Those Are Not “Free” Magazines

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I have extremely mixed feelings about the print-on-demand magazine industry.  On the one hand, it provides an outlet for creative people to do some amazing work with no financial outlay.  On the other hand, that very lack of required financial commitment has created some rather callous attitudes among people who now claim the title of “editor”.

One recurring statement from these editors drives me particularly crazy, that they do not give “free” magazines to contributors.  And yes, they usually do put the word ‘free’ in quotes, whether for emphasis or irony I’m not sure.  In one distinctly memorable case, a magazine’s submission guidelines stated quite emphatically “we do NOT give out free magazines, so DON’T ASK”.  This is the attitude I have a problem with.

There is a difference between a contributor copy and a free magazine.  Free magazines are copies that you give to your mom, your best friend, or maybe a vendor that you would like to see carrying your publication so they can take a look at what you’re asking them to sell.  In other words, they are product given to people who did not in any way have anything to do with the creation of the product.

Contributor copies are product given to people whose work was crucial to the creation of the product, without which there would be no product.

See how those things are different?

Now, before you get the idea that I think all print-on-demand magazines are Satan’s work and the creators of them should perish in a fire fueled by the very paper their evil is printed on, let me assure you that is not the case.  A lot of really talented people are using the available print-on-demand technology to do a lot of really good work, I applaud them for it and I don’t want to see that change.  What needs to change is the “free” magazine attitude.

Let’s break this down, shall we?

Say an issue of your magazine is 60 pages.  To keep it simple, we’ll estimate layout time of 20 minutes per page.  Some may take longer than that, some may take considerably less time, but for the sake of discussion we’ll use 20 hours as the total time to complete the layout.  Add to that another 20 hours of reviewing submissions, and another 20 hours of chasing down hi-res photos, releases, miscellaneous nuts & bolts and legal crap, etc., and you have 60 hours total assembly time for a 60 page magazine.  That’s a week and a half at a full-time job and, using California minimum wage for an example base, we’ll say has a cash value of $600.

Now, say this issue of your magazine has 60 photos from 30 different contributors.  Each of those photos has a photographer, whose time we’ll value at $50 an hour for a two hour session, and a model, whose time we’ll go ahead and stick with CA minimum wage for a total of $20.  Somebody had to drive somewhere, so we’ll throw in another $20 for expenses.  Wardrobe, hair, and makeup, we’ll estimate another $50.  That’s $190 worth of work, from 30 different sets of people.

For a total of $5700 worth of content.  For your magazine.  From which no one will profit but you.

If you are creating a magazine via print-on-demand, your business model likely does not allow for the purchase and distribution of contributor copies.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But you need to say “we are not able to provide contributor copies” rather than “we do not give away free magazines”.  Because saying you do not give away free magazines implies that the people who might want them, the people providing the content without which you would have no magazine, have done nothing to earn them, and that is just not the case.

Most people don’t have the money it usually takes to start a magazine.  That’s fine.  Print-on-demand has provided the means to bypass that obstacle.  However, it costs you nothing to show a little respect for the people who are helping to make your creative dream a reality.