Magazine Cover Math: Safety in Numbers

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We’ve always been mystified by the fondness of some magazines to adorn their covers with giant numbers proclaiming the likes of “1,492 Fall Looks!” and “666 Haircuts That Won’t Make You Cry.” This week, The New York Observer‘s John Koblin devotes 535 words to this numbers game, quizzing editors on their cover math. Interestingly, almost all of the people he spoke with distanced themselves from bigger numbers, pointing to readers afflicted with “numbers fatigue,” but don’t expect any numberless covers anytime soon. Below, we’ve picked through the quotes to present you with Answers to Our 5 Key Cover Numbers Questions:

1. Why all the numbers?
“It’s both a promise to the reader and a great graphic device.”
Kate White, editor, Cosmopolitan

2. What makes a good cover number?
“The smaller the number and the more specific, the better.”
David Zinczenko, editor, Men’s Health

3. Where do you stand on using “365” during a Leap Year?
“We decided in August or so that we wanted to do 365 beauty ideas in the beauty section for our January [2008] issue. The beauty department commissioned 365, and there was some last-minute talk if there should be 366 beauty ideas for the leap year, but we decided against it.”
Cindi Leive, editor, Glamour

4. Who is responsible for all of the counting?
“We’ll assign a research assistant or a hapless intern to try to count up most of the tips in the magazine and find some way to quantify for the cover of the magazine.”
-David Zinczenko

5. Do you have any advice for numbers that aspire to be on the cover of magazines?
“I have to like the number. Sometimes I’ll have 75 items and I’ll like number 67 better.”
-Kate White