MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Covermount chaos can kick-start, not kill, creative ideas

At any given time of the week, my desk resembles a travelling gypsy's bric-a-brac stall. I've pillaged books, CDs, luscious lemon lip balm, Kelly Brook posters and a tight-fitting T-shirt with "InStyle" written across it. And all this from the front pages of magazines.

This covermounting gambit is by no means a new play but in recent months it has grown excessive. Some publishers have recognised this and are cutting back (Dennis' Maxim, for instance, or Rodale's Men's Health). Others continue to blaze like a US soldier engaging in the folly of friendly fire. And covermounting can be about as effective as the US Army's scatter-gun tactics.

Sure, it works for the publishers, achieving one-off sales lifts and bringing in bumper cover price cash piles, but what's in it for the advertisers?

Who gives a flying burrito, some say - a reader is a reader. Not true, others say - some readers are better than others. But this isn't the key issue. It's that good, creative ideas are being lost in a newsstand environment that resembles a grim everything-for-a-pound store rather than a hive of ideas and interest.

This was reinforced after speaking to Peter Howarth, the former editor of Esquire and the founder of the publishing house Show Media. With his new title, Dad, Howarth is after new audiences not currently catered for. The impending launch of his lifestyle title Lizard also promises a twist on the existing range of titles. He has eschewed the traditional distribution route for consumer magazines because he says: "The newsstand is all about large publishers fighting for market share. I admire what James Brown has done with Jack in taking on the big boys but I'm not brave enough."

Howarth might not have the stomach for the fight but it would be good if Brown's title can be a success. The magazine itself is interesting and seems to care about its advertisers to the point of providing a list and page numbers of ads on its contents page. But Jack, like other titles up against the covermounting tidal wave, runs the risk of getting lost in a sea of promotions.

But there just might be one silver-lining in all this. Smaller publishers such as Show are working on ways to circumvent the newsstand, providing editorial and advertising at times and locations during people's lives when they are receptive to focused messages - in ante-natal waiting rooms or waiting in bars or clothes shops.

This is a welcome trend and will hopefully help persuade the larger publishers that they need to focus on the core products and trim back on covermounting.

While it's hard to see this happening in the short term, there will come a time when pressure from advertisers to deliver consistent monthly circulations will result in a reassessment of the value of covermounting.

But, in the meantime, will anybody give me £2 for the Horse & Hound Alice band?