From the Publisher

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Each week we receive more than 1,400 letters from our readers. They arrive first class and, unlike the mass third-class mailings that are the subject of our cover story, they are always deeply appreciated. We find them especially interesting when they comment on, or even sharply criticize, our stories. The fact is, we too often have debates about what we publish. This week's cover story by associate editor Jill Smolowe, as well as the cover image itself, raised such internal concerns when it was proposed.

Our first worry: the Time Inc. Magazine Co. is one of the largest direct- mail generators in the world. Since the proliferation of what its detractors call junk mail is clearly controversial, why call attention to a practice in which our parent company is deeply engaged?

Other concerns: Would the fact that each of our almost 4 million subscribers received a personally addressed message on this week's cover raise unwarranted forebodings about how the wondrous technology of personalized printing might infringe on their privacy? Also: in creating our personalized covers we took advantage of the "ink jet" process, which, when combined with "selective binding," permits our magazine (and direct mail) to be aimed at readers with almost intimate accuracy. Our advertisers, in fact, have used this printing capability to send personalized messages to our wide range of subscribers. Might some suspicious types think that our cover artwork, rather than springing full blown, as it did, from the fertile design keyboard of deputy art director Arthur Hochstein, had roots in some commercial impulse to show off our technology to advertisers?

The editors weighed these concerns, and then acted in a TIME-honored way. They ignored them. The phenomenon of the amazing growth of junk mail is a large, interesting and significant story. Yes, as is so often the case in this era of large, diverse communications companies, the discussion strikes close to home, but editors must go about their business. That's what our co-founder, Henry Luce, had in mind when he decreed decades ago that we should maintain a separation of "church" (the editorial side of the magazine) and "state" (the business side). So our editors, with what I like to think were slightly apologetic smiles, proceeded with this week's story. You know, it's pretty good.