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Swag mags 

The strongest magazine cover image of 1981 was an Annie Liebovitz shot. The nude photograph of Lennon hugging Yoko Ono on Rolling Stone won first place in the American Society of Magazine Editors' Magazine 40/40 competition that ranked the top 40 covers of the past 40 years. A nude Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair in August 1991 placed second.

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 ajcg@acpub.duke.edu.

  • Stuff! Free stuff!

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