Warning: This magazine is not fit for your coffee table

July 7, 2009

What happens on the newsstands remains at the newsstands. That should be the motto for the magazine industry as the trend toward producing split covers for the same magazine (one for the newsstands and one for the subscribers) continues to sky-rocket. It is becoming rare to see a magazine with the same cover on both the single copy and the subscription edition of the same issue. I know there is an art for designing magazine covers, and in some cases there are formulas (Just take a look at the last few years of Cosmopolitan). However, dishing a different cover for the single copy buyer than that of the subscriber, is becoming a questionable art of what some call new marketing ways to reach the first time buyer and others refer to as the art of hip hip hypocrisy to trick the first time buyer.

David Zinczenko, editorial director of Men’s Health magazine told John Harrington, editor of The New Single Copy that the newsstand cover tells the shopper what’s inside, but the subscriber knows what to expect, the cover tells him what is new.

Well, here are five samples, starting with Mr. Zinczenko’s Men’s Health, of this increasing and disturbing trend:

Men’s Health: July – August issue
The newsstand’s buyer is told that there is a lot of sex inside, from the skyline screaming “The Sex of Your Dreams (& Hers)!” to the “30 Red-Hot Sex Secrets Tonight’s Special Is…” In addition to that “tonight” promise there is a 7-Day plan to get back in shape and a total of 2,143 tips. The subscription cover tells the subscriber how to get back in shape without a 7-Day time limit, avoids any mention of sex or sex tips, and tells you about the “science” about the “best places to meet women.” As for the picture, Josh Duhamel adores both covers with the subscription edition being cropped a little bit tighter.

OK! Weekly: July 6 issue
You’d expect the monthlies to have different covers, but a weekly and a celebrity gossip weekly, that was a complete surprise to me. OK!’s July 6 newsstand cover offered the usual run of the mill “fill the cover with pictures and headlines” from a Twilight Exclusive to a Jen’s New Brad and Inside the Fallout of Jon & Kate. The subscribers edition looks like a glossy magazine cover of three famous stars Megan Fox, Halle Berry and Jen Aniston with the screaming headline Revealed! The Top Ten Best Celeb Bodies of 2009. When you read the cover lines on the subscribers edition you think you are reading a fitness magazine and not a gossip magazine. “Diet and workout secrets” and “get bikini ready in two weeks” are among the cover promises in addition to OK! readers “weighing in…” on the those topics. In addition, the subscribers cover has a French-gate that opens to advertise an OK!-Oxygen network promo for “Dance your Ass off.” Sorry, newsstand buyers, no oxygen or dancing your ass off…

Family Circle: August issue
Family Circle was once sold on the newsstands 100%. There were no subscriptions and no split covers. Now, with the magazine depending more on subscriptions rather than single copy, the subscriber copy is becoming more and more like a coffee table magazine cover rather than a service journalism magazine cover. The single copy cover promises “Quick & Easy Dinners 40+ Pages of…” There is a lot of numbers 10 Best Towns, 8 Reasons Why Your Diet Isn’t Working, 5-Minute Parfait (the cover story) and 12 Ways to Be Happy Every Day. The subscribers cover reduces the cover lines to the bottom left hand corner, making the picture of the Parfait much bigger and avoids any mention of numbers with the exception of changing the 10 Best Towns to Ten Best Towns. I guess the Parfait is tempting enough for the subscribers to open the magazine while reading the whispering cover lines. On the newsstands the sell lines are screaming at you and all the $$$ are asking you to pick me up!

Food & Wine: July issue
In a departure of the majority of the magazines, Food & Wine uses the same cover lines but changes the image used on the cover. Single copy buyers as well as subscribers receive the same promise of Best New Chefs & Their Easiest Recipes. Every cover line is used on both editions of the magazine. However, single copy buyers are spared the image of the 11 chefs (and the tattoos) on the cover and rather are treated to a more traditional cover image of “Grilled steak with asparagus & tomatoes…”. A wise decision to avoid the chefs on the single copy cover, however, since we remember color first, images second, type third, will the reader be confused that the magazine on the stands is different that that on his or her coffee table?

