Friday, August 7, 2009

Esquire, Enough Already with the Covers

I like actor Daniel Craig, but I do have to blame him, in a way. His September 2006 cover of the American edition of Esquire magazine was the first of what has become a tiresome image/text treatment for the magazine. There, in the center of the cover, stands the handsome Bond actor, with giant text filling up every available space on the cover behind him, even running behind him.

Once, that treatment is nice and bold. Twice, it's too much. But this is now September 2009, and the Esquire that showed up in my mailbox this week features the umpteenth consecutive iteration of this design. Just six such covers are shown in the image above, but check out the (otherwise really nifty) Esquire Cover Archive and see a zillion more from the past three years: almost every single issue.

Esquire was once known for its great covers. I still remember one of my UW-Madison journalism professors dissecting a 1960s-era Esquire cover, pointing out the genius of the design, the text, the actual words used and how they conveyed what the mag thought of its readers and the high level of subject matter inside. I know, it's not the same magazine today. No magazine is the same today as it was 45 years ago, and it's almost always a change for the worse.

But cover design is often the single most enjoyable part of putting together an issue of a magazine. Coming up with the right image and text, trying something new, getting it to reflect (and, let's be frank, oversell) the interior content, eagerly awaiting its appearance on the newsstand so you can smugly note how much it stands out from its competitors. Looking at a good cover is also one of the most enjoyable parts of reading a magazine. So why the heck does Esquire stick with a cover design treatment that makes each issue look so much like the previous issue that newsstand browsers are likely to mistake the new issue for last month's?

There are other, smarter ways to give a magazine a distinctive look on the magazine racks. Let's hope the highly paid staff at Esquire can think up some of them.

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