Listening to our students discussing the cover for one of the course magazines has brought home to me something that should be obvious: the tighter the niche you're operating in, the less room for manoeuvre you have.
A magazine with some element of general interest has the possibility of playing around with images and coverlines that range over a broad-ish spectrum of content. In reality, of course, a title will home in on a cover style and stick with it; the classic example of this is Men's Health, which knows exactly what its readers want and gives it to them month after month, year after year.
(Pic copyright Men's Health)
But a mag that is targeted at a specialised readership must constantly beware of falling off the ledge.
Case in point – a mag about independent film making. This is already difficult because it must avoid, at all costs, straying into Empire, Total Film or Sight & Sound territory. Add to this the likelihood that the bulk of the readership is into live action film rather than, say, animation, and you have another limitation on your options.
The "rules" about covers, so economically expressed by David Hepworth in 2005, apply doubly here. Not only must the covers of ultra-specialised magazines appeal to a moron in a hurry, they must appeal to a moron with blinkers on.