Harper’s Bazaar: July issue
Harper's BazaarnewsHaper's Bazaarsub
Harper’s Bazaar has been offering different shots of their cover stars and a very limited amount of copy on their subscribers editions for some time now. However, the July issue brought a complete departure of that policy by providing the single copy buyers an image of Angelina Jolie (there were reports in the press that the picture was bought from an image bank and not posed for the magazine) which was not fit to adore the subscribers cover. She was replaced by Super-model Doutzen on the subscribers cover. As usual, the single copy cover promises 525 new ideas and promises about What to Wear Now and Best Bags & Shoes among other things. Talk about potential confusion between your coffee table and your neighborhood newsstand.

I firmly believe in the art of the four me me’s when it comes to covers: See Me (the impact of the visual to stop you), Pick Me (the cover lines that I refer to as sell lines), Flip Me (the act of flipping through the pages of the magazines based on a single sell line to validate the rest of the magazine), and the Buy Me or Drop Me (making that final decision to buy or not to buy the magazine). In short, I do not believe that the single copy cover should be any different than that of the subscriber, if we are in the business of customers who count and not just counting customers. Subscribers do visit the newsstands and what they see their should match what is on their coffee table. In my book, a cover should always be designed for the first time user… all others need to see what’s new inside this specific issue: both on the newsstands and in your mailbox.


  1. […] recent post on his blog Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni discusses the recent trend of magazines producing a single issue with two different covers, one cover for placement in newsstands, and a different cover for their subscribers.  It seems […]

  2. An additional reason to have the same cover to subscribers: In a world of too many distractors, it’s *critical* that you convince your subscribers to *actually read* each issue of your magazine. They have to be sold *too*, just like the newsstand shopper.

    They aren’t being persuaded to put down cash to buy, but they are being persuaded to pick up the mag off the coffee table and peruse it. If they don’t (and many don’t read, or even open, every issue!), then your magazine will *not* perform — it won’t deliver action to the advertisers, it won’t create longterm loyalty among satisfied readers (so your renewal rates will suffer), it won’t create longterm buzz!

    Sell your subscribers just as hard as you sell your newsstand shoppers! (For that matter, sell your Web site readers just as hard too!)

    — mac mccarthy

  3. This post doesn’t at all address the realities of the stiff competition at the newsstand, which is exactly why savvy publishers create different versions of covers for subscribers and potential newsstand buyers. Anyone who has actually worked in this business (rather than just commenting on it) understands this.

    Not only are magazines competing with other titles, but they are also competing with candy bars, gum, batteries, razor blades and other items. What’s a publisher to do?

    Give publishers credit for knowing how much they have to “sell” their subscribers versus how much they have to “sell” on the newsstand!

  4. Mr. Magazine,
    First, I disagree with you. But, that’s not my point.
    The whole piece is missing the investigative approach. WHY do publishers produce separate covers – at an additional cost? Do they have research on subscribers vs. single-copy buyers that supports this decision? (I bet they do!)
    You may believe in “the art of the four me’s,” but I think that theory must be trumped by a desire to give the reader what she wants.
    Please let us know what you find out from your investigation. I’m interested!

  5. By far, the UK version of Esquire does this the best. Like the Family Circle above but done better, they treat their subscriber cover as a limited edition special. This really helps reinforce the want to subscribe. Their subscriber covers are works of art. See examples at http://www.esquire.co.uk/

  6. I like the Family Circle subscriber copy. Subscribers, after all, know what they’re getting with a women’s service book (it’s the same thing every issue, more or less). Why not make the cover more attractive for subscribers? It’s a sad reflection on the culture that mags feel like they have junk up covers with these screaming, hucksterish (and often untrue) cover lines. People are so stupid they have to be tricked into getting a ton of info inside.

  7. You may believe in “the art of the four me’s,” but I think that theory must be trumped by a desire to give the reader what she wants.

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