Friday, April 15, 2011

Magazine front covers: adapt or die

The front cover is the most important page in the magazines – that's one of the lessons we drum home to students on the MA/PgDip in Magazine Journalism at Cardiff Journalism School. It's a lesson that is repeated by just about every one of the many industry speakers who visit Cardiff.

But a couple of pieces of recent research show that it's only true for print magazines on the news-stand.

Kevin Sablan's Almighty Link site carried a piece about newspaper front pages that holds lessons for any print publication going online – or probably for any online journalism, whatever the "home" platform. Seven well considered points about what a "front page" means to online readers: The front page isn’t what it used to be

I found the piece above via Adam Tinworth's blog, introduced with the comment: "I've seen this clearly in our metrics. Front pages of websites just don't really matter." Given Adam's position as Editorial Development Manager at Reed Business Information we know those metrics are extensive and reliable.

Then, as if to confirm the line of thought, Ellie Behling asked "Are publishers paying attention to what consumers want from iPad magazines and newspapers?" on her blog. Analysing a recent survey, Behling quoted Zinio's global executive vice president and chief marketing officer Jeanniey Mullen: "It's not about necessarily just shopping for the cover anymore; you might be looking for fish recipes." 

This doesn't mean our insistence on the importance of a front cover is wrong; in fact while single copy sales are under pressure – or falling – the front cover of a print magazine becomes even more important. But it does underline two points:
1) what has been found to work in print may not transfer directly to a digital platform
2) if the front page can be a Tweet, a Facebook stream, search engine results, a text message,  a Flipboard panel, RSS feeds or an Instapaper collation magazines need to be showing their faces on all of them.

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Tim, thank you for linking to my account. I didn't pick up on that great little tidbit in Tinworth's intro. It's really interesting to know that the metrics back up my post's implication that each home page has a little less impact than it had in the past.

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