What makes a successful–meaning, a $ucce$$ful–magazine cover? Celebrities astride Gotham landmarks? Bacteria that resemble Christmas cookies? Subliminal death wishes? Stephanie D. Smith probed this age-old question in a lengthy piece published in Friday’s WWD, querying and quoting everyone from Vanity Fair‘s Graydon Carter (“There is no science to this.”) to Dick Stolley, the founding editor of People (“Nothing is better than the celebrity dead.”). Having combed through the assembled wisdom, we present this handy list of the top five secrets to a successful magazine cover:
5. When featuring male models, keep their clothes on.
While scantily-clad women may be the norm, the most eye-catching covers for men’s magazines showcase models who keep their shirts on. “You can probably count on [one] hand how many guys are shirtless” on Men’s Health covers, editor-in-chief David Zinczenko told WWD. “As we become a more lifestyle-oriented magazine, it’s sometimes better to show that off with a guy who is wearing a shirt.”
4. Teens like doodads–and unclean design.
Such is the experience of Seventeen‘s Ann Shoket, who makes sure that every cover of her magazine features a model with an eye-catching accessory (a piece of jewelry, a hat, a scarf) as well as plenty of sparkly design elements. “I’m taxing the design director to her limits on how many creative doodads she can come up with–burst brackets, shadow stickers,” says Shoket. “If you look at Marie Claire, which has beautiful covers, it’s one font, it’s very clean and very neat. We are not clean.”
3. No potty shots.
“Bathrooms don’t do well,” advises Real Simple Editrix Kristin van Ogtrop. “The reader does not have a love affair with her bathroom. We mostly it around the theme of cleaning, and it still doesn’t work.”
2. Wind-blown hair, and a lot of it.
“Not only abundant hair, but the blowing hair is crucial for us,” said Allure Editor-in-Chief Linda Wells. “The worst thing we can do is a really tight, pulled-back style or a hat.”
“My sense of a good cover that will sell well is if I want to lick it,” said Kate White of Cosmopolitan of the all-important yum factor.
Perhaps this last point explains a couple of our favorite covers in the history of magazines: The New Yorker‘s 2002 food issue, which featured a pair of smiley-faced ice cream cones painted by artist Wayne Thiebaud, and the August 2005 cover of ARTnews, which featured a photograph by Sharon Core, who painstakingly recreates Thiebaud’s canvases, cake by lickable cake.