Archive for the ‘For Editors’ Category

With Nicki Minaj screaming at you like that, how could you stop from picking up a copy of BlackBook?

For that reason, BlackBook gets my vote for best magazine cover of 2011. It invited a staring contest between me and Ms. Minaj, more so than any other magazine cover last year, so that wins it for me.

BlackBook’s cover also made MTV Style’s list of best fashion magazine covers for the year. But at the top of MTV’s list was none other than Beyonce, who graced a cover of Dazed & Confused and who doesn’t lose many contests. In fact, I’ll make a bet now that Beyonce and Jay-Z’s baby graces the cover of some top-selling magazine in 2012.

Vogue, which also won Magazine of the Year from Ad Age, got the thumbs-up mid-year from Newsstand Pros for the magazine’s cover photo of Natalie Portman.

But enough about famous beautiful women. Let’s give the men some love too! OK, says The Mag Guy, who (while not giving Donald Trump any undue positive attention) celebrated the cover line gracing this front page of Bloomberg Businessweek: “Seriously?” Business Insider agreed too, and now I’m adding to the list, putting The Donald on my radar for best of 2011.

Why, exactly? Because while Nicki Minaj’s huge open-mouth display made me look at the cover with intrigue, Donald Trump’s makes me giggle and get heartburn at the same time. And it’s that evocation of emotion that makes a good cover.

Speaking of emotion, where are the big stories of the year? I wanted a good Steve Jobs cover and a good Osama-We-Got-You cover. There were a few. Ad Age celebrates several of those in its roundup. But none of them appealed to me as much as I expected. However, The New Yorker tsunami cover that Ad Age gave #1 props to is poetic, understated and deserving.

And one cover in particular was a great disappointment to me. Lindsay Lohan, whose Playboy show-and-tell spread was so anticipated by millions of disgustingly horny men, appeared on the cover of said issue and didn’t even look recognizable! What a shame. I stared at her face forever trying to figure out if that was even her. I get that it was a Marilyn Monroe throwback, but I guess I just don’t get why they chose to do it that way. Regardless, it’s a 2012 issue, so whether I like it or not is pretty irrelevant to this post — it’s just on my mind!

Hungry for more? Check out Fashionista’s faves and Cover Junkie’s countdown. What are your favorites of 2011?

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Outlook (

When I went to India a few months ago, I wanted to pick up a magazine I couldn’t read — at all. No English. There were a few to choose from, and the one I ended up with was Outlook.

Obviously, this is not something I can critique on content. And design-wise, it reminds me of the old design of BusinessWeek — the stories are long but broken up with sidebars and charts; the content is serious and newsy; and the photos are mostly stock news photography and headshots. One thing that strikes me as very different from any American news magazine is that it contains what appears to be poetry, spanning four pages, and also what appears to be fiction or humor across several other pages.

Interestingly, American politics takes up some space. One long article includes a photo of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the back few pages, which appears to be a “year in review” photo essay, include photos of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama during last fall’s visit there, dancing with Indian children and spending time with the Indian people.

What foreign magazines have you seen? Could you make sense of what you were looking at even without knowing the language?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

National Geographic won big last night at the Ellies, the National Magazine Awards presented by the American Society of Magazine Editors. This is an event I’ve never attended, but it sounds like a lot of fun, especially based on all the hashtag Ellies tweeting I saw going on late into the evening!

One magazine that was recently reviewed here, New York, won for a special section, called “Strategist,” that it ran in three issues during 2010. Another magazine that was recently reviewed here, Backpacker, got passed over for awards in General Excellence and for Magazine of the Year.

AdAge reported that National Geographic got those two major awards, while magazines such as The New Yorker — long accustomed to award sweeps — took home only one trophy.

One great pick was ESPN The Magazine for feature photography in its Bodies issue, which if you’ve never seen it, you’re really missing out. It’s everything about bodies, from the beautiful (semi-nudes) to the grotesque (injuries), and it’s mesmerizing to look through. In another photography category, W won — and W does have captivating photography, but it really beat National Geographic, which is known for its photos? The only way that can make sense is that National Geographic won two other such major awards. The rest of the winners and finalists have made my short list for reviews coming up soon!

