News & Views

Searching for a little insight on the current magazine industry? Look no further. Through interviews, profiles and a few observations, you'll get my latest analysis on our ever-changing magazine world.

The Split Cover Explosion

Covers used to be pieces of art. The Saturday Evening Post featured a different Rockwell picture of Americana each issue, while Vogue would have a portrait of a well-dressed woman on its covers. Other magazines like Reader's Digest would use its cover space as a table of contents, listing every article or feature within its pages. This is no longer the case.

Today covers are designed for a first time audience. With over 7,150 consumer magazines alive in the United States, a cover can no longer be anything but an attention-grabbing facet of a publication. Covers must scream from the newsstand with large, engaging pictures and interesting cover lines or what I like to call sell lines. The cover is very much like the front windows of a store. As shoppers walk by, the displays should catch their eyes and make them want to come inside and shop. No intelligent shop owner would simply place a handwritten list of everything he sells in his store up in the front window. The same is true for magazines. We must catch the passersby and convince them that they will be missing out if they do not buy our publication.

One way the industry has latched onto recently to catch the buyer’s eye has been the split cover. A few years ago the split cover was reserved for anniversary or special editions and were collectible. Now it seems that every magazine has at least one additional cover each issue. I see merit in some, but for the most part, these split covers raise more questions in my mind than they answer. Three main questions have come up as I have seen the barrage of split covers on the newsstands the last few months:

First, where is the wisdom in a split cover? A split cover can be a very useful selling point for a magazine, but just because we have the technology to make a split cover happen every issue for every magazine does that necessarily mean we should?
Second, do we carefully consider the impact of split covers have on sales and the relationship of the magazine with its readers? As I just mentioned, split covers used to be collectibles that came around on important occasions, but what reason does a reader have for buying two different covers if only a few lines are different? Also, how do we indelibly bind readers to our product that is not even consistent in look from one newsstand to the other? If we are marketing our magazines as a product or brand that should be distinguished in less than the 2.5-second attention span our average audience member has, how does a split cover affect that perception of brand? A friend of mine was so disappointed that her magazine cover, as a loyal subscriber, was uglier than the one on the newsstands. She wondered whether the industry will continue to penalize their loyal followers and continue to cater for the marginal readers, in the same way they do with subscription prices.

And third, do readers really care about these split covers? I’m sure that very few people that aren’t obsessed with magazines like I am actually go out and buy all the split covers they can find. And will the placement of one cover line really increase newsstand sales enough to warrant the extra work put into producing a second cover?

We are a business that sells content to customers. The box that Godiva chocolates come in is just as important as the chocolate inside, but only in telling customers what quality product they are investing their money in. The same is true with our magazines. We must always remain focused on what we have within our pages and make it a quality product. This is not to say that split covers aren’t useful and great things that should be used; however, we should always question why we do what we do and how it affects the content we wish to sell to our readers. And, by the way, selling Whitman’s chocolate inside a Godvia box will not do the trick either! Happy reading and looking at some of the split covers gracing our newsstands these days.

Atlanta (2 covers)

Best Life (3 covers)


Dolly (2 covers)


Family Circle (2 covers)

Family Circle (2 covers)

High Five (2 covers)

Highlights (2 covers)

Home (2 covers)

Home (2 covers)

Ignite (2 covers)

InStyle Home (2 covers)

King (5 covers)

Ladies' Home Journal (3 covers)

Maxim (2 covers)

Midwest Living (4 covers)

National Geographic for Kids (3 covers)

People Style Watch (3 covers)

Prevention (2 covers)

Quick and Simple (2 covers)

Redbook (3 covers)

Sports Illustrated (2 out of 5 covers)

Slam (2 covers)

Stop Smiling (2 out of 4 covers)

Teen Vogue (2 covers)

Trump (2 covers)

TV Guide (2 covers)

Veranda (2 covers)

Wizard (2 covers)

Woman's Day (2 covers)

Woman's Day (2 covers)


December 10, 2006


© 2008 Samir Husni, Ph.D. - Mr. Magazine™