Magazine publishers and front page layout artists have always known that it's not always content that drives a purchase. Grabby covers, especially of celebrities (the more nude the better) make it to the checkout line most often.
The smarties at a handful of Brit rock magazines and at the West coast headquarters of McSweeney's have taken that idea to the next level: give out free stuff!
The latest McSweneey's is their cleverest yet. It's a shrink-wrapped, rubber-banded assortment of third-class-looking mail "stuff." They call it "Made to Look Like it Came in Your Mailbox." The reader gets manila envelopes, colorful advertising flyers and bills--a regular Saturday cornucopia.
McSweeney's bunkmates, push the envelope, too. The year-end issue of The Believer includes a DVD with films by or about Spike Jonze, Selma Blair and other cutting-edge video artists. The Believer DVD is accompanied by another small magazine called Wholphin. Writer and producer Miranda July entertains in the premiere issue. Spike Jonze's piece is a limited distribution campaign documentary shot for Al Gore (yup, the buff bodysurfing Al!)
Mojo magazine, the most popular Brit rock mag in the U.S., includes a 15- 20-track CD with each issue. Similarly, their monthly rackmate Q adds a goodie bag each month. Their January 2006 issue is one of the best yet. Not only does the regular issue rock out with end-of-year specials, best tracks, greatest albums, etc., but the reader gets a free book, The Greatest Rock and Pop Miscellany Ever! I spent more time with the 150-page book that I did with the magazine. Obsessive rock geeks would gladly pay nine bucks for the book alone.
Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman contributed the year's best drop-in to the year-end issue of The Virginia Quarterly Review. His four-page insert poster for a new graphic novel work-in-progress is an instant collectable. Look for future installments of Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History in future issues of VQR.
Contributing Writer John Valentine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.