should you pay to have your work published
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What’s Wrong With Magazines Charging Their Contributors For Submissions

Beauty and fashion editorials are an opportunity for artists to showcase their creativity and skills. They often act as a means of advertising the team’s talents to potential clients and have become the lifeblood of many marketing plans for photographers, retouchers, stylists, and makeup artists. In the past, editorials were shot for print magazines, often with a provided budget and complimentary copies of the finished product in the form of copies of the issue for the team to add tearsheets to their portfolios.

The editorial world in 2018, however, is a very different animal. With digital magazines and social media ruling the visual arts kingdom, artists now vie to have their work displayed in any publication, with paid assignments few and far between. Once digital photography overtook film, the number of photographers exploded, making it easy for magazine publishers and editors to find image-makers at little to no cost at all.

Now there is a recent and growing trend for magazines not to compensate their contributors, and even worse: to charge them for contributing their work.

Let’s take a deep dive into this topic, as it is one that has almost completely rewritten the editorial landscape of today.

Image Source: Pexels

Why Do Magazines Charge Their Contributors?

Before we dig into the numbers of just how rampant this tactic is, let’s try to examine precisely why magazines are charging in the first place. Simply put, it’s supply and demand. The artist wants one or several of the following: tearsheets, social media sharing, the allure of having their work “published,” seeing their work in print, and demonstrating to potential clients how their images work in a print medium. Magazines serve as a form of bragging rights for some, and a proving ground for others to demonstrate their abilities. Magazines have something that contributors want.

In the previous generation of print magazines, the magazine made its profit from advertisers and subscriptions. For those household brands that persist such as Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Marie Claire, etc., a brand can still expect to pay rates of $185,000 for a one-page advertisement in a single issue. To use Elle USA as an example, their paid subscriptions for the current year are over 1 million, with single-copy sales of 60,000. Subscription rates vary, but the average tends to be about a dollar an issue. So, doing the math, from subscriptions alone, Elle USA generates over $12 million in a single year from their subscription base, not including the revenue from newsstand purchases nor from their advertisers (which ranges from $200-$350 million annually). While these numbers are indeed respectable, if not surprising, they are slowly slipping as readers turn toward more digital means of consuming their entertainment (Elle’s subscriptions were 100,000 higher in 2015, for example).

But the bulk of magazines that photographers have their work published in are not the USA brands of these well-known and well-funded print magazines that can demand top dollar from advertisers. They are often print-on-demand magazines that can be ordered on sites like MagCloud and Blurb. In most cases, these are run by a sole entity, meaning that their revenue comes from those that choose to purchase copies of their magazine. Very rarely do these magazines have brand advertisers, and while you can expect to pay $1 per issue on a yearly subscription for magazines like Vogue and Elle, a single issue of a magazine sold on MagCloud will set you back anywhere from $9 to $85.

While established print magazines with a known circulation have to spend money to print their issues in bulk, these print-on-demand publications do not have to put any print-production costs up front, they merely take a cut from their listed price. This isn’t to say that there aren’t other costs such as the editor’s time, graphic design, and hosting costs, but that’s a separate issue. When it comes to print costs, there is no real risk or exposure there for the publication, and since they’re printed one by one, the cost of each magazine is quite high (the average typically around $25 depending on the quantity of pages).

On MagCloud’s website, it lists pricing at $0.20 per page, with $1 for perfect-binding. Looking at a fashion magazine as an example, the publication charges $25 for an issue with 38 pages. The cost to the publication is $8.60, giving them a profit of $16.40, which is 66% margin. While this is a healthy margin, it only matters if enough people purchase the print or digital issues, which is what leads us to the inevitable next step for these small magazines: charging their contributors to submit their work.

How Many Magazines Are Charging?

Kavyar, a relatively new website that acts as an online portal for submitting to dozens of publications has played a hand in reshaping the current culture of charging submitters to have their work featured in a magazine. While there are free options available to publishers and artists alike, the paid tiers that magazines pay to Kavyar’s to use their service run $38-48 per month (up to $576 a year), adding that slight amount of overhead to the magazine, which is often what leads to charging for submissions.

