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TIME magazine covers: worldwide differences

The difference between the US version of the TIME cover and that of the rest of the world recently proved to be a very popular comparison on Reddit, with some calling it censorship.

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 24th October 2011

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 05th December 2011

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 02nd April 2007

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 03rd November 2008

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 08th August 2011

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 20th September 2010

Selective variations might appear politically-driven, but what I think it comes down to is the publisher using market research in an attempt to increase sales. TIME is supposedly the world’s largest weekly news magazine. Why wouldn’t the company change cover depending on what it thinks will sell?

When you take the above examples in isolation it mightn’t look great, but you don’t need to venture far into the TIME archives to see differences that aren’t quite as noteworthy.

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 31st October 2011

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 17th December 2007

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 14th January 2008

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 14th November 2011

TIME magazine covers US vs rest of the world
TIME covers, 11th February 2008

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24 comments about “TIME magazine covers: worldwide differences”

  1. Thank you for doing the research on this. There are so many pictures like this going viral that use selective data to push an agenda. It gets tiring doing the 5 minutes of research to disprove them when hundreds of new ones crop up daily and millions of lazy pricks continue to paste them across the web.

  2. David this is a fantastic post! But it got me thinking about global marketing in general. Does Coca Cola have to do this to attract customers? What about small import/export businesses? Rolex? Aircraft manufacturers? I have been fascinated with international business protocol and cross cultural marketing just because I have traveled a lot. But for the designer…..should we be thinking of this all the time ….even if our clients don’t ask us to? America today is so diverse.

    This is from the LA TIMES
    June 16, 2004|Geoffrey Mohan and Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writers

    “A newly released graphic depiction of the nation’s vast linguistic complexity shows…… A set of interactive maps, the combined product of census data and academic curiosity, shows that a roughly 13-square-mile area of southern Los Angeles County from North Long Beach to Bellflower to Artesia is among the most linguistically varied… territory in the nation.

    The Census Bureau tracks the 40 most commonly spoken languages in the United States. Thirty-nine are in this swath of land defined by the 605 and 710 freeways — English and Spanish, of course, but also a polyglot that includes Portuguese and Dutch, Navajo and Khmer. A few other spots in Los Angeles County, including some around major universities and medical centers, rival the linguistic density of this triangle; nowhere else in the nation quite compares.”

    Can designers afford not to understand this marketing challenge?

    I think Great Britain has the same kind of diversity as do many other nations.

    If you do a Annual Report for a company… does color, and graphics matter if it is doing international business or serves a diverse community? Even if the client doesn’t recognize the impact of some graphics and copy have on their market share should designers take the initiative to research this issue?

    I’d love to hear what designers, who have seen this challenge in their work, have to say.

    Thanks again David for setting the wheels to turning in my head. This is definitely a thinking designers blog!!!!! Kudos!

  3. Meredith, I beg to differ a little from you!

    In UK we have many ethnic groups living, but the main thing is that they all speak good English.

    If you look at the way the country is flooded with South Asians, they speak fantastic English.

  4. An interesting post David, a good example of how communicating to different cultures does show a trend.

    Interesting how the US & UK differ (as Grant mentioned, they both are English speaking nations, but both have massive numbers of people that do not speak good English (or any English at all in many cases)).

    May be good to do a post on other publications to see if there are other examples of global marketing trends?

  5. Yes, celebrate difference.

    I hate this ‘one size fits all’ mentality we often see in branding and our daily lives. “Make it the same, make it consistent’? Why? It’ doesn’t have to be. It just has to be recognizable.

  6. Excellent post. It raises the important issue about how ethical censorship is and if it even serves US citizens well to be given a different cover—or rather does it create a bubble of insulation that will harm them?

  7. I bet you the graphic designer that created the cast shadow effect on this cover (http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20081103,00.html)
    was not to proud of his work when he got his copy… I guess that’s one thing that went wrong.

  8. Perhaps TIME has different teams for publishing magazines (one US and the other rest of the World) and they are free to choose their subjects.

    I know they are very different because the SPANISH version of TIME is different than the English one. Perhaps I am wrong on this one but I am almost certain of this.

    Anyway, excellent article.

  9. This provides some really interesting commentary into the priorities of this country. After all, they’re publishing covers they think will sell, and what we buy is the best indicator of what we value. Time is putting Islam and Arab Revolutions on the cover all over the world, except in the US they’re choosing “Chore Wars” and Anxiety. How very self-indulgent of our Times US editors. Reflection on the culture they’re covering? You bet.

  10. It is most definitely censorship, targeted marketing and/or different editors with different interests/priorities.

  11. Still seeing those selective images circulating, kai. I think it’s as Hanna mentions — the cover is more a reflection on the culture the editors think they’re selling to.

    Also worth mentioning that the contents of each issue might include practically the same stories, with the cover being the most significant change.

    Thanks a lot for visiting, folks. Must get back to work.

