It’s become a common ploy by magazines to release cover images and articles online before they appear in print in hopes of getting them to go viral and generate needed attention for increasingly less relevant print publications. The New Yorker, Businessweek and New York magazine have done it, to great effect.
Then there was The New York Times Magazine's oddball and somewhat disturbing Hillary Clinton cover, which gave rise to some very strong Twitter reaction. As Arem Duplessis, the magazine's design director, deadpanned in a blog post, the Planet Hillary cover "has apparently already provided inspiration for those with access to photo-editing software."
The problem is that the additional attention, if it materializes at all, rarely translates into an increase in newsstand sales. And in the case of the Times, the price it paid from the ridicule it endured didn't appear to have been offset in the way of online attention.
Kontera, a company that measures editorial coverage and consumption of news by topics on the Internet, crunched the numbers and found that while the Planet Hillary cover was the Times’ biggest driver of the past few weeks, the news Dec. 30 that Duplessis was leaving the paper generated—believe it or not—86 percent more consumption.
It should be said that the whole stunt wasn’t as orchestrated as it might have appeared; the cover got out Jan. 23 when David Joachim, a Washington bureau editor of the Times, tweeted it. (Joachim said he tweeted the cover after seeing it on PressReader, an app that lets readers access newspapers' replica editions, not knowing the actual article, by Amy Chozik, wouldn't be posted on the Times site until Jan. 24.) So maybe the Times shouldn't even get credit for the little traffic boost it did manage to get for the cover.
We asked the Times if the cover has had any impact on its online traffic; we'll update as warranted. (Update: a Times rep said Jan. 24 that it doesn't give out statistics on individual articles but that it was too early to have accurate comparison data.)