Magazines Turn to Cover Ads, and Even Pouches, for Revenue

Stuart Elliott|The New York Times

Before the recession, magazines had little in common with marsupials. Now, though, magazine covers are starting to sport pouches.

For instance, the cover of the September issue of a Hearst magazine, House Beautiful, will include a pouch containing a chart that readers can pull out and save. The chart, offering tips on choosing colors for home decorating, carries an advertisement on the back for Glidden paints, part of a new campaign with the theme “Glidden gets you going.”


What gets magazines — and other traditional media — going these days is the need for new sources of revenue. Although back covers of magazines have carried ads for decades, the front covers had long been sacrosanct as pitch-free zones.

But just as newspapers (including this one) have begun to sell ads on the front pages of sections, magazines are selling space on or inside front covers.

For example, Entertainment Weekly magazine, part of the Time Inc. division of Time Warner , included a pocket on the cover of its April 3 issue that contained a pull-out ad for a new series on ABC, “The Unusuals.”

Esquire magazine, also published by Hearst, printed special covers for its February and May issues with special ads that appeared on the back side of editorial content.

The proliferation of ads associated with front covers concerns an organization representing the editorial side of the magazine business because of the potential for blurring the line between paid and unpaid content.

“There’s no problem with advertising appearing next to editorial,” said Sid Holt, chief executive at the American Society of Magazine Editors in New York. “Our concern is the use of a cover for advertising purposes alone.”

The organization gave a thumbs down to the Entertainment Weekly cover because, Mr. Holt said, “the cover had been altered to support advertising.”

As for the September issue of House Beautiful, which is to arrive this week, Mr. Holt said that based on a description of the placement of the Glidden ad the pouch seemed “editorially driven” and therefore acceptable under the guidelines of his organization.

Kate Kelly Smith, vice president and publisher of House Beautiful, part of the Hearst Magazines division of the Hearst Corporation in New York, said the pouch — which appears on the cover of the annual fall color issue — was designed to meet the society’s guidelines.

“We were very careful,” Ms. Kelly Smith said, that it be “an editorial cover” because “everything at House Beautiful begins with an editorial lens.”

Stephen Drucker, editor in chief at House Beautiful, agreed with her, saying that “none of the real estate on the cover is anything but editorial.”

“The advertiser had no knowledge about what the content” of the pouch would be, he added, other than it would be part of “a color issue.”

Mr. Drucker described himself as “particularly enthusiastic” about the idea, a first for House Beautiful, because “we editors have to make magazines exciting again, and this is a great demonstration of how to do that.”

The shelter and home category of the magazine industry, in which House Beautiful competes, is one of the most troubled in a troubled business. In fact, Time Inc. last week closed one of its entries in the category, Southern Accents, joining other discontinued titles like Blueprint, Country Home, Domino, Home and O at Home.

The September issue of House Beautiful is to carry an estimated 69 ad pages, down 18 percent from 84 in the September 2008 issue. By comparison, the ad pages in the September issues of other Hearst magazines like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire will decline by 18.5 percent to 26 percent compared with their September issues last year.

The ad on the back of the pull-out chart is part of a package that Glidden bought in House Beautiful. The deal, estimated in the mid six figures, includes a two-page ad in the issue, following the front cover; ads in the August, October and November issues; a sponsorship of a promotion last month, Kitchen of the Year, in Rockefeller Plaza; a presence on; and exposure for Glidden through House Beautiful’s pages on Facebook and Twitter.

“For a brand in a period of reinvention,” the cover pouch “is the perfect way to set up that we’ll do things that are innovative and unexpected,” said Rob Horton, vice president for marketing in Cleveland at the Akzo Nobel Decorative Paints United States division of Akzo Nobel.

That the pull-out chart would observe “the separation of church and state” between editorial content and advertising was “fundamentally important” to Glidden, Mr. Horton said, because “if editorial isn’t separate from advertising it loses its impact.”

The “Glidden gets you going” campaign is being handled by agencies that are part of the Omnicom Group, including DDB Worldwide, for creative duties; PHD, for media duties; and Interbrand, for packaging.

The recession can be an opportunity for paint marketers because consumers who are spending more time at home — and may not be able to move — can consider repainting rooms as more affordable than “other decorative solutions,” Mr. Horton said, like remodeling or new furniture.

Other paint brands joining Glidden in bringing out new campaigns include Sherwin-Williams , with ads from McKinney in Durham, N.C.

At House Beautiful, Ms. Kelly Smith said, ad pages from paint makers for the first nine issues of 2009 rose more than 50 percent from the same period last year. Newcomers this year are Behr, Glidden and Pratt & Lambert, she added, joining returning brands that include Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams and Valspar.