21 Feb Opinion: Digital, Print, or both, and the way-ahead.
This is about the future. Plain and simply put. The importance of publishing and prestige with which print used to be placed as the highest level of awesome-ness within the industry is slowly losing it’s grip.
As a photographer that went to school for photography specifically, things have changed, or transformed, drastically in just a few short years from completion to the present. From common business practices, to photographer’s guilds and organizations, to the prestige of being published, to just about everything else. To throw out a disclaimer, this article, while useful in other fields of photography, will primarily be covering the modeling industry.
I’ve been debating this more than most of the other things. Should I strive to see my work published in print with a mainstream outlet, or digitally published through a reputable outlet? The focus of this question is, will the “exposure bucks” being published in a specific outlet net me any return, either by being paid directly for projects, or will I be paid upfront at all, or will the exposure net me enough interest that I can charge future clients in return they get published through those outlets?
It seems to me, that most mainstream outlets, are working closely with these competitions and contests to generate quality models and charging everyone to attend them. If you’re a local person and haven’t heard of it, think of it like a really expensive vacation-style group shoot hosted by a company that works closely with a lot of mainstream media sources and editors meet people, review work, and get your name a little higher on the preferred list of submitters and contributors.
Well, that sucks for me, ‘cause I’m broke. While I’m sure I could make a trip happen to an extent and probably spend less money than most on airfare, I’d still have to pay a small fortune I don’t have to attend one of those events – I’m not retired, I’m not employed at a spot I can afford to spend thousands of dollars to not work for a week and a half and fly halfway across the globe (or to an amazing tropical island – which, for the record, if I had the money, I’d totally do so), and I personally don’t feel like my photography is exactly the styles most of those magazines look for in regards to editing styles – I personally don’t like editing my own work to that degree of a high-glamour/fashion look where the person’s skin looks like polished plastic (not a mean girls reference, but that movie is totally spot on – sorry high-schooler’s, life is rough after you graduate).
With all that being said, I’ve come to the conclusion I will probably not ever be published somewhere mainstream like Playboy, Maxim, Hustler, Vogue (Vogue Italia website seriously does not count – if you’re bragging about uploading your photos to a website that doesn’t vet it’s images, you need to learn the legal ramifications of that as well as what being published in something prestigious means), Paper, Arsenic, and a plethora of others that are up-and-coming or presently mainstream. Knowing this and understanding my particular style is not really something that fits those, that really only left me with those dreaded “magcloud” magazines.
At first, I was not really a fan of the idea either. Mostly because they use artists’ work and make money off of it, yet don’t pay, and what actually qualifies them as industry professionals to be able to determine what is good, bad, badass, quality execution of a piece of work, great writing, etc? Then I did a lot of research. I can’t really stress how long and how much I researched, but the conclusion is that a few of them are legitimate publications and although they aren’t ran by any mainstream publisher, distributor, or someone who works for something mainstream, the legalities are legitimate, registered, and carry prestige because they don’t just publish anyone and everyone, and those small few shouldn’t be discounted just because of the hosting site and publishing platform they use. I’ll list the ones I recommend personally at the end of this article, but first, let’s go over a brief checklist I came up with for my own use that I think others may be able to benefit from.
Questions to ask yourself when considering where to submit to:
The first question should always be: Do they pay?
- If they do pay, is it a one-time fee, do they direct hire for editorial projects, does the payout seem to make sense with the volume/prestige level they’re at, is it prior to publication, or after?
The next question should be: Is the publication a name that’s at least recognizable by other industry folks, pro or amateur?
- The average model and photographer are not going to automatically know all 3500+ digital publications, nor is everyone going to be involved in a specific style of photography or modeling, nor does every single model and photographer even buy magazines themselves. So if at least 30-40 different industry related people within your network have at least heard of it, and maybe one or two have been published in it, it has something going for it. The other pieces to that are: How long has it been around? A year, three, seven? 4 months? If it’s been around more than a year, people outside of your network of people should know about it. Research. If it’s been around less than that, more than likely it’s a smaller start-up, hasn’t reached a level of necessary prestige to be easily (or easier) recognizable, and while that’s not always bad, it usually means a firm NO to the first question.
Third, if they publication doesn’t pay, but it’s easily recognized by at least 40 people in your own network of folks and others outside of it, what do I get besides “exposure bucks”?
- Does the publication offer anything to compensate and expand or guarantee the exposure you’re going to get will be beneficial to you as a professional, or upcoming professional, or is it just bragging rights for something that’s perpetuated to be bigger than what it really is? Digital tearsheets are popular to a degree, it offers some semblance of legitimacy, and also benefits both the magazine and the contributor. (print tearsheets are a thing of the past, unless you are provided a physical copy, in which case, ripping pages out doesn’t quite provide the same level of satisfaction anymore)
- If not tearsheets, what else? Free copies of the issue itself? I’m going to go with a hard no to this. MOST publications, mainstream or not, do not give out free copies of their issues. The time, effort, and cost to them as a business all plays a large part in that decision. If it’s a magcloud publication, the likelihood they’re making enough money to even generate profit is nil.
Okay, how many contributors are they publishing in an issue, and how does that benefit, or negatively impact, my contribution/submission?
