In My Opinion: Neil Braidwood: Cover versions

FOR some time now, the magazine world has been getting creative with their covers.

Once, just having a striking image on the cover of your magazine was all you needed to make someone pick up your publication, connect with it, and make a purchase.

Now, we have split covers (one issue with three or four different stars on the cover – witness Esquire’s heroes theme in this year’s June edition), gatefold covers (Vanity Fair pioneered this craze for lavish photoshoots which fold out to reveal more of the image), and subscriber covers (unique photos, sometimes with just one cover line – less is more).

Hey, we’ve even had split subscriber covers – where you just don’t know what you’re going to get!

It’s the subscriber covers that are really becoming popular, as they connect with the reader on a different level than the one screaming ‘buy me!’ from the shelf. They feel special. Collectable, even. The image is uncluttered – no need for a barcode or coverlines, as the magazine has already been sold.

I once heard Marissa Bourke (when she was creative director at Elle), speak of her experience designing Elle covers. The newsstand version would often take up to three days, as all the executives would pontificate over the size, colour and positioning of those all important coverlines. Would they make their cover stand out against all the other magazines jostling for position on the shelves?

Once that cover was signed off, Bourke would set to work on choosing an alternative shot for the subscriber version, then let her creativity flow, penning coverlines in her own distinctive handwriting. Five or ten minutes later, job done. And guess what? None of the executives wanted to see it – because it’s already paid for.

See her David Beckham cover which ran in black and white, no eye contact, covered in scribbles and doodles. It’s amazing!

It’s an easy option for the publisher. A simple plate change at the printers, run off the desired quantity and package them up. Subscribers instantly feel loved and more inclined to keep reading your magazine.

Back in 2001, when I was working at Caledonia magazine, we did a special gold themed issue. I desperately wanted to foil block the logo in gold, but our budget wouldn’t stretch to blocking our run of 25,000. However, we had 5,000 subscribers, so we ran that cover in gold foil, and the newsstand version as normal. I did a subscriber cover without even knowing it.

I’ll be doing it again soon with our new magazine, Scotland Outdoors. Photography plays such a huge part in the success of the magazine, it seems logical to run the cover shot with minimal text, and offer it up to our dedicated subscribers.

Watch this space.

Neil Braidwood is head of CMYK magazine design and publishing company. He is also vice-chair of PPA Scotland.