Cover ads: Buzzy, but not common

It’s a debate that the two major trade associations representing the US magazine industry—the American Society of Magazine Editors and ABM, serving the consumer and B2B magazine industries, respectively—have addressed in their editorial guidelines.

For its part, ASME recently removed a strict prohibition against cover advertising—its number one rule had been “Don’t Print Ads on Covers”—in favour of a softer, broader stance that could be applied to platforms beyond print. Magazines must now only “take special care to distinguish between editorial content and advertising.”

“Our core value is transparency, so one of the main questions we considered was: ‘Can you put an ad on a cover without deceiving the reader?’” says Sid Holt, CEO of ASME. “Whether you like it or not, yes, you can—it’s not a question of editorial integrity. We didn’t think maintaining the cover as an ad-free zone is central to the purpose of the guidelines.”

Similarly, ABM focuses on effective notice for readers. There’s no specific reference to covers in its guidelines, though it tries to flesh out how publishers should go about drawing distinctions between ad and edit.

Regardless of the official stance, neither ASME nor ABM think magazine covers are on the verge of selling out in any large numbers.

“You’ve always had some publishers trying to push the limits,” says Matt Kinsman, vice president of content and programming at ABM. “But I think for most organisations, this is still verboten.”

Adds Holt: “Honestly, I don’t expect to see an explosion of advertising on the cover based on the ASME guidelines. If we were going to see that, we would have seen it already.” 


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