Business & Culture of Surfing: Cover for Sale

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