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MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS:

Task: – Produce a detailed semiotic analysis of a magazine front cover detailing how it targets its audience
– to include analysis of shot details, framing, composition, colours, lighting, body language, expressions,
clothes, design features, anchorage (relationship between text and image).
NB! Denotations (description) and Connotations (social and cultural meanings). Look at example which
follows. You should aim to do this for 3 Bauer titles, including 2 contrasting titles for comparison
Dateline – month and year of publication / issue no.

Audience Profile [use http://www.bauer.co.uk/our-magazines to add detail to this]

Masthead – Analyse both the title of magazine (connotations?) + its graphical look (font,
colouring etc)

Selling line [there isn’t always one] – sets out the ‘identity’ or USP of the magazine

Main and other cover lines (banners and straplines) – information about lead articles and
features!

Plugs – information about content to hook the audience

Flashes – words like ‘exclusive’ or ‘new’ to boost status

Price – cheap or expensive?

MODE OF ADDRESS: what sort of language is used (standard English or non-standard [slang]?). How
does the mag encourage the reader to identify with it/the brand?

MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS: Media Studies @ IGS 1


The secrets of magazine cover design:
1. The key ingredients

The ingredients Use on front cover


Masthead (logo) The name of the magazine displayed in a specific typeface. This is the visual
branding of the title and is often done in a specially designed typeface to be very
recognisable and unique. The masthead is usually used on the contents page inside
as well as the front cover, and as a logo for advertising and branding purposes
Dateline Month and year of publication, often with the price. Note that a monthly magazine
usually hits the news-stands the month before the cover date
Main image In the case of this front cover there is a single image of the model Shania. The
image is used in a classic way, the face is big enough to stand out on the news-
stand, with the model making full eye-contact
Model credit This says: 'Shania: So hot.' It is unusual for such a credit to appear on a magazine
front cover, but is done on fashion magazines. The photographer and model credit
is usually on the contents page
Coverlines Cosmopolitan magazine uses a lot of cover lines, which are distributed around the
main image without detracting from it too much. A mistake often made with cover
lines is that they run over an image that has a lot of colour changes, rendering the
words invisible. This is a problem here with the red text on the hair on the left and
the smaller yellow text against Shania's skin
Main cover line This is very large - taking up almost a quarter of the magazine cover - and comes in
three layers, each with a different colour. It promotes the use of naked male
centrefolds, a feature of Cosmopolitan in the UK since its first issue. Note the main
cover line is positioned against the model's shoulder so it shows up clearly
Left third The left third of the magazine cover is vital for sales in shops where the magazine
is not shown full-frontage. The title must be easily recognisable in a display of
MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS: Media Studies @ IGS 2
dozens of competitors. The start of the masthead is important here, as are short
cover lines that are easy to read
Bar code Standard bar code used by retailers
Selling line Short, sharp description of the title's main marketing point (for Cosmopolitan: 'The
world's No 1 magazine for young women') or perhaps setting out its editorial
philosophy

The secrets of magazine cover design 2:


The right mix
(part 1)

Woman & Home was launched in South Africa into A poster-style cover, with minimum encroachment
the competitive weekly women's sector. The cover on the celebrity image by cover lines, for the launch
has an even balance between words and image of Esquire in Moscow

Look and feel The way a cover looks is dictated by the publishing and editorial strategy that it
is designed to put across.
The poster-style adopted by Esquire for its launch in Russia is laid back and
confident compared with the first issue of Woman & Home in South Africa.
Poster designs are chosen by magazines that feel confident they are not facing
great competition on the news-stand. However, even the top magazines will
only use this style occasionally.
The men's monthly must use a face that is instantly recognisable, put the
magazine in an international framework and appeal to well-off, aspirational
readers. The photograph of film actor Bruce Willis for Esquire will have been
taken by one of the best photographers, it will be processed by the best repro
houses and printed on very good paper by a very good printer - it will both look
and feel glossy.
Woman & Home is a mass-market weekly. Its female buyers will have a lot of
options from which to choose. Also, Woman & Home will have to compete on
newsagents' shelves where it will probably not be shown full-cover, but partly
obscured by other titles. Esquire in Russia on the other hand will be sold in
selected, upmarket outlets where it will usually be shown full-face on.
The cover lines Both covers above have a main cover line and subsidiary lines. The Russian
title keeps them out of the way at the bottom. Woman & Home uses a range of
techniques to make individual lines stand out without overwhelming the others:

MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS: Media Studies @ IGS 3


• each cover line has two parts: a 'kicker' in a bold font with an
explanatory line;
• some are in colour, chosen to stand out against the background;
• 3 flashes are used: New; More; and the Exclusive slash;
• stars are used to list items rather than the usual bullets;
• a line running along the top of the masthead lists the topics covered;
• lines are restricted to the left and right thirds and the bottom of the page.

Notice that the vital New flash is in the left third below the cover so it will
show up in all displays
The image Consumer magazine editors worry more about the cover more than any other
part of the magazine. It has long been a mantra that an editor should prostitute
himself for the cover, because it is so important to copy sales in the shops
(particularly in the UK where 90% of sales are in newsagents).
There are no absolute rules to putting a cover together - as a look at the history
of magazines shows. Technology has been a big factor in terms of what's
possible (women's monthlies weren't so glossy 40 years ago, but advances in
varnishing and lamination have now made them so). Many people bemoan the
move away from the sort of covers that made the Illustrated London News and
Esquire famous, but readers' tastes change; magazines must change with them
or fold.
Generally, photographs are felt to work better than illustration. However, what
works for one title might fail on another - computer magazines tend to like a
factual look, with white background and photographs; yet computer gaming
titles prefer moody illustration.
The models on women's weekly covers will not usually be household names;
instead they reflect how the target readers feel - or want to feel - about
themselves. Models will be chosen to look younger than the target reader
(except on teen titles).
Bruce Willis is chosen as an international screen icon who moves in the sort of
circles that the magazine's aspirational buyers would like to see themselves in.
Note that the faces are not centred on the nose, but instead on one of the eyes.
People prefer images of others with wide-open pupils - a sign of attraction in
everyday life.
Colour: many editors avoid white, black and green. Red stands out but can be
History of US covers over-used. Contrast between colours may be more important.
Numbers are used to suggest there is a lot in a magazine. The bigger the better,
Database of covers with many editors preferring figures such as 162 to rounded numbers such as
100
Study of US Life

Article bemoaning the


decline in US cover design
Dick Stolley's mantra "Young is better than old.
Pretty is better than ugly.
Rich is better than poor.
Movies are better than music.
Music is better than television.
Television is better than sports
. . . and anything is better than politics."

This mantra for cover images - and many variants of it - has been around since
the early 1980s. It was coined by Dick Stolley, the founding managing editor of
People magazine in the US in 1974. He has stressed that it was designed for
People, which is regarded as having established the celebrity sector in the US.
MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS: Media Studies @ IGS 4
In a 1999 interview with the Peoria Journal Star, he added: "And after 1980 I
amended the final line to 'And nothing is better than the celebrity dead',"
following the death of John Lennon, "... which was the best-selling cover until
Princess Diana on the occasion of her death became the best-selling news-stand
A conversation with Dick cover."
Stolley

An extended glossary of magazine terms can be found at


http://www.magforum.com/glossarya.htm

MAGAZINE FRONT COVER ANALYSIS: Media Studies @ IGS 5