Click here to see a complete list of the finalists, with links to content available online.

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Magazine covers are a common topic on The Sidebar Review. Luke Hayman of design firm Pentagram told AdWeek what he thought the best covers of last year were at this link. He chose the following:

I thought the Spin cover (May 2010), pictured, was the most clever of the ones he mentioned. Because, just think about it: You’re standing at the newsstand looking at the cover, knowing that you want to tear it, but you can’t unless you own it! (Surely, torn ones were on each magazine stand that carried it, but where’s the pleasure if you don’t get to do it yourself?)

What are your favorites? Why?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...

Image via Wikipedia

I just read a great article called iPadded Profits? that takes to task publishers and consumers alike who don’t know how much they should pay or charge for a digital magazine. He references this post that talks about cost and functionality of digital magazines as common frustrations. One of the commenters pointed out that people either want their digital edition to be cheaper or they want to get some additional functionality or information out of it.

I was floored last night at Barnes & Noble at the cost of printed magazines. Most copies were $4.99 or $5.99. Many copies were $9.99 and $10.99. Huh? I could have bought books for the prices of these magazines (at least on the bargain aisle). I almost bought a copy of Bloomberg Businessweek, but at $4.99, I chose instead to buy a copy on Zinio where I had a $5 credit. It was between Businessweek and Oxford American for me at that price point, and I chose Oxford American because, for the same price, I could have a magazine that’s outdated tomorrow (because Businessweek is a weekly) or one that’s not outdated until nearly Independence Day. So…Oxford American won, hands down. And on Zinio, I got the newer version of Businessweek that hasn’t hit the newsstands yet.

So if prices on the actual newsstand are so high that I’m playing expiry-date games to choose where to spend my money, what does that say for digital magazines? From a consumer perspective, I believe a digital version (that is, a nearly PDF version that does not have added functionality, like most magazines on Zinio and other digital newsstands) should cost slightly less than a printed version. I believe a digital version that has additional functionality as part of an app (like Bloomberg Businessweek’s app) should cost the same as a printed version.

What I hope the publishing world goes to is a model like The Wall Street Journal’s, which is a choice between a print subscription, a digital subscription, and a combination print and digital at a reduced rate.

What’s your thought? Have you read a magazine on an iPadiPhoneAndroidBlackberry, or your laptop/desktop? What was the experience like for you? How much are you willing to pay for a print magazine, and how much do you think you should pay for a digital version of the same?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Photo courtesy of Food Network Humor

Food Network Magazine recently ran a cover whoopsie of the magazine Tails. Everybody has a mistake every once in a while, but it’s really unfortunate when the lack of a comma on a cover makes it sound like a celebrity cooks her own family and pet. Read the whole article here.

I can’t judge too much, I guess. I once let a headline run with the word “success” spelled with only one C. And even better, in one article, a white box in post-production covered the B in the title of my magazine so that underneath the writer’s name, it said “ASS Times Senior Writer” instead of “BASS Times Senior Writer.” Good one! (Let me add that I do not recommend making mistakes, and that I find those two incidents to be awful — not amusing — but they do keep me humble. And I don’t insult someone else’s mistake without pointing these two out.)

The best thing you can learn from a typo that gets printed is to watch closer … and closer … and closer. And get as many eyeballs on it as possible ahead of time.

What’s the worst magazine mistake you’ve ever seen?

–Tyler W. Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

What makes a cover tick? Its artistic merit? Stop-you-in-your-tracks cover blurbs? Incredible colors? Clever photography?

None of the above. What makes a cover tick is its readers’ desire to pick up the issue, open the magazine and plunk down cold, hard cash.

Sucks, huh? We editors and designers think we have it all figured out. We don’t. It reminds me of something Zach Frechette of Good Magazine said when he spoke to a group of us about magazine covers at the 2008 Folio Conference: “Don’t be fooled by the big guys. No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

I was inspired by this post by Folio today. It’s a great article in which the writer asked several editors what their least selling cover was and asked them to analyze the reason for the low sell-through. All of them said some version of the same thing: The readers didn’t connect with the cover. The image here of the Inc. cover is an example. No matter how cute the little girl with the guitar is, readers of this business magazine don’t really connect with her.

