The offending article (that contains none)

It’s an unwritten rule of the tech world that when you buy something – an app or a subscription to a website – there won’t be ads in it. If you want the free version then, sure, you generally have to be prepared to put up with advertising but if you pay your way then the developer or content provider shouldn’t need to subsidise your visit with ads.

Not so, it seems, in the print media.

Today in one of Reykjavik’s many hip cafés, I plucked a copy of Harper’s Bazaar from the sharp meathook upon which it had been impaled and then hung from a rail. I wanted something to read while waiting for a plate of the kind of food you can expect in hip cafés – grilled aubergine, avocado, hummus and ginger chutney plonked on to wholegrain toast. The magazine was from December last year and, I admit, my interest was piqued by the headline promising a 9-day wonder diet.

After thumbing through the hefty magazine for a while I failed to find the article I was looking for – or, indeed, any article at all amongst the abundance of full-page ads. In the hackneyed, predictable style of women’s magazines from the holiday period the pages contained plenty of beauty tips for “a new me”, what to wear so I could definitely get bonked at the office Christmas party this year and how to get over the resultant hangover when – realising all the office totty is taken – I’d drunk myself into a total stupor. Ok, lots of people buy the mag to look at the pretty dresses but we get plenty of this kind of advertising for free already so, assuming we’re paying for the content, how much was it really worth to find out that – duh – paracetamol works to cure a headache and concealer can cover up eye bags?

An important article about alcohol overindulgence that touched briefly on its link to breast cancer was tucked away near the back and was only about a page long, although if you count all the margin padding it couldn’t have been more than a few paragraphs in the end. It was flanked by one article on how tequila makes the author a better mother and another by a male writer saying that we should worship our partners every day for not cheating on us (assuming they aren’t) because it’s so terribly, terribly hard for them to stay true. I can imagine the pair patting each other on the back over how supremely controversial and avant-garde they are.

Also, thanks Harper’s Bazaar for your mind-blowing page on how to make my teeth whiter. I honestly never would have guessed that avoiding tooth-staining foods and using a whitening toothpaste could do the trick. Except I think I may have read something similar in your December 2012 issue and pretty much every Christmas issue before that. Oh, wait, is the most substantial article in your mag actually written by Colgate?

But all that aside, it wasn’t just these terrible excuses for journalism that shocked me – it’s the holiday period and the whole team at these magazines are likely getting shit-faced and enjoying their Christmas freebies – it was the sheer volume of ads in the magazine that overwhelmed me. I was angry about it and I hadn’t even been the sucker who’d paid to buy a book of ads.

Putting my feelings aside, though, the dumbass inside me was still keen on this 9-day wonder diet so I went looking for the contents page. It took 44 pages of full page ads featuring progressively more drugged-looking girls, their eyes dull and mouths slightly agape as they showed off chunky jewellery and impossible makeup, before I finally made it to the “Welcome to this issue” page. The three contents pages were then spread out over the next 25 pages, interspersed with – you guessed it – more stuff for sale. It left a bad taste in my mouth, along with a serious desire to spend my life savings on a huge sapphire-encrusted dragonfly broach (I can totally wear that down the pub, right?)

I was left with a burning question: who buys this? It doesn’t fit in my handbag, the damn thing weighs more than a Macbook Air and mostly contains stuff I don’t want to buy or – clearly I’m not the target market – can’t afford to buy. Hell, it’s basically a phonebook with pretty pictures except the Yellow Pages has more hard-hitting journalism in it.

It’s becoming increasingly clear why print media is dying. When we pay for content we, firstly, expect content worth paying for and, secondly, don’t expect to have to wade through increasingly ridiculous quantities of advertising to get to it. Especially when all the same content and more is online for free or paid-for and ad-free.

I never did find my article and I hated myself just for looking for it, knowing as I did that it was a ridiculous concept anyway – why diet for nine days when lipo can do the same thing in one?


You’ve been reading another spontaneous rant from a grumpy Zzella. If you agree with this you may also appreciate 5 things I hate about 5 things..

2 thoughts on “When did we start paying to be advertised to?

  1. anyway diet do not work, eat less, move more, drink less, that is all there is to it, as i am sure you know! lipo suction sucks!

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