As tough times send some publishers running for cover, marketers are running advertisements on the covers of some publications.
The April issue of Scholastic Parent & Child, scheduled to come out on Monday, will carry an ad on the front cover for the first time in the 16-year history of the magazine. The ad, for a company called Smilebox, will appear in the lower right corner of the cover and carry the label “advertisement” in small type.
The ad, a change in the magazine’s policy, came after discussions between the business and editorial sides of the magazine, owned by Scholastic Inc., as well as conversations about the concept with readers.
“There was a lot of thought put into it,” said Nick Friedman, the editor in chief of Scholastic Parent & Child. “We knew it was envelope-pushing.”
The results were deemed positive enough to go ahead with the cover ad for April and to sell cover ads for subsequent issues. The next one, planned for May, is being bought by the Juicy Juice line of beverages sold by Nestlé, one of the world’s largest advertisers.
“We’d like to do it as often as advertisers would like to do it,” said Risa Crandall, vice president for the Scholastic Parents Media unit of Scholastic in New York.
An advertiser buying a front-cover ad has to buy at least one ad page inside the issue, Ms. Crandall said, for a total cost of $80,000 to $85,000.
Smilebox, which enables computer users to create greetings, slide shows and scrapbooks, is buying an ad page in the issue along with ad pages in other issues this year, she added, for a total cost of around $154,000. A line of type at the end of the April cover ad will refer readers to the Smilebox ad page inside.
The ads represent the first time that Smilebox has advertised in Scholastic Parent & Child, said Yannis Dosios, vice president for marketing at Smilebox in Redmond, Wash.
The appropriateness of a cover ad “was something that crossed my mind initially,” he added. “It has to work within the context of the magazine, otherwise it will be very outlandish.”
In this instance, the creative teams of the magazine and the company collaborated to produce an ad that will “meet the sensitivities of what the audience of the magazine is,” Mr. Dosios said.
The arrival of paid pitches on magazines’ front covers — until now the province of editorial content — is emblematic of changing standards for advertising acceptability.
One reason longtime policies are being rethought is, of course, the steep decline in ad revenue caused by competition from online media, coupled with the slowdown in demand for print ads as a result of the recession.
So far this week, two magazines are being closed: Travel and Leisure Golf, by American Express Publishing, and Best Life, by Rodale.
“As you watch what is going on in the media landscape, it is incumbent on us to provide innovation,” said Kevin C. O’Malley, vice president and publisher at Esquire in New York, part of the Hearst Magazines division of the Hearst Corporation.
The February issue of Esquire broke ground with a window, or flap, in the middle of the cover under which were quotations from articles inside the issue and an ad for “One Way Out,” a series on the Discovery Channel cable network owned by Discovery Communications.
The Esquire cover generated perhaps the most discussion about the blurring line between cover editorial content and advertising since 1990, when two top editors of Omni magazine resigned after complaining about the magazine’s publishing an ad on the cover of the November issue. (There was a hole in the Omni cover through which readers could see a hologram, which was part of a Motorola ad on the first inside page of the issue.)
The American Society of Magazine Editors concluded that Esquire’s February cover did not violate the society’s guidelines on ad acceptability. But the ad on the cover of Scholastic Parent & Child “is a violation,” said Sid Holt, chief executive at the society in New York.
“It’s unfortunate because it has the potential to tell readers and advertisers that editorial is for sale,” he added.
“Clearly, there are changes in the marketplace,” Mr. Holt said, “and editors want to be supportive of their publishing colleagues and maintain the viability of magazines.”
Although “we don’t want to be in the position of telling people how to run their businesses,” he added, “the guidelines are very clear that the cover is editorial space and advertising should not appear.”
The editor in chief of Esquire, David Granger, is a member of the society. Mr. Friedman of Scholastic Parent & Child, however, is not, so the cover ad’s violation of the guidelines has no effect on his magazine.
“We respect everything A.S.M.E. represents,” Mr. Friedman said, “but we do have taste, and we do have our readers in mind.”
Another reason for magazine cover ads is that many new media have less stringent policies about where ads may appear.
The home pages of Web sites, which could be compared to magazine covers, carry ads, from static banners to video clips to elaborate units known as home-page takeovers. The Online Publishers Association introduced on Tuesday several ad formats that are outside the banner box, among them a “pushdown,” which opens to display a bigger ad.
“As we’ve started to explore new ad initiatives, especially on the Web, it’s made us start to think about different approaches for print,” Ms. Crandall said.
“Readers are steeped in the Web and print and think of them together as one,” she added, so ads on magazine covers “are not for them such a grand departure from tradition.”
Another reason ads are coming to magazine covers is because a print sibling, the newspaper, has reconsidered decades-old rules against display ads on section fronts or even front pages.
Ms. Crandall said she was looking at cover ads for future issues that would differ from the triangle-shape ads in the right corners for the April and May covers.
One possibility is “a bottom strip,” she said, “like what The New York Times is doing.”
Relish, a supplement to Sunday newspapers that is devoted to food, is selling strip ads that fill about two-thirds of the bottom of its front covers. Among the marketers buying such ads from Relish, owned by the Publishing Group of America, is Hormel Foods.
Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. March 11, 2009
Copyright © 2009 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.