RELATED: Kavyar Takes The Fuss Out of Magazine Submissions

At the time of this writing, there are 186 active listings on Kavyar. Of those 186 submission opportunities, only 43 (23%) of them are entirely free to the contributor. There are 21 listings that have no free submission option, with 122 of them offering a free submission, followed by paid tiers for a variety of “upgrades.” That means that in one way or another, 77% of the magazine submission lists on Kavyar charge the submitter for the opportunity to have their work published.

kavyar magazine submissions

Magazine submission opportunities on Kavyar

What Exactly Are They Charging For?

I have discovered about 9 different categories and titles for these charges that exist for publications on sites like Kavyar, as well as those magazines that have their own submission and payment portals. Below is that list, with an explanation for each one, and the price ranges that one can expect to find.

Paid Editorial / Webitorial Submissions:

This charge is simply for the opportunity to submit at all. Your submission will not be considered unless you pay the fee. Some magazines will call this an “administration fee,” others a “submission fee.” This tier guarantees nothing, and pricing ranges from $2 to $315, with the average price of $40.

Priority Upgrade & Priority Response / 24-48 Hour Response:

This fee focuses on a priority response, typically within 48 or 24 hours. While that isn’t always the case, this tier also offers contributors the ability to submit more than a specified amount of images. The free submission, for example, may allow up to 4 images, while the priority upgrade will allow 8 or more. Prices range from $4 to $45, with the average fee being $17.

magazine pricing for online submission

An example of prices from a magazine for a potential social media post, under their “priority review” tier.

Feedback / Rejection Reason:

While submissions are typically met with an acceptance, rejection, or no response at all, paying for this option will guarantee that the publication either provides you with a few sentences of basic feedback, or they explain why your entry was rejected. This option is not too common, and the fee can be avoided by learning one sentence fragment: your work did not fit the aesthetic of the magazine. The price range for this is $4 to $30, with the average price being $13.

Digital Tearsheets / Priority Tearsheets + Free Digital Magazine:

This one, in particular, is one where there really is no excuse for magazines to charge their contributors. When you are submitting your work for free, it’s unfortunate enough that you do not receive a print copy, but at the very least you should absolutely receive digital tearsheets and a copy of the digital magazine. The magazine would not exist without the work of its contributors, so you absolutely should not have to pay for digital tearsheets or a digital magazine.

Regardless, this option exists, charging contributors a fee to ensure that they receive their digital tearsheets within a reasonable timeframe. The range is $15 to $28, with the average price of $21.

Guaranteed Publication:

We arrive at the reason why the title “published photographer” no longer carries any weight. There exists a frightening amount of magazines that offer guaranteed publishing. If you pay the fee, they’ll publish your work. It’s as simple as that. But is it worth the price? These magazines do not just release one issue a month, but sometimes as many as 27. With about 7 editorials per issue, that’s 189 different photographers vying for attention in a single month. In most cases, these publications do not share the images on their social media channels, and if they do, the teams are not appropriately tagged.

So, how much will it set you back to get your editorial published without fear of rejection? The prices range from $15 on the low end to $800 on the high. The average price is $205.

Consideration for Cover:

While the practice for picking a cover image used to be either commissioning a team or selecting from your contributors, there now exists the ability to pay to put your images into a pool for consideration. This isn’t a guarantee, but just the chance for an editor to weigh your work against others who paid the price. The prices for this range from $40-$510, with the average being $200 to put your name in the hat.

Guaranteed Cover:

Having your photograph chosen as the cover of a magazine is an honor that most photographers aim for. Now, however, you can just buy your place onto one, with magazines charging for covers, back covers, and what they call “alternative covers” when they offer more than one issue per month. Be sure to read the fine print, because not every magazine will refund you if they decide not to use your photograph.

The price range on this one tends to be steeper but is no less frequent than guaranteed editorial publishing. The price range is $70-$2000, with the average being $471.

Another example of price tiers for a publication on Kavyar.

