“…what remains to be seen is, will Time and other news magazines (and sites) wear their journalism hat or their advertising hat when the day invariably comes there is negative news about a cover advertiser?” -- The Motley Fool
“You can go ahead and mark May 22, 2014, as the day magazine covers died.” – Media Bistro
This over a Verizon ad smaller than a matchstick, below the address label, where scarcely a human soul will ever notice it. One wonders what value it even offers the advertiser. One wonders something else, too:
Yes, true -- having broken a longstanding taboo, Time Inc. will no doubt in due course expand the ad hole, first to a page-width ribbon and eventually to….well, let’s say the next Time Person of the Year may well be the “Can you hear me now?” guy. And the move is a categorical violation of the American Society of Magazine Editors' proscription against cover advertising. As ASME CEO Sid Holt said recently, when Scholastic broke the same rule: “It’s unfortunate because it has the potential to tell readers and advertisers that editorial is for sale.”
Hahahahaha. Holt didn’t mean to say it this way, but he inadvertently confessed everything: In much of the magazine world, editorial has always been for sale -- just don’t tell the readers. They’d be upset if they knew. ASME’s injunction has really just been a matter of appearances.
It’s the same reason you seldom see a neon sign blinking “BROTHEL.”
But that’s not why the uproar is so unfathomable. Even as the industry expresses shock, shock at advertiser-supported publications selling advertising space to advertisers, magazines and newspapers are tripping over one another to actually, openly, shamelessly put editorial for sale.
They call it “native advertising” -- content that exactly resembles editorial and is surrounded by editorial but is created for or by an advertiser, usually with the most minimal disclosure. Ads disguised as stories -- the widespread and increasingly universal whoring of editorial independence to the highest bidder.
The mechanism is that the publications’ credibility -- and the readers’ trust -- transfers to the masquerading advertiser. It is scandalous and ruinous, yet regarded with a shrug throughout the media and ad industries, because -- after all -- we need the money.
And people’s knickers are in a wad about cover ads that are clearly ads? That’s what’s so crazy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with ad revenue subsidizing the publication of independent editorial. That has been the business model for three centuries and it served us well. Audiences understand that advertisers advertising themselves is what picks up the tab for coverage of Boko Haram and the Kardashians. Maybe readers don’t like ads, but they understand the quid pro quo. ALL content is “sponsored content.”
What readers will despise is figuring out that publishers have been greedy participants in a conspiracy of deception. And when they do, nobody will sweat an ad on the cover of Time magazine. Because then the mechanism will go in reverse; the universal mistrust of advertisers will transfer to the publishers who have been helping disguise them. And all parties -- except the public -- will get what they deserve.