  12. I think the word censorship is inappropriate here since there’s no evidence that Time isn’t calling it’s own shots. You could argue that political marketing data are driving editorial decisions, and that would be sad, but it wouldn’t be censorship.

  13. Don,

    Good point that it’s not censorship if there’s not another organization demanding the change.

    As a sidebar I showed this post to a group of my Digital Imaging students today – they were a bit appalled and wondered what was wrong with Americans – they felt the images shown in the US were much more innocuous and wanted to know why.

  14. censorship |ˈsensərˌSHip| noun
    the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts…

    I don’t believe censorship has to necessarily be defined as an external force or pressure. I’m not saying that what Time is doing here is censorship, just that they are certainly capable of censoring their own writers, publications, etc.–no outside organization required.

    In response to Grant; regardless of one’s proficiency in English (or the dominant language of the region), one will always respond to marketing that takes their *culture* into account as well–in my humble opinion.

  15. This is clearly a marketing driven publication yet they seem to still know how to push peoples buttons, look at the huge differences between their fluff stories in america and the harsh reality in the rest of the globe. I guess we get what we pay for literally.

  16. @Matt Thanks Matt I wanted to say something but figured Grant had missed my point entirely anyway..so it wasn’t worth repeating. I am glad someone understood. I think it is especially important since most designers work in the marketing industry… this was very relevant…especially since so much international work and cross cultural work is available to us through the internet. I certainly think we need to be mindful of where and to whom we are directing our designs and how they are likely to respond .

  17. To further this point I might say I too noticed a huge intellectual gap in the stories of the US edition and the world editions. Time magazine….what are you trying to tell us????? Am I supposed to take it personally? Hmmmmmmm Maybe that’s why I no longer have a subscription. lol lol

  18. Giuseppe,

    Very very funny!!!!!!!!!!!! I just looked at the cover you were talking about OMG whoever did it (probably a Time magazine staffer) They should be embarrassed! HA HA HA OMG tooooo funny!

  19. It does seem as though it would be sales driven, but what percentage of their readers are subscription based? It *does* make you stop and *think* about it, right?

  20. I have to say, there are “issues” and there are “ISSUES.”

    It’s VERY questionable WHY Time Magazine would “choose” such different Cover Stories such as, “Why Anxiety is Good for You” Vs. “Revolution Redux.” Really ??? “Why Anxiety is Good for You” ????

    Oh, by the way…are we at Code Orange still, or Yellow ? I would like to be able to wear more appropriate Terror Threat Level clothing.

    “Why Anxiety is Good For You”….That’s one of the most ridiculous claims I’ve ever heard. This is a perfect example of how as we move light years ahead technologically we are moving at a snail’s pace spiritually, morally, and ethically.

    “Chore Wars” ???? Are you kidding me ? Why don’t they just start putting the Kardashians on the Cover of TIME…? How about start doing full feature articles on The Bachelor. That’s how absurd that is.

    I’ve said this for a long time, “You want to change the direction of this Country? Then start exercising your influence with your wallet and your choices of purchases.”

    TIME is basically playing out the analog versions of the “customized search results” people are getting with Google and Facebook due to the algorhythms they use in their search engines. This too is nothing new.

    And we wonder if we’re being intentionally mislead..?

    Wake up folks.

    Thanks for the fantastic information David !

    -jS

  21. Censorship…or propaganda? Two sides of the same coin, IMHO.

  22. Thanks David. It’s an interesting topic that brings up issues like censorship and global marketing. I think it has more to do with TIME’s choice to choose to market to a totally different culture.

    I don’t think it’s a bunch of people sitting in a smoke-filled room choosing to spit out propaganda to the U.S. audience, but instead its an evolutionary process that cultural/global marketing has taken to appeal to their specific audience.

    Either way – it’s interesting to see the comparisons.

  23. This article is FALSE. Do not think this article is based on anything factual — it is NOT. For some reason this article is defending TIME Magazine.

    Fact: America is censoring only the POLITICAL issues in TIME magazines. Political issues in America are censored and is full of propaganda, FACT.

    This Article shows how yes, sometimes the U.S has better, or the same covers as other countries, but ONLY WHEN NOT RELATED TO POLITICAL INFORMATION. FACT. The U.S will use the same cover as other countries when it is a non-political based cover. But when it comes to major political issues, the U.S Time Magazine does in-fact censor it. OR you could call it propaganda. Either way, the truth is TIME magazine is censoring the covers for the American version.

    Why are people not understanding this? The guy who made this article, David, either doesn’t fully understand this, or he simply is trying to defend time Magazine.

  24. To the last commentator, do not say fact unless it’s a common known fact/ cited/ or explained. It holds no value if you do not. Censorship is when someone like the government makes them change the title, which the government is not doing. The head publisher is making them do that, to which you say it’s only about political issues, well that’s because Americans (I am one) don’t want to read about it, and knowing Americans, if we feel that a news source is defending violent actions as good we will not like or care for that news source. Just look at Liz Wahl http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/russia-today-anchor-quits-live-air-russian-invasion-ukraine-article-1.1712043

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