For the last few years I’ve been keeping a list of editors, word rates, contact details and brief notes on different magazine and website editors with my colleagues at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. It was crowdsourcing on a relatively small scale to help us figure out where the best home for our writing would be. However, I’ve come to realize that the list might also be useful for another, perhaps more noble goal. So I’ve scraped off the personal and identifying details and added a few new columns.
I’m throwing the database online and inviting writers from all over the world to add what they know about the size of the market. Help out and contribute by clicking on this link. Lets figure out what every magazine pays per word, how many features are in each book, and what they charge for advertising.
It’s a Google Doc, and pretty easy to update and modify. I’ve filled in what blanks that I could, but someone should probably check my numbers. Most advertising rates are easy to find on company media kits like the one Conde Nast publishes publicly.
The reason for this, of course is that last week’s post on how much writing in America is actually worth struck a nerve. Many people were skeptical that magazines might really only pay out $3.6 million a year for their feature wells. The number seems absurdly small. And they might be right. Various commenters mentioned that the New Yorker alone must dish out almost $2 million annually on stories. Tom McGeveren wrote that his own publication (which turned out to be the newspaper the New York Observer) commanded a $3.5 million dollar budget on its own. However everyone seemed to understand the overall point writers get only a tiny sliver of the overall publishing revenues of mainstream magazines.
At the end of the day, almost no matter what set of numbers you crunch I’m almost certain that we will find that feature writing is such an insignificant amount that the advertising revenue from a single issue of one magazine should be able to cover the entire feature budget of all the magazines in America for an entire year. For instance: the December 2014 issue of Wired had 87 full page ads. At the prices listed in the media that would have been worth almost $15 million. Even if we assume that they dolled out a 50% discount to every advertiser, that’s still $7.5 million. The writer’s cut would have been less than $50,000, or about 0.6%.
A full market analysis should not rely only on back of the envelope math. Understanding the total value of words in America is going to require some fairly sophisticated work, as well as information from every sector of the writing world. Jonah Ogles, an editor at Outside, called for writers to get involved and start sharing data. So I’ve decided to follow up. Lets figure this thing out and maybe, just maybe, it will give us a tool to demand a slightly bigger piece of that overall publishing pie.