We did an experiment at work one time where we had four covers we liked. Our editor thought it would be a great idea to put the four covers on our website and let our readers vote for the winning cover. They did, and, boy, were we way off! The cover we all liked the least won. The colors were awful, the angle of the photo was weird, and it paled in comparison stylistically to the covers that all of us in the office preferred.

The difference was that the winning cover had a big ol’ bass on it. That’s right! That’s what our fisherman readers love most. The thrill of the pursuit, the mastery of the biggest fish in the water, the conquering of bass bigger than what your friends have caught. We know that’s what they like, but we didn’t know they valued that more highly than all the other factors, combined, that make up a cover .

So what makes a good cover? Frechette told us what his art and editorial teams at Good decided on as their rules for each issue:

1. Don’t sell out subscribers. Don’t go for the newsstand look so much that it alienates those readers who have committed to you.

2. Create art. Be proud of what you create. Make it wall-hangable.

3. There’s no secret success formula. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there is. Everyone’s just guessing.

Frechette added that these are the elements the magazine minds look for when creating covers:

  • clever, provocative, fun
  • simple
  • edgy content
  • compelling cover lines
  • bold visuals

What do you look for on a magazine cover? Have you ever bought a magazine because you specifically liked the cover — or not bought one because you didn’t?

Want more related reading? Try out these articles:

Seven Design Principles of Magazine Covers

20 Magnificent Magazine Covers

The Most Controversial Magazine Covers of All Time

Great Magazine Cover Design

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I’ve mentioned before how enamored I am of social media. It’s something I’ve been pushing at work for ages but haven’t had a lot of buy-in. Recently, someone has come in who is as excited about it as I am, and she let me go to our company’s biggest event of the year and Tweet and Facebook about it the whole time. The result? Hundreds of new followers and serious engagement from our people. That is amazing!

It seems like I’m going off track here, but I’m not really: I work for a publishing company, and because The Sidebar Review critiques magazines, I’m going to explain why it’s important for magazines to jump into the fray. (Most already have, but I still want to share my observations.)

  1. Our community was dying to connect and didn’t really know how. We gave them the “how.”: We had about 20,000 followers on our Facebook page before our big event. They occasionally chimed in when we asked them a question or posted a photo if they felt inspired. But in the last month, we have gained 3,000 followers, and they are posting everything — photos of their fish, their boats, bass pros; comments negative and positive; mistakes they saw on our website; questions about customer service matters; videos of them singing songs they wrote; and praise for their favorite pros. We had no idea how starved our audience was for more interaction with us, with the brand and with fellow fishermen. It was beautiful.
  2. Our brand has a “face” now.: Our brand is strong, but we’ve known for a while that people felt disconnected from us — like if they called or e-mailed us, they may or may not hear back, and if they did hear back, they may or may not hear from a human. Now, our readers have a direct line to us. One asked on our Facebook page if we would allow siamese twins to fish our tournaments as a single person then combine their catch; I replied, “One tournament entry per brain.” This guy thought it was hilarious. (I thought it was mildly amusing, but he really cracked up.) I think that guy will always remember our brand for that. And that’s important because people connect with people, not businesses; we’re finally a “people” again.
  3. Our followers feel special.: One Twitter follower commented that he was getting information faster from me through Twitter than through our auto-update website during the weigh-in. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he felt like it was. I was recapping for him in an almost-live stream what was happening on stage, and he said he felt like he was there because of me. Another guy told me he and his family were at dinner but they were all crowded around his iPhone watching my Tweets. He felt like I was catering to him and his family when they couldn’t be near a computer. How cool is that?

We are so much more than a magazine. We always have been. But now our readers know that too. And that makes me beam with pride!

Do you connect with any magazines through social media? What has your experience been like?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

Today was a rough day in the office. Not rough compared to high-pressure environments with screaming bosses and slamming doors, but rough in the sense that we were almost there — and then we just weren’t.

