By Kevin Lund published June 15, 2010

How to Create a Custom Magazine Cover that Rocks

Though it’s said you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can decide if you want to read it – especially if the book we’re talking about is a magazine. Think about it. Given the choice, if you’re waiting at the doctor’s office with nothing to do, and you see two health magazines on the table in front of you, neither of which you know anything about, are you more likely to open the one with pretty pictures on it, or the one that looks like a medical journal?

While there are plenty of other things a cover accomplishes, when it comes to the reader, a good magazine cover should drive two behaviors: First, it gets you to pick up the magazine and second, it gets you to look inside its pages.

Here are some tips on getting someone to pick up and read your custom magazine.

Don’t follow the rules

Newsstand magazine covers are designed to sell magazines—on newsstands. Titles and headers are placed at the top, because they have to be, otherwise nobody would find what they’re looking for amongst all the other magazines at Barnes and Noble. But since your magazine is probably being pulled out of a mailbox or found at a coffee shop, you’ve got the entire cover as a canvas to work with. Be creative with it.

Anchor your covers with good art

Readers remember photos, not headlines. How many headlines do you remember from a magazine you read last week? Probably very few, if any at all. But you might remember that picture of the celebrity with an egg on his face. At least that image might help you remember where you saw the article on celebrity quiche recipes that you wanted to share with your mother. Custom art and photography is best, but not every budget will accommodate this. Given the choice however, if there was one place you want to allocate more dollars on art than anywhere else, it would be the cover.

Trust your brand

While there might be exceptions, depending on your audience, you probably don’t need to slap your giant company logo at the top of the cover, along with all the corporate colors wrapped around your title. In all likelihood, by doing so you’re making it easier for your reader to make the decision NOT to read your magazine, since it probably looks like a direct marketing piece they’ll catch up with later, or worse, just throw away. Keep your logo and branding subtle on the cover. Try placing a smaller logo at the bottom of the cover, out of the way of the primary viewing area, so it still serves its purpose, but it isn’t shouting from the rooftop. Today’s consumers are pretty smart. They’ll figure out that it’s you.

Don’t sell anything…yet

People appreciate magazines more than direct marketing pieces. So, if you’re publishing a magazine, then it should act like one. Let the contents inside do the selling intelligently by informing the reader about your products and offers. Unless you’re giving away BMWs to the first 100 people who send in the entry form on page 25, they’re not likely ready to buy from you just yet. Give them a chance to get to know you first. It starts with your cover. Do you want to be seen as a used car salesman or a trusted resource of information?

Make every second count

Something on your cover should make the reader stop and stare, if even for a moment. Maybe it’s conceptual art instead of a picture of yet another happy, smiling, model that usually appears in magazines. Perhaps it’s just a letter in the title that’s written backwards, or a catchier header. Whatever you do, it should be just different enough for someone to take a second look. It should be unique and memorable.

There’s an art to a good magazine cover, so be a little adventuresome with them. The whole package working together – art, words, title – is what drives people to not only choose your magazine over others, but actually look inside its pages. With all the choices we have in our busy lives, your cover can be as important as your message in the magazine. So it better be a good one.

Author: Kevin Lund

Kevin Lund is President and Founder of T3 Custom, a financial content strategy and publishing firm, specializing in bridging the marketing needs of businesses with the information needs of their customers. T3 Custom is a leader in the content revolution taking place, and Kevin is passionate about helping companies use conversation —written or verbal—as a means for driving behavior. You can follow him on Twitter @KLundT3.

Other posts by Kevin Lund

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  • http://www.spottedwombat.com Joanne Grey

    Great article, Kevin. I especially agree with your comment about keeping branding subtle. I think the best custom magazines are those that don't appear to be branded until the consumer digs a little deeper.

  • http://www.globalcopywriting.com/ globalcopywrite

    Hi Kevin,

    One of my secrets to successful content is to get it professionally designed. I try to encourage my clients to do the same because a case study, white paper, newsletter, etc. is going to be encourage more people to pick it up and turn the page. Thanks for a good post I will definitely share when making my case for a graphic design spend.

    • Kevin Lund

      Absolutely! I’m always a little surprised when companies who can afford quality design cut that corner. It’s a crucial element that shouldn’t be overlooked and underfunded if possible. Deep engagement has as much to do with what you’re seeing as what you’re reading, particularly in print. When design and content work together, they dance.

  • Kevin Lund

    Absolutely! I'm always a little surprised when companies who can afford quality design cut that corner. It's a crucial element that shouldn't be overlooked and underfunded if possible. Deep engagement has as much to do with what you're seeing as what you're reading. When design and content work together, they dance.

  • goldendog

    I would have stressed in your article the differences between the objectives of a public relations vehicle such as a corporate sponsored magazine as compared to a corporate brochure. The former is an opportunity to educate and opportunity to create a need in the audience while the later is to provide the solution.

    I cannot understand with the high cost of printing and distribution why anyone would not hire professional designer and copy writer.

  • Tomlyons

    http://wwww.coolcoversonline.com provides absolutely fabulous custom designed magazine covers… not automated adobe flash generated, but actually custom designed just for you by humans! you all need to check these guys out, reasonably priced, high quality (family heirloom!!) framing available…soooooo COOL!

  • Tomlyons