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Fool Me Once

Back in November I wrote about Photo District News’ brazen cover ad. Today, in the New York Times, Stuart Elliot writes that cover advertising is a trend. The examples he cites seem far tamer than what PDN did. It’ll be interesting to see where this leads.

Even without the front cover ad issues, photography and design industry publications look to be trending toward competitions funding more and more of their overhead. PDN feels as if it has a competition in every issue and *Communication Arts has announced that it will be publishing less often and with each issue containing one of its contests. On the one hand, if this type of action helps a publication survive the recession then more power to it. On the other hand it feels risky and a bit much. Are these magazines taxing their own readers – the ones most likely to enter a competition? With the cost of printing and the staff time involved running a contest, it’s hard to imagine that publishing a contest every issue does not sacrifice editorial content.

Back in college there were a number of competitions hoisted on students annually. Photographer’s Forum comes to mind. As a student you thought, “Wow, I’ll enter this! Maybe I’ll get in.” And you did get in and you were excited. But once you got your expensive hardcover book of winners and finalists, saw your picture printed postage stamp size amongst hundreds or thousands of others, it quickly became obvious that this was more about selling books to entrants than anything else. You only had to learn that lesson once.

*Full Disclosure: As I write this I am preparing my entries for the CA Photography Annual. They are due tomorrow. Clearly, I’m a bit conflicted on the issues… I guess my fear is that the emphasis on a competition every issue will make that the issue.

One final thought as I write this. I realize the driving force here is the economy and the recession’s dearth of print ads but I wonder if this trend (competitions every issue) is also a reflection of trends in other media. After all isn’t a competition in every issue of a printed magazine similar to reality TV? If you grew up with or care about reality TV maybe you’re more accepting of this in your magazines?