Concerning Cleavage

A certain sign that a print publication is circling the drain is the content and size of the advertising between its covers.

What is being advertised (product, service), how the advertising appears (display-style with color photo, text-style classified) and to whom the advertising is directed (audience) together suggest something about the publication’s fiscal health.

Defying intuition, Smithsonian magazine continues to publish despite the curious presence of back-of-the-book advertising by self-help gurus and ads for products that seem closely associated with snake oil.

But the inclusion of ads depicting comely, 20-something women seated and leaning toward the camera with shoulders slightly hunched forward and together predicts with near perfect precision the death knell for most (printed) magazines.

Be assured I have nothing against cleavage. (Uh huh-huh. Sorry, that was an irresistible, third grade Beavis and Butthead moment.) Who would? What’s not to like?

Instead, as a well-known and widely respected barometer of the fiscal stability of print publications, the appearance of cleavage is concerning.

Take Rolling Stone magazine, for instance. The current (March 10, 2016) issue (#1256), in particular.

RS has long featured, at the back of the book, ads for “adult products” and, especially, models as were described above. Long ago, when RS was a tabloid newsprint publication, the same ads appeared as classifieds.

More recently, in RS’s current slick glossy format, they (the ads! For Pete’s sake!) are presented in display format.

In addition to the advertising, there are other clues that Rolling Stone is probably facing critical financial woes.

The new issue arrived with stapled binding, as opposed to glued “book” form binding.

And the new RS issue offers three, rather than the customary four, feature stories.

Last year’s blow-up about the lack of fact-checking and editorial oversight in an unbalanced and incomplete report about a significant social issue doubtless didn’t help encourage advertisers’ affection.

And the longest feature story in the current RS, on artificial intelligence, mirrors thematically the subject of Time magazine’s cover story (March 7).

Does cleavage, by itself, signal the demise of the longest running rock and roll publication (1967-present)? One that outlasted Creem (1969-1989) and Crawdaddy! (1966-1979).

Maybe not with buy-a-lottery-ticket-now-because-winning-is-assured certainty.

But the cleavage is troubling. Even if it seems odd to say.

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