cover that legendary art director George Lois created for Esquire magazine. This photograph, by noted photographer Platon, is available only in the iPad app version of Fast Company’s October 2012 issue, which is out today, September 12.

On the October 1962 cover of Esquire (which Lois is holding), he accurately predicted that boxer Sonny Liston would defeat Floyd Patterson in their upcoming heavyweight championship fight. That opinion at the time was decidedly in the minority, so much so that the publisher’s letter inside the magazine disavowed Lois’s prediction, saying “we’d prefer to believe that Liston can be stopped, and that Patterson is the one that can do it.” (Note: Liston knocked out Patterson in the fight’s first round). Says Lois, “The press wrote about the chutzpah of calling a fight on a magazine cover, and the issue was a sellout.”

Read more by George Lois on his first Esquire cover (and many others) here. The Fast Company October 2012 iPad app is available here. The October issue features Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann on the cover. (Photograph: Art Streiber, creative director: Florian Bachleda.)