From what I’ve seen, a majority of magcloud publications (or joomag, issuu, magzter, magforest, etc) publish a shit ton of folks each issue because of one thing: those are the ONLY people buying those copies. The more legitimate ones that aren’t publishing 30-40 individual contributors per issue have staff directly coordinating shoots per issue, have a large following, and have been around probably more than 3 years and have an established and positive reputation for being prestigious within the modeling community. The ones that publish 30+ contributors/submitters have smaller space in layout – unless they are ONLY digital – and that means your feature may or may not be seen or focused on by the viewers, which once again, most are the contributors themselves purchasing a copy, not necessarily a target audience of the publication.
Alright, so you’ve narrowed down a few publications that publish external sources, they have a perk for your contribution, and you’ve determined whether they’re solely digital, or offer print as well. What about their circulation – how many people see each issue, digitally or in print? Or are they solely on a website?
- Out of my 2 years of researching, I’ve come to the conclusion that out of the huge amount of independent magazines out there, only about 5% are quality driven, have a solid target audience, and offers results with exposure. Those 5% have been around for quite some time, mostly, and because of those factors, they have a large, recognizable presence on social media, the internet, and within the community. They also have their own website and publish through that outlet as well as the actual monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly magazine they push out.
- Of all the questions on this list, does the magazine I’m debating sending my work to have an established and prestigious target audience I want to have my work shown to? How will it benefit them and how will it benefit me?
- Having a defined target audience for a magazine is a real difficult situation: It’s like waking up in the morning 17 minutes past your third alarm and about 34 minutes late, pouring your coffee on the counter instead of the cup, walking out the door and stepping in your dumbass neighbor’s dog’s shit, as you walk to the bus stop because your car is out of commission for some costly problem, getting on the first bus that shows up but it ends being a completely different route, then being late to that big-wig meeting by about 12 minutes, trying to slide in all sly-like but you can’t because there’s still dog shit on your shoe so your boss stares at you the entire time while the VP tries to talk about how lame your section is doing. It’s a little long of an analogy, but it’s the honest truth. It’s absolutely critical for a magazine to establish a direct target audience as it’s important on how they determine almost every other aspect and decision they make in regards to what they publish, won’t publish, write about, etc. If they’re not working on a focused group of folks, they’re not making real money, they’re not attracting advertisers, and they are probably not going to be around for very long, or much longer.
Let’s go over some quick stats based on the previous insight we just covered.
Magazines, whether it be print, digital, local, national, international, all have something called a “first stage”. What this means, is that a magazine has roughly 2 years to determine whether they should push forward or not. An average of 60 magazines pop-up on the internet per month, thanks digital age. That’s roughly 720 per year. Of those, only about 15% make it the first year, some fail in months after they start. That leaves 108. Of those, about 10% make it after year two, leaving about 11 or so. And after the third year, only a handful of those are left. But after the first stage is passed and mostly successful for a magazine, the sky is the limit. It’s rare a publication has automatically 500k+ followers on social media, 100k unique visitors per month, and 20k+ subscribers.
Which leads us to a final question you should be asking before submitting: Do you think that magazine will be around after the first two years of its life, passing the first stage?
- If you have faith it’ll be there, it displays and publishes quality work, carries a level of prestige with it – weight so to speak, and gives something in return aside from just exposure (unless the exposure is to your own desired target audience), then it’s probably a magazine that’s going to be around awhile. If that’s the case, being involved on the ground floor probably is a safe move, will be relevant and prestigious and people will give a shit.
Finally. Fuck, it felt like I was writing a bloody novel. Hopefully, getting to this point you’re eager for more info down the road. Otherwise, I don’t know what to tell you.
Here’s a list of quality publication’s I’ve noticed will get you a high level of prestige within the community, and they offer some variation of benefit, whether it’s actual exposure, tearsheets, or a payout.
- Of course, Elan Vital lol. Duh. – EVM has a hand-picked team of staff across the globe and has two different magazines (for now) under it’s brand – EVM and Exclusiv. Both offer payouts, have international reach, is available on a multitude of outlets, is growing significantly faster than most publications on the market and stresses quality over quantity, with each feature being six pages inside the covers.
- Vizual Magazine – from my research, Vizual is glamour through and through, it’s got an all-star cast of photographers on staff that have solid reputations – their exposure bucks I would consider more of an investment with the potential for higher than expected returns. It is primarily ran by a core staff group, so external submissions seem to be extremely limited, which I would consider a higher praise than most digital publications out there. They do not pay for submissions if accepted though.
- Shotcaller Magazine – Glamour, Glitz, Atypical within the modeling community, the folks that run it are solid, and want to promote the creative modeling community in a positive manner and continue building each other up, instead of breaking people down – the features are quality, the brand is stable and growing, and has a decent reach for not being around for a decade – they do review external submissions and have a small staff. They also cover events and movements that are gaining momentum within the community like EVM does.
- Texas Inked Magazine – while locally concentrating on Texas, this magazine offers ample opportunity for models, photographers, and other creative individuals to expand their follower base, locally gain more clients, and be in a legitimate publication.
- Fuse – while primarily focusing on fashion, this magazine has the level of exposure that the name carries weight when you mention you’ve been published in it.
- Bliss Babe – They actually have a regional print following on shelves in two states! Probably expanding in the future as time progresses, this magazine offers both opportunity, an audience, and has a significant level of prestige you probably weren’t aware of until reading this article.