"I could give a fuck about ASME," one magazine editor said when asked about the society's plan. "As long as it's interesting to the reader, who cares? This ivory-tower approach that edit is so untouchable, and what they're doing is so wonderful and can't be tainted by the stink of advertising, just makes me sick -- especially in the online world. I don't even know why they're trying to get involved."
Publishers aren't all onboard either -- particularly regarding digital. "How smart would we look," one asked last month, "to be coming to clients with a 32-page rulebook about what can and can't be done when we're the only ones in the world doing that?"
ASME doesn't want to play Church Lady on the issue. But its CEO argues that the pressures on magazines just make best practices more important. "We're not like traffic cops saying, 'Do this, don't do that,'" said Sid Holt, the industry veteran named head of the society in September. "We're trying to say to people, 'Use magazines creatively -- without in any way endangering the integrity of our medium.'"
"Our business is dependent on the relationship between magazines and readers," Mr. Holt added. "If the readers have any reason to suspect the integrity of the content, then the value of the magazine to advertisers is eroded."
The November issue of Complex magazine illustrates the difficulties. Its cover features the model Marisa Miller. Inside the feature is a centerfold showing her on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It's paid advertising, including a Harley logo and the tease "More of Marisa Miller on the new V-Rod Muscle motorcycle at h-d.com/muscle." The other side of the centerfold includes two photos of the model on the motorcycle and one editorial photo of Ms. Miller.
Complex and Harley made independent decisions to feature Ms. Miller, according to Rich Antoniello, CEO-publisher at Complex. Once Complex realized that, he said, it quickly let Harley know. "They were like, 'Hey, could we run a gatefold?'"
Complex is not a member of the editors' society. But Mr. Antoniello said there was no violation. "Even if we were members of ASME, I wouldn't have an issue with it whatsoever either."
Said ASME's Mr. Holt: "To put it really bluntly, it looks like they sold edit for advertising," he said. "I don't know if they did that, and it may have gone down the other way around. I don't know what happened here, but it's obviously preferable to avoid the appearance of conflict."