We were supposed to send all our files to the printer today. We were pretty close to sending most of them; that is, until we placed the pages on the wall. We have a process with the magazine I work on in which we place all the finished pages, including ads, in consecutive order up on the wall so we can pick up on any color clashes or facing-page problems. Today, once the pages were up, we could see that five features in a row had the same basic design. Title on the left, photo on the right, secondary photo at bottom left. Awful. Ugly. Unimaginative. We had to act.

This evening, I sat back to ponder what I learned and what others could take from it. Here’s what today taught me:

Think of the flow. Will your reader flip from page to page without realizing he or she has moved on to another story? Are your features different enough to make the reader pause and consider each story? Going from page to page, does it feel as if the magazine is building to a crescendo? Make sure each part of the magazine functions as it’s supposed to, guiding the reader to the next page and delivering a treat for each page turn.

Imagine you’re the reader. Publishing professionals sometimes forget that the readers are not pros at the printed page, but rather sponges of the subject. Strive to please your most discerning reader, but realize that the average reader won’t look at each page and criticize the colors, the photo composition or the editorial style. The reader wants to be drawn in with a captivating headline, strong graphic, compelling entry points and a story that appears easy to read — or easy to ditch if it doesn’t measure up. Focus on those elements first and foremost.

Fantasize about what would make the page perfect. Picture having all the resources in the world to put this issue together — huge budgets, ample staff and tons of time. And ask, what would make this page awesome? I try to visualize what’s the best our designer can do with the material he has. If he needs more photos, copy, illustrations or charts, I need to conceptualize those and find or create them. Sometimes I ask, “What would Men’s Health do?” (Or, insert other great men’s mag like ESPN The Magazine or Time.) Then I think, could I imagine one of those magazines running the photo or layout or headline we’ve got? If not, it’s back to the drawing board. They do better, and so can we.

Ultimately today, we ditched one story, found an illustration for another and created a new primary photo for another. It helped tremendously. We’re not done yet, but I guarantee this issue will look better because of these changes, and I think our readers will appreciate it.

What do you do when faced with crunch-time publishing problems?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review

In my very short period of time officially reviewing magazines for The Sidebar Review, I’ve noticed how strongly I felt about something and didn’t even realize it. I run across really great editor’s notes in magazines — and then I run across the ones that lack the personality, insight and appeal that editor’s notes should have. One of my favorites (which actually counted as two) was in Florida Trend, in which both editor Mark Howard and publisher Andy Corty wrote notes that made them stand out and connect with their readers. Maybe there aren’t any perfect guidelines out there for what an editor’s note should be, but here are the qualities that make me open each issue of a magazine, again and again:

  • Personality Charisma should ooze from an editor’s note. At least as much as charisma would ooze from said editor. If an editor is a rambunctious playboy or an extroverted fitness freak, that personality should shine through. Just as a quiet church mouse or introverted accountant type should pop off the page in their own editor’s note. An editor’s note lacking personality is an editor’s note lacking an audience.
  • Insight Being an editor of a magazine isn’t that hard — that is, being the person who goes through the motions of assigning, editing and re-reading. What’s tough about an editor’s job is the ability to know and comprehend the audience, the industry and the subject matter in a manner that others don’t grasp. It’s up to the editor to impart this knowledge in the editor’s note. Did a major player in the industry just get acquired? If so, what does that mean for the industry? Is the magazine’s audience part of a shift that the editor can identify? Then explain your own hypothesis about this change. An editor should feel well-versed enough with the subject to put himself or herself out there and offer personal opinions and context.
  • Story Every piece of written work is better if it tells a story. Develop the subject around yourself or your own personal experiences or observations. Make people picture what you’re saying.
  • Relevance to Issue Okra should be included in the editor’s note of a cooking magazine if it’s the special okra issue. Just as the editor’s own kitten should be mentioned if it’s the special feline edition. Relate it to the inside. But don’t be one of those editors who just list every article in the magazine in the editor’s note as if it’s some sort of prose table of contents. That’s boring to everyone. Probably the editor, too. Don’t put your audience to sleep before they’ve even reached page 10.

What qualities make you pause to read an editor’s note? Or to seek it out when you pick up a magazine? What magazine consistently has a great editor’s note?

–Tyler Reed

Editor, The Sidebar Review