This week editor Rob Alderson looks at the somewhat derided magazine cover of the century shortlist and asks how we can really pit these kind of things against each other. As ever you can join the discussion using the thread below..
This was never really going to end well. To mark its centenary, the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) unveiled its shortlist for the magazine cover of the century. It’s a good PR stunt and has certainly received a lot of attention, but it’s fair to say the response from the creative community has been pretty derisory. On Twitter, Adrian Shaughnessy described the selection as “piss-poor” while one email exchange I was party to included the pithy dismissal: “Whoever chose these was on drugs.”
“Not even good drugs,” came the reply.
Of course ultimately, whenever creative work goes head-to-head there are pertinent questions as to the validity of the exercise – how is it possible to compare, what criteria is used and how are things like context and the initial brief taken into account, if at all?
I am not going to argue that visually speaking this is a very inspiring bunch, and on a purely aesthetic level there is very little to get excited about. But there is a major problem when the ten competitors are reduced to a slideshow of visuals, because when you go through to the voting page, you find a bit more information about why these particular ten made the PPA’s cut. So we learn that The Beano cover with the full-bleed Dennis the Menace cover was at that time (1999) a new direction for the title which delivered year-topping sales. Not dissimilarly the Empire cover may depict a fairly run-of-the-mill image of Darth Vader, but the trick was that when you opened the cover it triggered a recording of Vader’s famous heavy breathing. Gimmicky? Sure. But it remains Empire’s best-ever seller.
Now of course magazine covers shouldn’t simply be judged by how many copies they shift, but to dismiss it as a factor entirely seems unnecessarily snobby. It would have been great though to see a little more respect given to the fantastic craft which goes into making really great magazine covers.
And I’ll admit that some of the write-offs don’t help themselves. Take this from the Woman’s Weekly nomination: “This 1916 cover encapsulates all the values that have been at the heart of Woman’s Weekly since 1911 – family, home and usefulness.” Thanks for that.