NYT: Where’s The Line Between Edit And Ad?

Where’s the line between editorial and advertising? That’s the question the New York Times asked yesterday. Not that this gap has been a “gulf” (as the NYT puts it) any time recently, but it does seem as though the recession has got more magazines struggling to find ways to pay for their product. The Times reports that until recently, the threat of being disqualified from the American Society of Magazine Editors’ annual awards was usually enough to keep publishers on the conservative side, but now, says Susan Lyne, former chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, “people are really weighing what’s more important to them: being eligible for the National Magazine Awards or making their budgets.”
Recent examples of the “church-state” separation shrinking are:
Parent & Child’s cover ad—which has resulted in parent company Scholastic selling cover ads for every remaining issue this year; the vice president of Scholastic Parents Media expects a 10 percent increase in revenue this year.
ESPN Magazine’s April 6 issue features a fold-out flap on the cover hiding a Powerade ad.
Multiple mags, from Gourmet to Elle to Entertainment Weekly, have been experimenting with pull-tab ads hidden inside a separate pocket.
And more, and more. Esquire’s May issue will feature a mix-and-match flipbook cover—readers can put Barack Obama’s nose with George Clooney’s chin—with the reverse side of the flaps showing History Channel ads.
What does this mean for the industry? Will consumers revolt, saying they can’t tell the difference between ad and edit? Do readers really care? Is this just showing the lack of power ASME really has?
“What am I supposed to do, go down there and drag the editor on the street like Sonny Corleone and beat him up on the streets of Broadway?” Sid Holt, chief executive of ASME, said. “We work in a collegial business, and we’re not the advertising police.”