The success of a magazine, as with almost all businesses, depends on getting people to buy its product. But that isn't possible unless consumers see the magazine. And therein lies the importance of the magazine cover.
A lot of magazines have gone to celebrity or cheesecake covers to draw in an audience. These high-tech, state-of-the-art glamour images are made in the studios of the best-known photographers or at exotic locations. It's a specialized type of photography open to very few people.
And then there is Western Photographer, a magazine that bills itself as being for the amateur photographer. It consists primarily of features, snapshots of models in swimsuits and sportswear, calendar events of upcoming photo opportunities, articles, columns and advertisements for glamour shoots at the beach and local parks.
"Southern California is the mecca of photography," said Hank Koch, publisher of Western Photographer. "There is no other place in the world that I know of where there are so many model shoots--especially with the quantity and quality that we have here."
Photo days, which usually attract about 200 photographers and 50 to 100 models at local parks, are designed to give amateur photographers an opportunity to shoot models.
"It gives them (the photographers) a chance to shoot different girls without paying a lot of money," said S.T. Bear, the magazine's editor. "It gives the girls a chance to get modeling experience and photographs for their portfolios.
"The guys get out there and enjoy the company of the other photographers. It's sort of a chance to meet the gang, instead of going to a bar.
"In a way it might be considered a girlie magazine. The pictures are used to represent what happened at the photo shoots. We've had quite a few models who have gone to photo days and become successful. Raquel Welch went to a few photo days down here in San Diego."
Bear believes the photographs are useful because subscribers can learn from them.
The magazine is published in San Diego and printed on newsprint. Columnists include Rohn Engh, Lee R. Clark, Alice and Peter Gowland and Bear. Each issue includes a calendar of upcoming photo events and shoots.
Koch started Western Photographer 30 years ago in San Diego with two friends from the Navy. He was finishing his tour of duty and wanted to start a magazine for servicemen who wanted to trade travel slides.
The magazine has appeared in many formats, starting as a pocket-size, 5-by-7-inch publication with just 25 pages, selling for 50 cents. Today it is produced in an 8-by-11-inch format with a circulation of 10,000. Subscribers now reach as far as England, New Zealand and Italy, with the majority in Southern California.
Koch, 65, has seen a lot of changes in his years with the magazine--and he'd like to see more.
"There are a lot more subjects in the world than shooting girls," he said. "I'm not against it, no way. But we intend to enlarge our magazine both in different types of articles and approach. I'm not going to phase out photo days. My growth is in the areas of nature, table-top shooting and all types of photography. I want it to be more of a service to photographers."