Don’t Expect Newsweek’s Digital Covers to Be Any Less Provocative

Magazine will continue to use big-name covers to stay in the conversation

Last year, Newsweek editor Tina Brown confessed that Newsweek's print product cost roughly $42 million per year to ship, causing some to note that the magazine's shift to be digital-only would liberate the publication from the costly chains of the printing press. Yet, while the product may be made up of zeroes and ones, Newsweek's first digital cover shows all the signs of continuing its tradition of featuring flashy, marquee-name photography and writers in an attempt to put the magazine at the center of the news cycle.

Newsweek's first digital-only edition, released Friday, features a cover story by the critically acclaimed author Tom Wolfe shot by Platon, an elite portrait and magazine photographer who's photographed everyone from sitting presidents to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Nabbing Wolfe and Platon to decorate the issue couldn't have been cheap for the magazine, which began laying off staffers, including some top editors, last December, but for Newsweek, the lack of physical circulation apparently isn't going to change the publication's emphasis on creating compelling and controversial print-worthy covers to drum up publicity and make news. Given the viral nature of big magazine covers (Bloomberg Businessweek seems to make news on social networks like Twitter weekly with its covers), the high-profile covers may be worth the money if they help keep Newsweek in the conversation and attract new subscribers. To that end, Newsweek published the cover story on its online sibling The Daily Beast, where it had received more than 100 comments by late Friday afternoon, but the publication hasn't made a hard and fast rule about how much of the content from the iPad edition will be freely available online.

Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk told Adweek that online and social media chatter contributed to most of the buzz surrounding Newsweek's past cover controversies, something that is unlikely to change in the title's digital phase. "In most cases, the impact of the cover has not been because of newsstand presence," he said. "The ability to start the conversation online has always trickled down to the newsstand, and I think that won't change as people continue to talk about it on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and on TV."