Sunday, January 22, 2012

Big Barcodes

Here are a couple of strikingly similar magazine covers which both make reference to the Universal Product Code, or UPC. This barcode is now commonly used to scan trade products at checkout counters in grocery stores but there was a time when it was new and when it was resented.

Mad Magazine took up the gauntlet first, in it's April 1978 issue when the UPC label was first being introduced to magazine covers. A magazine might be expected to resent the UPC's infringement on its valuable cover space, the area the magazine uses to project its image and sell itself to newsstand customers. Mad showed its Luddite streak, reproducing a grotesquely-enlarged version of the UPC label and expressing the hope that "this issue jams every computer in the country." Mad's defiance might have had more bite if they had actually omitted the smaller, real UPC code.

A decade later, The New Yorker ran James Stevenson's cover, which uses an enlarged UPC image as a strong graphic element that overwhelms the small and oblivious supermarket shoppers. The New Yorker may safely assume that it doesn't share too many readers with Mad, but over a decade certainly some readers may migrate. Stevenson's use of the enlarged UPC label specifically pertains to grocery items and not to magazines. Note that The New Yorker's cover doesn't carry the real UPC label. The magazine's circulation is mostly by subscription, and these mailed issues do not carry the UPC barcode that copies of the magazine are required to have in stores.

Mad Magazine, No. 198, April 1978

James Stevenson, The New Yorker, November 14, 1988

Note:  James Stevenson's poster appears in my New York is Book Country post here. Stop by and find out what's lurking in the sewers of Book Country.


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