Instagram Features:

For those artists that aren’t looking for tearsheets, most of these magazines also offer paid Instagram posts. Some of them only provide Instagram Story features. This is nothing new, as many popular “feature” Instagram accounts have caught onto this and began to charge for posts. The most common options that are readily advertised are listed at $3-$80 per image, averaging out at $25. Compared to the Influencer market, however, some might view this as a bargain, as a single post for an Influencer typically runs between $250-$1000.

When it comes to these magazines, however, of the 186 listings, only 6 of them are for magazines with over 100k followers on Instagram. The Instagram for @retouchingacademy currently has over 200k followers, and we have never once charged artists for their submissions and we never will. Our always-free submissions guidelines can be found here.

Advertorials & Sponsored Content:

While editorials might showcase various brands, an advertorial has set out to advertise one deliberately and has paid for it. Advertorials comprise the bulk of content in print magazines, as each written editorial is often a thinly veiled advertisement for a particular product. When it comes to digital and print-on-demand publications, however, the advertorial isn’t about the F/W collection for a designer, they’re aimed at one particular buyer: you, the photographer.

Depending on how the magazine pitches this, the idea is that you’re paying for a sponsored post, or a paid interview with the editor, or a 4-page spread for your advertorial. If these were cosmetics companies, fashion designers, or accessory companies buying these spots, there would be nothing at all wrong with the practice. The fact that it tends to be photographers comprising the bulk of the buyers, it’s a misguided advertisement cost to the photographer.

The price range is $50-$4000, with the average price being $950.

selection of historical fashion magazines

Source: Pixabay

Should You Pay To Have Your Work Published?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question, as artists are innately subjective when it comes to what justifies their marketing costs. However, I implore you to consider the expenses you have already put into the creation of the editorial you’re submitting.

At the very least, you are contributing your time to create the work, along with the costs of your equipment, any potential studio or overhead costs, the cost of your software, any food or drinks you may have catered, any travel costs, any compensation for the model or creative team, potential retouching costs, etc. A lot of work goes into an excellent editorial, that doesn’t just come from the photographer but the team as well. You should not have to pay to have your work shared unless you can be sure that you’ll see a return on that investment.

If you are going to pay, do your research:

  • Is the publication a recognizable and respected name?
  • Does the magazine have a strong social media presence with high engagement?
  • Are they tagging and crediting everyone involved in the editorial or are they just listing names in the caption?
  • Do they always post the editorials in their issues or do they only share a handful of them?
  • Are there no comparable magazines that offer free submissions?

And then ask yourself the only question that really matters: will I receive paid work from this?

If any of the answers to the above questions do not sit well with you, then you unquestionably should not be paying a magazine to share your work.

What Could You Do Instead?

When asking photographers why they pay to submit their work, or why they would even consider it, the bulk of answers focus on growing their social media presence and gaining paid clients.

This actually can be accomplished in two particularly effective ways that do not involve paying a magazine: posting quality work on Instagram, and promoting your posts on Instagram.

There is also the third option of only contributing to magazines that do not charge for your submission, and that will provide you with the appropriate tearsheets, free of charge.

RELATED: Seven Ways to Increase Engagement on Instagram

If you produce good work and share it often while following solid Instagram marketing practices, your following will grow organically. However, there is no shame in paying to promote your posts, officially, through Instagram.

You can choose your target audience, set your price, and view detailed Insights to review the performance of that paid Promotion. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, consider giving this one a try rather than paying for the chance to have your work buried in the 20th issue of the month that will likely only be seen by your fellow contributors.

In the end, you should focus on producing great work that you’re proud of, that you confidently share with the world. If you keep creating and sharing, paid work will come. Invest in your growth as a creative professional, not in vanity publishing.


Featured Image – Photographer: Kendra Paige | Model: Shannon @ Wilhelmina Miami | HMUA: Nikki Copeland of Atomic Agency | Retoucher: Nataly Trach

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13 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With Magazines Charging Their Contributors For Submissions

  1. Elena Fortin says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. While my feelings towards publications that have paid submissions are a bit angrier. Planning an Editorial Story Takes time and Money. Rejection by a publication that has your style it would make a better photographer, you’ll look at your images with a more critical eye. There is always room to improve!

    1. Julia McKim says:

      Thank you Elena!

