These days you can get anything from sunglasses, books, cosmetics and food samples to events tickets with your favourite magazine. Vanessa Raphaely, editorial director of Associated Magazines, reckons that cover mounting is here to stay. “As the economic situation gets tougher, publishers will become more desperate and resort to cover mounts to prop up their circulation.”
According to Marina Smith, marketing manager for woman360 (publisher of Media24’s general interest women’s magazines), publishers are pressured by market trends. “Apart from competing magazines using cover mounts to drive circulations Ã¢Â€Â“ and this is an absolute reality Ã¢Â€Â“ the risk of not joining could be perceived negatively by consumers if you end up being the only one that is not following the trend.”
She says the situation in South Africa is “nothing” compared to the “gift war” that is waging in the UK. “During the past month, you could literally kit yourself out for a day at the beach by visiting UK newsstands, where gifts from various glossies included bikinis, beach bags, sunglasses, slops, sun block and great holiday reads.”
According to Smith, owing to high circulations and a strong local currency in the UK, purchasing cover mount gifts from countries like China is more affordable in the UK than it is in South Africa.
Cover mounting is especially becoming more popular in the fiercely competitive women’s magazine market. “Women are also easily targeted as Ã¢Â€Â˜shoppers’. Beauty houses know this, and use this strategy often in a retail environment,” says Smith.
Professor Lizette Rabe, head of the journalism department at the University of Stellenbosch and former editor of SARIE, says men’s magazines are becoming the “new” women’s magazines, and that it wouldn’t surprise her if more men’s magazines start using cover mounts.
While luring a reader with a free CD is one thing, keeping them is another. Smith believes that if the cover mount represents the brand values of the magazine and it persuades a potential reader to buy the magazine, the content of the magazine might resonate with the reader and thus convert them.
“This is the theory, but in practice, I haven’t seen proof yet.”
Raphaely says readers don’t continue to buy after a cover mount, “except in cases like GLAMOUR Ã¢Â€Â“ their whole launch strategy had to be to buy the market as they were attempting to carve out a position for themselves near to Cosmopolitan.” Comments GLAMOUR‘s editor, Pnina Fenster: “GLAMOUR South Africa established a large circulation base for nine months (after its launch in April 2004) before running a cover mount, so both the brand’s identity and reader loyalty were clearly in place. Since then, we have run a few, carefully chosen cover mounts a year.
This is in line with international policy, which is appreciated by readers since the cover mounts we chose are stylish, fashionable and in line with GLAMOUR‘s ethos.”
Gordon Patterson, deputy president of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) and MD of Starcom, says although cover mounts were initially proposed to reward loyal magazine purchasers while at the same time earning additional income from advertisers wishing to “sample”, it would be naive to view cover mounts as anything other than an attempt to grow circulation. “The only measured benefit in cover mounting is in circulation, as readership methodology wouldn’t be sensitive enough to pick up the increase per issue.”
Patterson says although it is impossible to say, on average, by how much a cover mount can boost a magazine’s circulation, they have seen specifics of up to 15%. It is clear from previous and current clients’ experiences that cover mounting “rarely results in a sustained benefit as many of the new title purchasers want the cover mount more than the title itself”.
Smith says the more frequent releases of ABC figures (every three months) have impacted on the practice of cover mounting “especially if the marketing of your magazine relies mainly on cover mounting”.
“It means that, for your circulation to be stable, you need to have a quarterly cover mount strategy.
“This effect is not so significant if cover mounting is not your main marketing strategy for the magazine.”
Patterson says the increased frequency of ABC releases has allowed both advertisers and competitive publishers to see the contribution that such strategies have made to any growth. “It’s a publisher’s right to promote their title anyway they see fit and hence this marketing effort is not limited by the ABC.
The ABC’s role is not to police print but to encourage innovation and the well-being of the medium, without compromising the transparency or value of the currency.” He says planners and advertisers should be aware of titles that regularly use cover mounts to artificially boost ailing circulation results.R
One of the “side effects” of relying on cover mounts to prop up circulation is that the title readership blurs “and hence its unique contribution on schedule diminishes”. But in Smith’s opinion, some media planners view cover mounts favourably, seeing it as a value-adding opportunity to their clients to co-brand or sponsor such a gift.
According to Raphaely, gifts are mainly sourced from Asia through international deals with mother brands or through negotiation with clients in South Africa. Rabe says advertisers often offer their products as cover mounts, but that many proposals are not accepted because the product might not suit the magazine’s image or because of practical implications.
“There have been disasters where an entire batch of magazines had to be replaced due to broken sample shampoo bottles ruining them. That has a negative impact on circulation, which is contrary to the desired effect.”
Smith says the average cost of cover mounting depends on strategy versus budget. “For instance, if you have a high print run, it will bring the unit cost per item down, but your total cost will be higher.”
Raphaely believes cover mounting is an expensive way to boost circulation figures. “It’s dangerous as it erodes the unique appeal of a brand. Training the consumer to buy depending on what incentive they are being offered rather than their passion for a product will make them promiscuous Ã¢Â€Â“ and you will have no claim to their loyalty. If you haven’t got a brand for which there is a genuine market, no amount of cover mounting or cover price discounting will help you.”
This begs the question: To cover mount or not to cover mount? “At Associated Magazines, we don’t like cover mounting and only do it infrequently,” says Raphaely. “We concentrate on content and are far more likely to Ã¢Â€Â˜cover mount’ our own added-value products. We also Ã¢Â€Â˜cover mount’ special offers for our readers. But when an international partner’s strategy is to cover mount (as in the case of !_LT_EMMarie Claire!_LT_/EM), we do have to follow their instructions on this matter.”
According to Smith, cover mounting has never been a key component of woman360’s marketing strategies. “Our focus, in terms of added-value, has been on printed products such as supplements and holiday reads.”
Rabe says she has always opposed cover mounting as a marketing method. “What is the next thing you’re going to do to sell another magazine? It’s an artificial circulation crutch and you actually undermine the integrity of your title. You might as well just sell a bundle of glued paper with a cover mount, because it’s not like people are buying the magazine for the content. The magazine has to sell because of its brand, content or value.
“But having said that: Ã¢Â€Â˜When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. In the midst of circulation battles, one has to play the game and accept cover mounts.” If you decide to “do as the Romans do”, Smith believes proper and timeous strategic planning, innovative ideas, partnerships or joint ventures, a sufficient budget to sustain the strategy, and a clear ability to read the market are key.
Raphaely suggests that magazines should cover mount nothing but their own content or value offers that reinforce a reader’s relationship with a brand.
!_LT_EMSarietha Engelbrecht is a journalist at !_LT_/EMDie Burger!_LT_EM.!_LT_/EM
This article first appeared in The Media magazine (August 2008 edition).