The pressure to create high-impact cover concepts to boost newsstand sales has never been higher, suggests Bill Mickey in Folio:.
In this time of challenging sales figures, Mickey notes “[T]here are still titles that perform well at retail and The Atlantic is one of them. The magazine increased single copy sales 19 percent in 2014.”
What’s their secret sauce? According to Mickey, they’ve managed to strike the right balance between the immediacy of news and the big ideas and staying power of in-depth coverage.
“The Atlantic’s political, cultural and business content has a carefully managed newsy currency to it that makes it timely, but balancing timeliness with big ideas that have staying power is challenging on a 10x schedule,” Mickey notes.
The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief James Bennet underscores the difficulty in this approach.
“One of the huge challenges of creating a monthly magazine is trying to look several months, if not a year, out and imagining what’s going to be timely,” says Bennet, adding that their long lead time is both a strength and a challenge.
A key component to this is working on cover lines early on in the process, instead of waiting till the stories are filed. This gives the content some gravitas and direction, and adds a distinct point of view to topics that are currently on the national media radar screen.
“Big, thoroughly-reported pieces that tap directly into an ongoing national or global conversation. They’re positioned as a sort of antidote to the frequent, quick-hit pieces that make up much of what is on the web,” he continues. “It’s important to note that we feel like The Atlantic’s cover has become a powerful launching pad for big ideas that come out of a broader cultural context of the times we are living in. People are looking for these kinds of pieces.”
Given the pressure that magazine titles are under, it makes sense to take magazine covers – and the content behind them – more seriously than ever.