    2. Kendra Paige says:

      Thank you for your comment, Elena! It’s very true that rejection and critique makes stronger professional artists, but this process gets quite muddied when the editors giving said feedback are from these pay-to-play magazines. It lowers the bar of quality considerably, and makes the whole process really disingenuous.

  2. Nemanja says:

    The only one I have a problem with is paying to just submit, you dont even know if they would consider your work, nor will you get any feedback. That to me is just greed but what do I know, they either have so many paid submissions ($200 a photo just to be clear) or this is how they make themselves look like a lucrative/ exclusive magazine.

    I wouldnt mind if they come back to you and say ” we really want to publish the stuff you sent us, this is the pricing” . But to charge large sum just to submit? Nah.

    1. Julia McKim says:

      But that’s not the only issue.

      The whole purpose of having your work published is to put it in front of the eyes of art buyers, agents, potential clients – people who matter for the development of your career as a photographer. How many of these magazines are actually known and viewed by anyone besides your direct and indirect competitors, makeup artists and just beauty lovers who will never hire you for work? I think it’s safe to say that the return on such an investment is zero.

      1. Christine says:

        Couldn‘t say it better!
        And the other thing is: the guidelines are getting crazier and crazier! Some magazine want so many different looks/outfits…. And some people are really crazy about getting into these publications! I was featured on numerous covers – also on the bigger ones of these magazines – and it never brought any paid client! I always see the editorial as an investment in my portfolio and when they are featured it‘s nice. But these kind of magazines aren’t doing anything for me… so I really see no reason in even paying for submitting!

        But so many people are not aware of these problems! Mostly models and make-up artists often don’t even know you can now buy a cover on one of these ‚famous‘ magazines.

        1. Kendra Paige says:

          All very true! I shoot editorial-style sets often, and I test whenever I can to continue to develop my style and build my network, and I always cringe when someone on the team asks to get the images published. I end up sitting on amazing images for months, risking the images going out of season, and even if they’re picked up, the exposure I get from my own social media far outshines whatever I get from these other publications or their social media.

          I plan to just create content for my portfolio and social media. That’s a much better investment of my time and money.

    2. Kendra Paige says:

      Thank you for your comment (fellow Gundam fan!). I think charging contributors at all is extremely backwards, as it only benefits the magazine and not their content creators, nor the people featured in the content.

      There are actually quite a few magazines that dishonestly advertise free submissions, but then smack you with a “design fee” or a “processing fee” once your editorial is accepted. I personally think this practice is a lot more dishonest than just being upfront with the fact that they charge.

  3. Great article! I feel the same way about seeing “published photographer” on someone’s insta bio. It doesn’t carry weight anymore.

    1. Julia McKim says:

      Yes, unfortunately. Sadly, along with the word “high-end” on retouchers’ pages.
      But at the end of the day, regardless of what artists add into their bio, their work will always speak for itself.

    2. Kendra Paige says:

      Thank you very much, Molly! It really doesn’t, not when you can pay someone and it’s a guarantee that you’ll get tearsheets.

      Photographers that do this are better off just downloading some magazine templates for InDesign and making editorial tearsheets themselves. It’d certainly be a lot cheaper!

  4. jai says:

    Great article. I knew this for a while, but after reading this i think the reality of it just bummed me out. I’ve submitted to some of these online magazines and was “published” but end of the day, I just don’t count them as being really published at all cause it seems the only audience are those who are in the magazine in one form or another.

    1. Kendra Paige says:

      Thank you, Jai! It really is a hard pill to swallow, even for myself, because I really love creating editorial content. But when it’s so clear that the publications are not benefiting the artist and only themselves, and I’m much better off just creating content for my own marketing purposes and my portfolio, it just doesn’t make sense to submit to these magazines.

      There’s also the fact that as these practices become more known, it can reflect poorly on those artists who are in magazines that people know charge for submissions. Even if you didn’t pay anything, that’s simply the reputation that the publication now has. It appears like it’s less about your skill and merit and more about what you may have paid to be there. It certainly robs many of their achievement when it comes to creating beautiful work, and does a disservice to those who still need to further improve their craft.

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