Business & Culture of Surfing: Cover for Sale

posted by / Blogs, Editorial / December 11, 2010

Business and Culture of Surfing is a collection of insights, ideas and trends.

The cover in question: Bright stickers in flight, a sponsor's delight.


One of our Twitter followers (follow us @surfingmagazine) saw SURFING’s January Issue cover, chucked on his watchdog cap, and thought for sure this was the work of greased palms. All those crispy logos couldn’t just happen onto such valuable real estate, not without some sort of kickback.


Mr. bmiltenberg, you’re not alone. The cover shot decision process is pretty much opaque and given to cynical scrutiny from everyone — even us. Internally, competitors’ covers are written off as jobs of the hand and blow variety almost every month — so our January cover, dominated by Evan Geiselman’s fully framed billboard, would seem a nadir in ad cash prostitution. Especially Hurley and Nike are on there, and everyone knows theirs is the milk to be suckling these days.

This is where a bit of background on magazine business structure comes in handy: On one side is the advertisement sales team. Their job is to convince surf companies to pay for ads in the magazine, and they take a cut of what’s sold in the form of commission. Happy brands = $ for the salesmen. But on the other side of the office (literally, we’re physically separated) sits the editorial staff, and we don’t see a cent of the sales revenue one way or the other. We pick the cover, and every other photo, and every story and feature, and we really don’t have much incentive to please anyone but you, dear reader.

(And if you’ve heard vicious rumors that every surf magazine employee spends 40% of billable hours cultivating brand relationships for that inevitable future jump from media to marketing — a bit of contingency planning on our part, because this line of work pays in nose guards — well, those are just rumors.)

But all this lip service, what is it worth? Some may still harbor doubts. So I asked for a professional, merit-based defense of this month’s cover shot from SURFING’s photo editor, Peter Taras, to back up the assertion that photos are picked independently of brand influence:


Pete said:

“Don’t believe what Stuart says! We did it for the logos! We love logos. The bigger, the better! No no no…….ok, ok, I confess. The real reason we ran this shot is because it was super unique. Sounds funny right? Well, in a world of ‘How artsy can you get, the rule of thirds, the backlit blinding silhouette,’ this has become a look that you really don’t see people shooting anymore. It’s like the ’80s all over again. In all seriousness, there’s a feeling about super tight action imagery where you can see the focus on the surfer’s face, his body positioning, his board, etc. It’s something that has really been overlooked and put on the back burner. You never see people running these super tight photos anymore. Now excuse me, I gotta wrap all this Nike, Red Bull and Hurley gear for Christmas presents.”


And there you have it. —Stuart Cornuelle




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  • Jesse

    While the editorial staff may not personally see benefits from “placed” ads in the magazine, your employer does. In the same way that “Happy brands = $ for the salesmen”, a happy employer = benefits (job security, pay raise) for the worker. So while you may not see monetary benefits like salesmen do, I don’t doubt that the editorial staff is pressured by their bosses to include logos in the magazine. Having the desire to be looked favorably upon by your bosses, you no doubt comply and include logos in the mag when given the chance. While I’m not saying this is necessarily the case in last month’s cover shot, you do indeed have an incentive to include photos with visible logos.

    That said, I think think the cover shot is sick, and worthy of the cover–regardless of potential product placement.

  • grandma

    well, you convinced me

  • sam

    we’ve already learned that they’re not real journalists, so why would anyone think that there’s more to a cover shot than an advertiser picking up the phone and saying print it.

  • Jimmicane

    I’ll give you guys this little insight and it’s the down right truth. We don’t ever consider logos or sponsors when picking a photo, not only for the cover, but for any other page of the magazine. I can’t speak for every magazine, but I can speak for Surfing and also ESM. We don’t do it.

  • Ryan

    The photo is sick,its different,I dig… it just happens that the logos are there but isnt that why they are there…

  • bill

    Although a little tight, I love the Rembrandt lit face, but Travis’ cover blurbs are just plain weird. Don’t Try ?? What the fuck do you mean ? And the cliched “Green Issue” and “We Are Not Alone” blurb is just silly. Shaper of the year choice is even sillier. Weiner doesn’t even thank Dane or any of his team riders. All the guy did was throw a big party for himself. Once a Val always a Val.

  • Stetson

    “Don’t Try…” to defend your cover decisions, your cowardice, your North Shore coverage, anything. Just let it all be what it is…some crispy 6.0 logos and a unique 80s shot. No need for perpetual sarcastic, unconvincing justifications.

  • the bodie zaffa

    welp here we go agayne. Surfing mag is not sweet. But I’ll read em cuz they entertain me in between ad after ad after jamie o ad. The best is when you have multiple ads with the same surfer for different companies. I like readin’ em at bookstores for free. That way, I dont pay nutin and still get me ads!ahaha got you suckaz.

    Also, Jimmigayne, please stop spewin your venom. What’s the whole giant jag sticker deal on your rocket launcher photog lense doing? Is it repping the jags, or is it selling them as a product? Ima guess the latter. Go make kling a turkey sandwich er somethin. He’s gunna have some free time on his hands.

  • raycane

    when the autopsy results surface, you cowards won’t cover it.

  • bmiltenberg

    Hey, I asked that question! I now work for a magazine (far, far from the surfing world), and the disconnect between ad sales and editorial that was mentioned in this article was exactly why I asked it. And thanks to this mag for its response.

  • Rien

    Hi, I see that your article is very useful! But you might
    want to take a look at this video of mine for a comparison: