The Inherent Oddity of the Digital Cover Story
a.k.a. Websites don't actually have covers.
Last week, Resident Advisor published its first-ever cover story, a lengthy profile of LSDXOXO. The content wasn’t all that different than the artist features the site has been running for the past two decades—the biggest change was the inclusion of original photos, which seem to have come from a shoot commissioned specifically for the article—and yet, the piece was promoted as though it represented some kind of major paradigm shift in RA’s content offerings. The article was literally given a catalog number (C.001, in case you’re wondering) and someone in the publication’s design department even mocked up a digital rendering of a magazine cover, which was then posted on RA’s Instagram and boosted via paid promotion into the feeds of presumably anyone who’d ever shown even the slightest interest in electronic music. (In truth, I have no idea what demographics were targeted, but that post was parked in my feed all last week.)
Regardless of how one feels about Resident Advisor, there’s something weird about a publication that’s not only digital, but has always been digital, investing so much energy (not to mention money) into a “cover story.” The cover of what, exactly? A print magazine that never existed?
In fairness, RA isn’t alone in this. Pitchfork—another outlet that’s basically always lived online—has been running cover stories since 2012. Beatportal, the editorial arm of a digital electronic music store, has been running cover stories since 2019. (Late last year they literally hired me to write one about AceMoMA.) Mixmag had a long run as a print magazine, but even after the print version was “paused” in 2020—a return, which was originally promised for 2021, has yet to occur—the online publication has continued to run cover stories, the most recent being a profile of Courtesy.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to the electronic music press. Many outlets from across the media spectrum have implemented (or at least experimented with) digital cover stories in recent years, primarily in an effort to signal to potential readers that certain stories are “premium” pieces of content. However, given the dwindling footprint of physical media, particularly in more niche and youth-oriented cultural sectors, it does seem strange that the term “cover story”—which, at this point, is essentially an anachronism—is not just hanging around, but actually seems to be growing in prevalence.