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What Makes a Great Financial Magazine Cover?
by Linda Ruth

 

Let's face it: you’re not a CEO netting in the seven figures, but you are interested in…Money. Who isn’t?

In the business and personal finance categories, as in the computer and technology category, the sports and fitness category, the travel category, the women’s fashion category, and many other categories, people like to read up. They like to read, not just about where they are, or where they might be, but also about where they would like to be. They want to be assured that one day they might be there too. The magazine becomes more than a practical guide or a handbook. It becomes a wish book.

This becomes more true for the more consumer-oriented titles. In the broad spectrum that comprises the business and finance titles, the more you gear your title toward the consumer market, the more certain you can be that your readership will encompass, not just the tycoons, but also the wannabes.

With that in mind, compare the two covers of Money magazine. One was a hit, one a flop. Which was which?

They both promise that you can make money. But the one assures the reader that they can make $100,000 working at home. Here is a dream indeed. The cover image shows the successful executive, working out of her bathtub with her small luxuries at hand. This is a prospect that might appeal to anyone.

The second cover also addresses, to some degree, people’s hopes: "Make Money". No one can argue with that. But how much money? The first cover is very specific; it promises $100,000. This second cover promises money, but doesn't tell how much. That lack of specificity already creates a small doubt, a lack of confidence.

But more than that, the cutline, as it continues, resonates with readers' fears: "Even if the Market Falls." So the market is going to fall? That’s just what investors most fear. That is the disaster continually looming; the dark side of the Wall Street Shangri la.

Personal finance is already a field of life fraught with stress. Fitness magazine readers don’t want to be told: "Look good – even if you get fat." They want to be told "You too can have the body of an 18 year old." Similarly, Money Magazine readers already have enough anxiety concerning finances. They don’t want more. They don't want to be told that they too can join the ranks of the 2 million Americans already raking it in – in the comfort of their own homes.

Both covers remain consistent in their approaches. In other cutlines Money's hit cover buoyantly announces "Great tax-filing tips"; its flop cover gloomily intones "IRS audit crackdown."

Everyone knows that the self-help field is booming. But consider: aren’t these titles really a form of self-help – self help for the business and finance set? With this in mind, think of the difference between the promises of cover one and over two. The hit promises "Safe 12% returns"; the flop: "Cut your investing risks in half." If you’ve dabbled in pop psychology you know the difference in message between “be successful” and “don’t be a flop.” That is the difference between investing in safe 12% returns and cutting risk in half. If you’re cutting something in half, half still remains.

We all know that there is a risk in investing. We also know there’s nothing we can do to wholly eliminate that risk. We just don’t want to hear about it. Cover two does give a few upbeat lines: 22 great stocks, safe bond funds, your best job moves. But after the lead cutline and its sobering reminder, those small lines are too little, too late. There’s enough angst out there already. And if it’s a choice between working out of my bathtub or dealing with the realities of an uncertain market, I know which I’d choose. Is the Money reader any different? From the sales results, apparently not.

 

 

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