Rolling Stone Cover Photo: Does Size Matter?

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Rolling Stone, Italy

A former Rolling Stone Art Director argues that the reduced page-size of the US Rolling Stone, has diminished the impact of its cover

Rolling Stone music magazine is reknowned for its use of imagery, both photography and illustration, going back to the days of illustrator Ralph Steadman’s crazy adventures with Hunter S. Thompson.

Image by Ralph Steadman

Right through to the cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, shot by Annie Leibovitz hours before Lennon’s murder, which was named best cover  cover of the last 40 years by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Image by Annie Leibovitz

But Andy Cowles, a former Art Director of Rolling Stone from 2002-2004, who runs the Coverthink blog, argues that Rolling Stone’s original ‘widescreen’ format gave it an edge in the impact it made. But the smaller size in the US edition, it’s got thinner, has reduced the drama of the cover.

And it’s not just the size of the page it’s the way the logo functions.  “The logo may be powerful” writes Cowles, “but it’s also relatively long and thin. It needs to be used on a wider format to have any chance of being seen, or imposing itself on its subjects. A wider format allows the logo to go over the subject due to its shallow height. Equally, if the logo goes behind the image, then there’s plenty left to see due to the extra width.”

In an incredibly instructive and informative piece on his blog Cowles compares a current cover with an older one. Does scale matter? Or can a different design on a smaller scale deliver? The exmaples he shows are not wholly fair in that the charismatic Obama cover he shows has the advantage of no coverlines.

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