Thursday, February 19, 2009
The long, proud tradition of cover chicanery
The Atlantic's decision to publish four separate regional covers to push Richard Florida's cover story on how the recession will re-shape America has drawn ire from some quarters. James Adams in Saturday's Globe and Mail called it "a touch misleading" and "chicanery." The Torontoist people got kinda pissy about it, too. And D. B. Scott at Canadian Magazines wrote, "If I were someone who'd paid $6.95 for the magazine and found this bait-and-switch, I'd be seriously annoyed."


I was one of the people who did pay $6.95 for the magazine on the weekend. It's true that Florida's piece—which is surprisingly good—didn't directly reference Toronto but his argument that "mega-regions" will come to dominate the North American economy in the future certainly includes the home of the Maple Leafs. And I certainly don't regret buying the issue: I have been loving every page of it this week on my very long morning commutes.

Now to be fair, I was already aware that the main cover story was what I like to call an "oversell" before visiting the newsstand; l actually bought the magazine because I wanted to know if Guitar Hero can save rock. The author—surprise, surprise—didn't really answer the question but I still liked his piece.

Using coverlines to promote things only tenuously related to content actually in a magazine is a long, proud (or not) tradition in publishing. Just think about the preposterously huge numbers fashion mags love so much or the number of times Men’s Health has promised a quick and easy way to the get great abs. (If it's so quick and easy, why do they keep giving us different ways to do it?)

Everyone from Maclean's to the Ryerson Review of Journalism is guilty of over spicing cover treatments in order to lure fickle newsstand buyers. It's just what we do in this business and we do it because drama, sensationalism and playing to readers' vanities sell better than sober thought, hard facts and complicated ideas.

Does it turn people off? In some cases. But the fact that celebrity tabloids—the worldwide leaders in cover stories that don't quite deliver the promised goods—continue to dominate at the newsstand would seem to suggest that most readers are forgiving when it comes to this rather ridiculous but totally logical practice.

Everybody wins.
- Marco Ursi
About Me
Marco Ursi
Marco is the editor of MastheadOnline. His blog offers a mix of commentary, service and ideas related to Canadian magazines.


Twitter: @MarcoUrsi

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Jen says:
Masthead, why don't you do this anymore?...
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