February 3, 2015 Last Updated 9:58 am

Roundtable: Digital magazine cover design – should they be different from print? What if there is no print edition?

Digital publishing platforms offers an almost endless variety of choices for art directors: from replicas of print, to wildly animated covers, while others look to use the cover in completely new ways

The relaunch issue of App Publisher contains a roundtable of magazine design experts who give us their opinion concerning digital magazine covers. The roundtable will be a regular feature of the digital-only magazine, with the editors soliciting the opinions of industry professionals on a specific topic each issue (any ideas for a topic for the next issue?)

“I think you can do whatever you like for a digital magazine cover… its really just something the user sees as a ‘poster’ really – so perhaps turn it more into a contents page – or something completely different – one image with no words,” David Hicks, digital publishing consultant told us. ” I think too many designers stick to what they know – ie: print covers. It just looks lazy, to be honest.”

DigMags-covers-400Hicks was the first person I asked about digital magazine covers as we experimented with the question for the first roundtable.

“Unlike a print edition, the reader can’t pick up the edition and flip through it before deciding to purchase,” Chris Bond, Creative Lead, Digital Editions, for Toronto-based TC Media, said. “Cover videos give us the opportunity to give the reader a bit of that “flip through” feeling by bringing to life what they’ll get inside. While such elements help to amplify the value of the content, you don’t want to overwhelm the reader with too much different kinds of interactivity.

Also contributing to the initial roundtable were Mick Moore, Creative Director at the British Journal of Photography, James Isaacs, Art Director at TeamRock’s Classic Rock and Metal Hammer, Pedro Monteiro, Product Manager for Digital Paid Content at Lisbon-based Impresa Publishing, and David Jacobs, Co-founder and Principal at 29th Street Publishing.


The decision concerning the cover of a digital edition for a print magazine publisher can be varied: from simply reproducing the print magazine cover (often with the scan code remaining visible), to a complete redesign. For digital-only publishers, however, who do not have a print edition to build off of, the decision as to what to do with the cover can be perplexing.

Lights-cover-tocMany self-publishers using PDF-based digital publishing platforms try to mimic the look of print, often with very poor results. Most digital publishing solutions build their digital editions in such a way that the cover appears first just as it does with print. Because of this, many self-publishers, with little design experts, make the mistake trying to create something that might be seen on the newsstand of their local shop.

Other platforms, such as TypeEngine and 29th Street Publishing, take a bit of a different approach. The cover of the digital magazines from 29th Street Publishing as often simply images, sort of a splash page, if you will. Aperture’s new digital edition, for instance, opens with an image that works well in both portrait and landscape. (See original TNM post on Aperture here.)

If the platform allows, it is nice to separate out the role of the cover that is seen in the Apple Newsstand from that which is in the actual digital edition. For instance, the cover for the relaunch issue of App Publisher is perfectly acceptable in the Newsstand, but really doesn’t work in the issue itself – it is one of many items we will be rethinking as the year goes on.

Some digital magazine covers make simple adjustments that really work. The new digital magazine Lights from Corporate Magic opens with what looks like a traditional magazine cover, but then the reader scrolls down to reveal the table of contents. (See original TNM post on Lights here.)

BJP-coversThings get even more interesting on smartphones, the platform many magazines are shifting their attention to. With tablet sales slipping in 2014, many publishers see the new, larger smartphones as the logical place to launch their magazines to. Their approach varies widely: from launching impossible to read replica editions of print to smartphones, to native smartphone design. The middle ground, increasingly seen in the Newsstand, is for the art director to design for the iPad, then port over their app to the iPhone – making the iPhone edition essentially a replica edition of the iPad version.

Many digital publishing platforms will create a separate smartphone edition automatically, which others give the designer the option to create a new version. Those that do this automatically, generally produce a simple design for tablets that actually works better on smartphones. As for what to do with the cover, many of these smartphone editions realize that much of the detail of a traditional print or tablet magazine cover will be lost on the smaller display, and think of the cover as one would a splash page on a mobile app.

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