by Rich Klein
It’s hard to understand but even though I’ve always been a print “guy”, I’ve never worried as much about cover attractiveness as most publishing professionals. After all, I would usually buy the baseball preview magazines for the content and never worry about the covers nor would I really care about who was on the front of Who’s Who in Baseball or the Sporting News annual guide and record books. Let’s face it, almost all of my purchases were based on content not on attractiveness. Of course, as I would discover when I moved to Dallas to work for Beckett publications in 1990, I was very much in a minority when it comes to importance of covers.
You can see in early Beckett covers the evolution from just showing baseball cards of popular players on the front cover to actual photographs. By the time Beckett Football Card Monthly #1 came out in 1989, two things really gave that issue serious hobby cache. The first was from what I told a print run of just over 100,000 copies. Today that seems like an amazing amount of magazines but in 1989, that number was very small for a Beckett #1. The other thing which made the magazine so popular in all the places carrying it was a photo of Bo Jackson face in a real tight shot. That beautiful photo and the relative short print of the magazine made for many collectors and dealers very upset.
I remember a couple of things about that issue: First, I have an article in it, which I remember writing late one night on my dining room table after returning from doing statistics at the U.S. Tennis Open. As a contributor, one was supposed to get two things: a check and a copy of the magazine the article appeared in. The check arrived promptly, the magazine not so much.
I contacted Pepper Hastings at Beckett who was my editor and he finally found me a slightly used copy to send me and said please never say anything about how you got this magazine. Pepper, I think after 24 years we can let this secret out of the bag. The other was that Mary Campana, then one of the Beckett dealer reps, told me she was basically the only one in the office the day after Thanksgiving and she spent the entire day calming down people who were not able to get copies of that magazine. After she left Beckett, Mary spent years attempting to convince me to do something good which would become very important in my life and I’m glad I did that (phone work at a crisis center) because any time I think about my problems, one shift will change my perspective immediately.
Because of the overwhelming secondary market success of the first football magazine, there are significantly more copies of Basketball and Hockey #1 with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky respectively on those covers. If I remember correctly, each of those issues had approximately a half million copies printed.
When I got to Texas in the fall of 1990, I think we were about to put Bo Jackson on what was seemingly his sixth magazine cover in 12 months and I openly exclaimed ‘why is Bo on yet another copy?’
Rudy Klancnik, who was then the football editor, explained to me it was because Bo sold and sales were a good thing for all of us. “Remember the better the covers, the better your bonus will be,” he explained. From that point on, I never made a comment about covers without thinking about the bottom line.
Even today, with most of the Beckett magazines sold through retail type chains such as Barnes and Noble and in heavily competitive situations covers still matter. I was at the Beckett offices a few months ago on a random afternoon when I was off work and heard a discussion about Pablo Sandoval or Buster Posey as the cover boy after the Giants won the World Series. I then reminded them of the mantra we used to have when it came to covers; “Use it or lose it”.
While a few players are always safe to use, many players have a short window to be used. Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval will be a great example of that and was used on the January, 2013 Beckett cover. After all, while the Panda is beloved, will there ever be a better time to use him except after his three homer World Series game. When I hear Panda came to spring training at 262 pounds, it makes you think that maybe this off-season was the use it or lose it time.
So in case you ever wonder why certain people end up on covers remember there are always reasons but in publishing, about 99 percent of them refer back to extra sales which help keep magazines published. Or in sports card collectors’ cases, how much will they think they can make.
I’ll leave you with this story. As I was driving down to Dallas in September of 1990, I stopped at some random flea market on my way and picked up the new Beckett to have something light to read at night. I still remember the gentlemen selling me the magazine and saying: “Jose Canseco on the cover. Going to be worth a lot of money someday”. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, but even the flea market dealer understood how important a good cover shot was and attempted to plan accordingly.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]