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Losing Cover

winning cover

Best and Worst Travel Covers

by Linda Ruth

When I was a kid, my family would take a two-week vacation every summer. My parents would pack us up and off we’d go. Everyone I knew did the same, and indeed, so did most Americans.

Not so anymore. The trends in travel, current market research says, are moving toward shorter, more frequent and costlier escapes. American’s are not taking those 2-week stints anymore. And because the escapes are now squeezed into long weekends and sandwiched between other commitments, they have to be closer to home.

That trend itself could explain why the "Martha's Vineyard" issue of Travel & Leisure was a hit, while the "Hawaii" issue, which appeared three months earlier, was a flop. Hawaii, after all, is too distant to take in over a long weekend. So are Munich and Mount Kilimanjaro, two other destinations covered in that issue. April's issue is all-American, and is more likely to catch the eye of the newsstand browser dreaming of a yet-unplanned escape.

Travel magazines, of course, do serve as dream books for a huge percentage of readers, so many will buy an issue even if it doesn’t cover a destination they have immediate plans to visit. But in this respect, it seems the Hawaii issue of T&L failed – and no wonder. Think of all the enticing photographs you've ever seen of Hawaii – clear blue ocean, flowers, volcanoes, palm trees. In comparison, the photo on T&L’s cover could almost have been taken in Kansas, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Not Your Model Cover

I’m also not completely happy with the model on the cover, by the way. To me, she seems inappropriately dressed for the hike she's taking. Those sandals; that long, narrow skirt. If the photo is meant to convey a look of freedom and relaxation (and it should), then it misses the mark. The model seems out of place. She ought to be sipping a long, cool drink on a balcony overlooking the ocean, and, if she wants to walk the country roads, she ought to change her outfit.

This is one example of how a publisher can get too close to the trees to see the forest. Staring at cover art for too long makes everything too familiar. You can get so used to seeing the logo you think it is adequately legible (compare the January and April logos). You can get so used to reading the cutlines that you think they jump right out, even when they don’t (compare the banners on the two issues). And after looking at photo after photo, the really charming ones might start to look clichéd. A photo that offers a less "usual" perspective might appear to have more charm than it really does.

They Promised, They Delivered

I wouldn't call the (winning) April cover ideal, either. The cutlines are in the wrong place, and we miss the opportunity for eye contact with the little girl. But it's local; it's legible; the photo is more evocative; and the promises made by the cutlines are very concrete: Country Inns of the Northwest; Southern Plantation Drive; The Ultimate Palm Springs Spa. Each tells you much more of the article’s content than a vague "Making the Scene in Munich" does. What scene, and how am I to make it? I know the article will be about Munich, but I don’t know anything else. Intrigue me.

Dropping the "ing" from the lines would also add some vigor. "Make the Scene in Munich" and "Climb Mount Kilimanjaro" have plenty more impact.

Finally, we must not underestimate the "thud" factor. The April issue is 182 pages thick; the January issue is only 116. The additional 66 pages have a considerable impact on the heft of the publication. That heft can make all difference…perception is everything.




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