In music, it’s the hook that brings you back. In glossies, it’s the cover that pulls you in and makes you care. Some things never go out of style, regardless of industry ups and downs or the vagaries of technical trends.
As Jill Filipovic asks in the Columbia Journalism review, “Why do magazine cover images still hold so much cultural power?”
She cites the recent Rolling Stone cover featuring the bareback and Constitutionally-scrawled comic actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus:
“In some ways, the … cover is a sign of how far we’ve come: A 53-year-old woman is naked on the cover of a major American magazine and the ensuing controversy isn’t about bare skin, but historical accuracy—the US Constitution is printed on her back with “John Hancock” scribbled atop her butt, but his famous signature actually graces the Declaration of Independence,” writes Filipovic.
The cultural importance of magazine covers exists in their power to act as lightning rod for current controversy and social discourse. They spark something in the collective imagination, bringing to light the issues that are quite often simmering under the surface.
Filipovic wonders why the printed cover still has so much pull, when the art form, in her words, is “on its last legs.”
I think she, in a roundabout way, answers her own question and even contradicts her “end of print” premise further down in the article.
“Magazine real estate may be rendered more valuable by virtue of the fact that it’s more permanent—if you have a hard copy of a magazine you can store it away without the fear that you might go to read it one day and find an ‘Error: Page Unknown’ message,” she speculates.
And while she continues to ponder how magazines can have this kind of power in “a seemingly never-ending universe of high-quality content a mouse-click away,” we think underneath it all she gets it.
“The Huffington Post averaged 45 million unique monthly visitors last spring, far more than picked up a copy of Rolling Stone. But most readers couldn’t tell you what image illustrated HuffPost’s front page last week (or in the last hour). Someone reading Vogue on an airplane probably doesn’t have to check the cover to tell you who’s gracing it,” asserts.
What gives the cover image this kind of pull? I believe she knows.