Has Time Inc. Gone Too Far With New Cover Ads?

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 1.52.21 PMLast week there was, understandably, some buzz about Time Inc.’s decision to sell small cover ads. The news, on the heels of Time Inc.’s split from Time Warner Cable, broke that a small Verizon ad (a line of text in the bottom corner of the cover, potentially right below a mailing label, reading “For best results use Verizon see P. 23”) would appear on the upcoming issue of Time and Sports Illustrated.

The addition of marketing messages to the front cover is in direct opposition to the American Society of Magazine Editors’ (ASME) very first editorial guideline, which states clearly:

1. Don’t Print Ads on Covers
The cover is the editor and publisher’s brand statement. Advertisements should not be printed directly on the cover or spine.

This procedure ensures that editorial integrity remains intact and isn’t influenced by advertisers. Over on one of our sister sites, FishBowlNY, Chris O’Shea was outspoken about the paradigm shift:

“Obviously this is just the beginning. Eventually magazine covers will look like NASCAR cars, completely covered in ads. It’ll be like a fun, sad game — try to figure out what magazine this is!” he wrote.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 1.18.03 PMI’ll be frank — I struggled to find the ad before it was pointed out to me, it’s so small. But as AdAge’s Michael Sebastian pointed out and O’Shea predicts, this is only the beginning. It’s tough to imagine a scenario where even these minuscule ads didn’t eventually turn into bottom or top-banner ads, or quarter page ads, or Heaven forbid — one day — half-cover ads. It’s coming, and it’s coming soon. The bottom line here is that industry standards and ethics are taking a backseat for a company looking to fare apart from Time Warner. The revenue struggle is very real in print magazine journalism, and cover ads are clearly a last resort. I’d also predict they’re a huge risk for keen-eyed subscribers who ditch the Time brand after seeing the ads.

“We want to be entrepreneurial,” Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norman Pearlstine (who is also on the ASME board) told Sebastian. “We want to be creative. We want to do things that make sense for all of our stakeholders, including readers, viewers in digital space, advertisers and others.”

Sebastian also reported that Time may be looking into selling a native ad space for the pub’s table of contents, which is another big no-no according to the ASME.

What do you think? Has Time Inc. gone too far this time? Will other magazines follow suit? And will it affect newsstand sales?