One of the best—and the hardest—parts of being a magazine editor is deciding what goes on the cover every month. There is nothing else quite like that little rectangle of real estate. Book jackets and album covers are quieter, movie posters are less integral to the product, billboards are more remote. But a magazine cover is a stage unlike any other, conferring a singular status on the person or place that occupies it, setting the tone for everything on the pages that follow.
Part of a cover’s power derives from all the trouble involved in producing it (power and trouble that are both greatly diminished in digital tablet editions). I think about this every month. I think about how the image is going to be carefully printed on hundreds of thousands of sheets of glossy paper, then glued to the bound pages of the magazine, then stacked on pallets and trucked all over the state and the country to be delivered to subscribers and displayed at newsstand after newsstand, in supermarkets, airports, bookstores, and anyplace fine periodicals are sold. I think about how the cover will be seen by far more people than those who actually purchase the magazine, on a friend’s coffee table or in the checkout line, and how the image will enter their minds and lead to unspoken thoughts I’ll never know.
The most obvious way to measure the success of a cover is newsstand sales. Every month we print around 350,000 copies of TEXAS MONTHLY, of which between 50,000 and 80,000 are sent to newsstands. Usually, about 50 percent of these copies get bought (the industry average is around 31 percent), but just like a major league baseball player, we strike out sometimes. Some covers sell well and some don’t. Last year’s “ TV Texans”