Yesterday morning I picked up a free copy of Time Out at my local tube station. A bloke thrust it into my hand, and tried to thrust it into other people's hands too but didn't seem to be having much luck. I looked at the front cover, which featured a big fierce animal now appearing in a new enclosure at a major London-based tourist attraction. And then I opened up the magazine and discovered the proper cover was inside. I could tell it was the proper cover because it had dates on, and the fact that this was Time Out number 2221, plus the magazine's web address. It also featured a big fierce animal now appearing at a major London-based tourist attraction, but a different animal at a different attraction, and long dead. Two covers, one entirely enclosing the other - one genuine, and one only pretending to be.
This is nothing new. Time Out has embraced sponsored covers with a vengeance, including a lengthy series sponsored by a credit card company. A month or two ago Time Out ran a competition giving readers an opportunity to have their own London photograph printed on Time Out's front cover. A great prize, except that when the prizewinning photos were published they weren't on the front front cover, they were wrapped inside another front cover paid for by advertisers. Well done, congratulations, but your photos won't be seen by millions on the streets, only by those flicking rapidly to the proper content inside.
Yesterday morning I picked up a free copy of the Metro at my local tube station. I had to remember they're now hidden in a rack behind the door, which may explain why there always seem to be hundreds of copies left at the end of the day. I looked at the front cover, which featured a Star Wars character sat on a tube train to advertise a mobile phone company. The cover contained no obvious news, but there was a box in the corner which said "Your regular Metro packed with news, sport and features INSIDE". And this was true. Only when I opened up the newspaper did I discover the proper cover inside, including sad news about a dead girl and a teaser for page 11. Meanwhile the fake cover went on and on, a full four pager entirely enclosing the genuine article.
This is nothing new. The Metro has embraced sponsored covers with a vengeance, often featuring the national launch of something big like a satellite TV channel, a sports brand or a new car. This is called a "cover wrap", and it brings in thousands in advertising revenue daily. You could rip the wrap off at the staples and read the paper as normal but people don't. They wander into their tube carriage clutching a whopping colour advert and wave it around for several minutes and it's all excellent publicity. We're good like that, us free paper readers, wafting the latest brand launch in front of dozens of ABC1s every morning, come what may.
Yesterday morning I bought a newspaper at the kiosk outside my local tube station. I'm one of those old school commuters who likes a proper newspaper, even though I can't usually open it on the train because the carriage is too rammed. I prefer a paper which makes some attempt at depth and analysis, not news-lite titbits peppered with PR advertorial masquerading as truth. And I'd rather not buy a paper where Sky Atlantic's latest purchase is splashed across the front, the inside and the back where the proper news should be. I'm subsidising the old school offline model, with cash, so long as it lasts.
It may not last long. The other week a partial cover wrap appeared around my daily paper - full page on the back but only the left-hand half across on the front. They couldn't cover the whole front page, obviously, because it was important any would-be purchasers could still see news underneath. The wrap was advertising some mobile phone launch, with big red pictures and a minimum of text. Thankfully it was really easy to remove, then fold up and discard. And thankfully it's helping to keep my newspaper's finances afloat, or at least to stop them haemorrhaging quite so fast. But I fear it may not be long before a full four-pager appears... a last gasp echo of the early years when broadsheets filled their front pages with small ads.
Yesterday evening I picked up a free copy of the Evening Standard on my way home. Some poorly paid bloke was dishing them out in front of the tube station, and we were picking them up almost as fast as he could fold them in half. And no surprise, the entire pile of newspapers had a cover wrap, front and back. What's more it featured exactly the same Star Wars character sat on a tube train to advertise a mobile phone company which had been wrapped around the Metro earlier. In case we hadn't lusted after their wi-fi sufficiently in the morning we got an identical second chance in the afternoon. And as for late breaking news, we only found out about that later when we opened to the actual cover and started to read.
This is nothing new. The Evening Standard has embraced sponsored covers with a vengeance, often featuring the national launch of something big. And they're no respecter of a big occasion. When the Pope unexpectedly resigned, the Evening Standard went to press with its screaming headline hidden behind a financial advert, or a coffee promotion or something, I forget. It's money in the bank for them, and we oblige because we've been programmed to pick up the freesheet even when it doesn't look like a newspaper. It's the future, I tell you, so long as giveaway periodicals survive.
Yesterday evening I picked up a free copy of Stylist magazine on my way home. I don't normally. Normally I stare at the distributor with disdain because he's offered me a magazine aimed at women, and I'm not one. I assume he's desperate to dispose of his pile of newsprint and he's hoping I'll speed up the end of his shift, not that I'm actually interesting in handbags and nail polish. But on this occasion I took one to see if it had a cover wrap or not, because it wasn't obvious. And hey presto it did. This week's proper model was kicking her legs on the inside version of the front cover, while a purple and orange training shoe hogged the four-page cover wrap. Thrusting rubber footwear in London's face most have cost the company a tidy sum, but that's the modern way. If your product doesn't make the headlines, buy them.