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19th May 2016

Publishers discuss the importance of the front page

In the age of apps, publishers discuss how important a cover page actually is.

Creative director at Team Rock, Brad Merrett, has stated that he does not believe magazine covers have changed all that much in the past few years.

He said "a great cover line and an engaging image is still a knock-out combination for the environment mags are purchased in."

Editor of British GQ, Dylan Jones, however, puts forward the idea that the cover is less important. He said “more of our magazines are sold as subscriptions, both in print and digital format."

Discussing print magazine, Merrett goes on to say: “There are only 12-13 published a year, which intrinsically adds value, and creates demand for that prime real estate. In an age where even the relevance of a brand's homepage is being questioned, we may find that the rectangle of paper held between forefinger and thumb can more than hold its own as a tactical pawn for a publishing business.”

Editor in chief of Empire magazine, Terri White, agrees with Merrett, saying: “If you’ve dressed your mannequin in nasty-looking shorts and a questionable crop top, no one’s going to want to come in and shop.

“Me and my senior team spend a great deal of time on our covers - from negotiations with studios and filmmakers, to going on set to shoot, to working with the printers and production house - and that’s for a very good reason.

“That said, much of the hard work begins once people have turned page one. I personally read every page of the magazine before it goes to press, and that’s because no great magazine is just about the cover.

“You need to keep the reader engaged on every single page, to prove to them that their money was very well spent with every caption, every image choice, and every story. Magazines have to work damn hard (as they should). For me, a great magazine journey is much like watching a great film. You may laugh, you may cry, your pulse may race a little faster, but you get to the end feeling that you spent the last two hours of your life entertained and compelled.”

Circulation director at Conde Nast Britain, Richard Kingerlee, believes newsstand positioning is key, saying: “We’re fortunate that magazines like Vogue and GQ are often used as pillar brands to help shoppers navigate the magazine range. However, with the vast majority of UK magazine sales still derived from retail, strong displays are vital to maximise both regular and impulse sales in the category.

"For example, at launch, Glamour was the first compact edition in the market and went on to be the first magazine to run branded beauty covermounts. This year Tatler’s forthcoming May issue Royal Collector’s edition will connect deeply with its target audience and looking back the March issue of GQ was published with five David Beckham covers to allow enhanced retail displays.”

In order to create a sense of exclusivity for loyal readers, some publishers use lenticular or variant covers, however the cost can be big and the return small.

Speaking about lenticular covers, Merrett said: “The caveat to this is that it costs a lot to do - you may make small gains over all - if you are lucky.

"That isn't always the case so the sales targets need to go up cover the ROI - in short we need to be sure the cover artist AND the treatment are going to maximise the sales potential. Some benefits aren't measured in monetary terms of course, a fact that gets lost a lot of the time sadly.”

White added to the debate, saying: “When you have a movie with multiple cast members of note, it allows you to cover all bases, reach more of the audience and represent the film more accurately. But it also definitely generates buzz - we recently released nine covers for X-Men: Apocalypse, aided and abetted by the cast who unveiled ’their’ cover on social media.

“The golden rule is to never use the split cover as a get out clause if you’re torn between two covers (’Oh god, I can’t decide! Let’s just do both!’). There has to be either: an equal audience for both/all; a likelihood that a reader would want to buy multiple covers or a conceit that required you to produce separate covers as part of a larger campaign. If it ain’t one of those, then you just need to put on your big girl knickers and make a tough call.”

It seems there are a variety of opinions, but regardless publishers continue to invest in cover imagery, whether that is photography, illustration or special production techniques, despite the high price.

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