In my career I’ve gone from “let’s see which of the stories we have this month will make a good cover” to “we’re going to call every single A list celebrity that has a movie this month till someone says yes” and then of course, task some writer with throwing a story together in a week or less. The cover of the magazine was the single source of more anxiety, stress and nightmares than anything else I’ve ever worked on. There was always a deadline looming and unreturned phone calls to publicists, a photographer to figure out, location, wardrobe and then what will he be doing on the cover, it was always just hanging out there for weeks on end waiting for a date, time and place to land so the rest of the pieces could be jammed in.
I’m sure it’s quite a different experience working at GQ, VF or Time where the celebrities and politicians have heard of your publication and are actually interested in appearing on the cover. I’ve always been in the hapless position of pitching a publicist and providing material to actually prove we’re worthy enough for a celebrity to grace us with their presence.
The importance of the cover image, coverlines, background, expression, wardrobe is at an all time high these days because advertisers need some sign of the health of a magazine and newsstand sales are a decent indicator because consumers are free to decide what purchase to make that month. Except everyone is trying to game the system so the coverlines, subjects and many times the photography have turned into such predictable garbage, because everyone is using the same handful of words and subjects that have proven effective at capturing eyeballs.
Who should we put on the cover? How about someone who actually wants to be there and that the audience cares about. How about someone we can spend some time with a write a meaningful story and take interesting pictures of. I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you’re stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines.