Much ink and many pixels have been spent in the ongoing discussion of the future of journalism and publishing, and for good reason; Amazon has the traditional brick and mortar book store on the ropes, and newsstand publication figures continue to fall by around 10% every half year.
Digital advocates point towards the online editions of the big name publications which are lauded as the successor of the newspaper – whose form had remained relatively unchanged since the early 1600s and was about ready for a revamp. The importance of iPad and Kindle editions is arguably much inflated; although the sales figures for these formats do double each year, digital editions currently exists as a tiny percentage (around 1.7%) of sales worldwide.
As it stands, though, the magazine industry seems to be fighting a losing battle and within the next few decades it’s very possible that a lot of the big name magazines which have been around for many years will have disappeared – or, at least, radically changed their form.
One of the greatest weapons this struggling medium has against its own decline is the colourful, striking, large-format images which appear on the shelves of both digital and physical newsstands. Simply put, there’s just something satisfying about a glossy, well-presented concept in the form of an A4 photograph, illustration, or graphic. Below is a list of 10 of the most iconic magazine covers of all time, ranging from as far back as as the 60s, to as recently as the last few years.
10. People : Sep. 15, 1997
People Magazine has been running since 1974 and is published by Time Inc which has a pretty good record when it comes to striking covers (it also publishes a range of magazines including Time, Sports Illustrated, NME, Marie Claire, and Nuts).
This issue which was released two weeks after Diana’s death was the fifty-seventh time that she was featured on the cover of the weekly magazine. The fact that Princess Diana featured on half of the ten best selling issues of People Magazine is a testament to the American interest in the British royal family.
9. Time : April 14, 1997
Even today it takes true guts for public figures such as athletes, politicians, and rappers to identify themselves as gay, but back in the 90s it was even more of a step for a celebrity to take.
After coming out Ellen DeGeneres failed to find work for almost three weeks, fortunately things quickly improved after this and the 57 year-old now hosts her own chat show which has won 32 daytime Emmys since its start in 2003.
8. Esquire : October 1966
This cover accompanied the infamous cover story ‘M’, which was written by literary journalist and war correspondent John Sack who covered every American conflict for over half a century.
The story followed the young soldiers of M Company from their training in the States to deployment in South Vietnam. It has been speculated that the piece led to a shift in the public feelings towards the conflict as a whole, and may have contributed to its termination.
7. Entertainment Weekly : May 2, 2003
At a concert in London just before the US invasion of Iraq, Dixie Chicks band member Maines introduced a song with the words: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Soon after the bank reiterated this sentiment with a statement on their website.
The backlash against the band was enormous: many of the more conservative American radio stations cut their music from their playlists completely, and a wave of insulting and often sexists internet abuse flooded in. Two weeks after the London concert (against the advice of their publicists), the Dixie Chicks appeared naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly with their bodies covered in some of the criticisms they’d received.
When accused of potentially having an ulterior motive to the attention grabbing cover, the band claimed that they were dealing with “bigger issues” than the loss of record sales.
6. Esquire : December 2000
Like Princess Diana, ex-president Clinton is a regular feature in Esquire. The magazine was first launched in 1932 with the aim “to become the common denominator of masculine interests—to be all things to all men”, and blossomed during the Depression Era.
The photo, which is one of the most iconic portraits of Clinton, was taken in a 7 minute time slot in a cramped hotel room by the photographer Platon Antoniou who has produced a range of widely recognised portraits of public figures including a more recent Time Magazine Man of the Year cover of Putin.
5. LIFE : Special Edition 1969
LIFE magazine was probably the publication most involved in the coverage of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, the placement of two men on the moon, and their safe return to earth. Along with the infamous Earthrise, this photograph is one of the images which best captured the public imagination, allowing them to fully realise the importance of the event.
4. People : Sept. 24, 2001
Because of the proliferation of cameras there exist a number of images of the 9/11 attacks, but few of these photographs are as striking as this depiction of the familiar skyline filled with smoke from the first plane, with the perfect silhouette of the second just before impact.
The photograph was taken from a hilltop in Verona by Robert Cumins, who was leaving his place of work when he heard the news about the first plane hitting the Trade Center. He immediately turned his car around, getting to the window just as he put film in his camera: “I saw the plane coming up from the south,” he says, “but I figured it was just a plane taking off from Newark. It never entered my consciousness that it was a plane headed for the tower.”
3. Glamour : August 1968
Although black models are still in the minority today, in the late 60s it was completely unheard of to have a black woman on the cover of a major woman’s magazine. This cover, which features Katiti Kironde was the first of its kind to do so, 30 years into the magazine’s lifetime.
It was feared that the 18 year-old Harvard Graduate would affect the sales figures, but reassuringly, as it turned out the absolute opposite was true; the issue sold over 200 million copies, and remains to this day the most popular issue of Glamour ever.
2. Vanity Fair : August 1991
This photography, taken by Hollywood’s in-house photographer Annie Leibowitz, depicts a seven month pregnant Demi Moore. Moore has appeared on the cover of the Vanity Fair three times, twice without any clothes. Leibovitz stated that the picture was intended to portray an “anti-Hollywood, anti-glitz” attitude.
The cover has been imitated many times by a range of celebrities willing to bare all to gain a little publicity though few have been seen as brave as Moore, with extensive use of photoshopping to disguise the effects of the pregnancies.
1. National Geographic : June 1985
Although there a number of covers featured on this list that create a real impression on the viewer without the use of a powerful photograph, this candid image is perhaps the most likely to catch the eye and persuade the man on the street to part with his hard earned change.
The subjective nature of the question makes it impossible to state that a magazine cover is the most definitively iconic, but this cover has a pretty good claim to the title. The universally recognised image was taken in 1984, five years into the civil war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, and portrays the searing eyes of a 12 year refugee who’d been approached by photographer Steve McCurry. In an interview regarding the breathtaking image, McCurry admitted that he “didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day”.