Magazine Covers are designed to do one thing – generate sales. The idea is that when you’re in the checkout line at the local super market you’ll find it hard to resist the rows of super models winking at you from high gloss covers. Other magazines portray iconic images of sports glory, or the latest celebrity fall, or a national tragedy with a poignant headline. All of these images are designed to entice you, the reader, to follow that impulse and plunk down $4.95 for the latest issue.
Cover design is both an art and a science. Often, focus groups are used to evaluate ideas, and it is not uncommon for different covers to be tested to see which best generates “sell through”, the percentage of copies available on the stand that actually result in a sale. Yet despite all the time and money expended, there are the few covers that stick with a person long after they’ve read the magazine. For us at The New Magazine City, there is one magazine cover that truly stands out, one that we consider “The Greatest Magazine Cover of All Time”, and it’s from a magazine that folded decades ago: the cover from National Lampoon January 1973.
The cover was as simple as it was brilliant. The image jarred the reader, and demanded a second look. Some viewed it with outrage (get a sense of humor, please), while others immediately chuckled, and the caption which read “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog” was a timeless punch line. Many even bought the magazine. The cover is bawdy, funny, politically incorrect and brilliant. How the cover came about was explained by Michael Gross at the time: “This month’s brilliant cover, photographed by Ronald G. Harris, is a success primarily because of one element–a joke. Give me a good joke to work with and I’ll give you an effective humor-magazine cover”.
It seems with all the pain in the industry and plummeting circulation rates, maybe what’s really missing from the publishing Industry is a sense of humor. Maybe if publishers took themselves a little less seriously and had a little more fun, their spirits and business would improve. We know ours would.
If you want to see the covers that the industry considers to be the best of all time, take a look here. While they don’t agree that the Lampoon was the best of the best, they do agree that it deserves a place in the hall of fame.