iPads making magazine covers thing of past?

Last semester, I wrote a column lambasting Newsweek for their penchant to use overly sensationalized magazine covers to attract readers. I was critical of Newsweek and other magazines for trying to stay relevant in a changing, digitized marketplace. They didn’t need to pander to our lowest sensibilities, I thought.

And then the iPad happened, and everything changed.

With the launch of Apple’s titanic iPad this month, the method of receiving and disseminating news and information is looking to change — again. This time, however, print publications might not be able to withstand the innovative accessibility and irresistible ergonomics of the iPad.

And with the destruction of print comes the destruction of magazine covers.

Newsweek, I’m sorry. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m going to miss your cover pages that are so riveting they make headlines all by themselves. Sarah Palin in short-shorts, we hardly knew ye.

A magazine cover, not unlike the front page of a newspaper, is a snapshot of our culture and society at any given time. It reflects our values, our desires and our fears.

Sometimes, a cover isn’t much more than a smiling face of a celebrity or a colorful graphic. But sometimes, it reminds us why we’re here and what truly matters. Many times, a cover makes us look at a controversy or societal issue in a new light.

A shirtless and chiseled Tiger Woods on Vanity Fair following revelations of his extramarital affairs? Man, that was haunting.

Magazine covers are crafted like delicate pieces of art, used to illicit deep, emotional responses and to catch the attention of hustling passersby. They can be cathartic, as with The New Yorker’s silhouettes of the World Trade Center following Sept. 11. They can vividly bespeak of tragedy, as with images of Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, or seize on triumph, as with Barack Obama’s ascendency to the White House.

But the iPad, with such potential to drastically change the market and business model of information sharing and gathering permanently, may reduce magazine covers to a nostalgic memory. Magazines can still very much exist on tablets, but there won’t be as much need or emphasis on the cover. Without a tangible magazine to pick up, a cover page designed to provoke the impulse buy becomes irrelevant.

Cover pages will survive the shift to tablet computing, but they won’t have the same value on a screen. They aren’t going result in a compulsive buy and magazines won’t put as much time or money into their creation.

Are iPadders going to need a cover to attract their attention on screen? No, because without tangibility covers lose much of their significance and reason for existence.

And slowly, the Afghan refugee on the cover of National Geographic will become a fading memory of a time when one picture or graphic could seize our attention and connect us to people both near and distant.

Dustin wants to thank Carol Schwalbe for giving him this column idea in class. Reach him at dustin.volz@asu.edu


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