If the separation between magazines’ editorial and advertising sides was once a gulf, it is now diminished to the size of a sidewalk crack.
Recent issues of Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Time, People, ESPN the Magazine, Scholastic Parent & Child and other magazines have woven in advertisers in new ways, some going as far as putting ads on their covers.
The editorial and advertising sides of magazines had stayed distinct so far, largely because of the American Society of Magazine Editors (Asme).
The society hands out the annual National Magazine Awards, and its guidelines govern how editorial content and advertising should be kept separate. Cover ads are prohibited.
“Everyone has to be able to tell the difference between advertising and editorial, and if you can’t tell there’s a difference, there’s a problem,” said Sid Holt, Asme chief executive.
But in this recession, when magazines are losing advertisers, the lines between advertising and editorial content are blurring—with few repercussions from the society.
“Asme’s only real sway over editors was always the ability to essentially say you would not be eligible for the National Magazine Awards,” said Susan Lyne, the chief executive of the luxury firm Gilt Groupe, who until last year was the chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “And in a climate like this, I think people are really weighing what’s more important to them: being eligible for the National Magazine Awards or making their budgets.”
The recent group of advertiser-sponsored projects vary in how far they push the society’s guidelines.
At one end is a “black-and-white violation of the Asme guidelines,” as Holt put it, in which Scholastic Parent & Child placed an ad on its April cover.
Executives of Scholastic Inc. defended their choice. Risa Crandall, vice-president of Scholastic Parents Media, said she had sold advertising for every remaining 2009 cover, and expected a 10% increase in ad revenue this year because of the cover ads.
Elimination from the magazine society’s awards was “not a big consideration for us”, said Nick Friedman, editor-in-chief of the magazine.
The society has not yet commented on several other potential missteps, like a cover design of ESPN the Magazine. The 6 April issue has a fold-out flap over half of the cover with the words, “You wouldn’t settle for an incomplete cover.” Pulled back, the flap reveals an ad for Powerade, a sports drink.
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES