|Just so it looks like I'm blowing |
the whole thing out of proportion
The Case of a Magazine Open for Exposure
John Reyst of d20pfsrd writes:
"If you're an aspiring artist [/writer] and would like a chance to get officially published as well as have your work in front of large numbers of industry insiders, which has already proven in many cases to lead to on-going role-playing game industry jobs, then please fill out this form!"
Work for exposure? [Link to a recent opinion piece in the NYT]
What do the writers and artists earn?
John Replies "The magazine. . . will likely end after issue [six] basically because the amount of work going into it far exceeds the amount earned per issue. . . If we have to pay writers AND artists there's no way it works.
"[T]he theory is we use the magazine as an entry point for new writers to get their name out in public or industry insiders who want to promote a specific product. Then d20pfsrd Publishing will offer the writers with high quality work paying gigs for other products. . . no one is forced to do anything and it's all out in the open.
But Fight On! was non-profit. ". . . [T]his is a fanzine and not a for-profit enterprise, although happily we've been successful enough that the thing pays for itself and even supports some contests."
|Issue #5. Fantastic Cover.|
John says "Here's the thing. . . 100 pages at 2.99$ per issue. . . was divided between distribution share, and then between the editor and me. After 5 issues . . . my share has been less than 100$ total, but which I've also turned right back around and funneled into a pool of money to be used to pay artists or writers as the thing grows. . ."
I asked John if his profits, or any profits were actually used to pay a writer or artist. His answer is somewhat complicated. He replies: "In regards to artists the answer is "it depends." Meaning, a great deal of the art used in the magazine . . . was art that was created and owned by Fat Goblin Games. . . the remaining art and graphics used were either public domain art/images, or art which was provided by other publishers as part of the content they asked to be highlighted in that issue, or clipart packages. . . [we obtained] extremely high-quality images for the covers in exchange for a two-page spread in the issue . . . used for profiling the artist and providing links to their contact information and further samples of their work .
In regards to content writers, Have they been paid? [Have] WE directly sent them checks? No. . . Each issue typically included 4-5 major pieces/articles written by existing publishers and which are either previews of their soon to be released products, or are excerpts from existing products. . . "Pay" for these articles in these terms was in the form of links to their products and essentially a several page advertisement for their products and companies. . . . the remaining space [was filled] with ongoing regular "feature" columns. . . The writers of these columns are the previously mentioned d20pfsrd.com contributors who were unknown in the industry previously. . . .The remainder was written by [the magazine manager] himself. . . The point being that the vast majority of each issue's content was indirectly compensated for in terms of additional sales for the publishers who contributed content"
So the answer is, that the magazine is essentially full of content that is a high quality ad for print products, and that other contributors were given personal recommendations to paying publishers based on the quality of their work.
If you're putting out 100 pages, you're writing about 40,000 words. Even at just .01$, 1/10th the going rate, how much would you have to charge to pay just your writers? (The answer, you'd need to profit 400$ after all other expenses. 4000$ if you wanted to pay the industry rate.) Apparently he's earning about 20$ an issue, a far reach short of what is required to actually pay anyone.
|Jeff Easley Cover|
He even states, "If going 100% free meant I could be guaranteed a steady flow of content, I'd be all over it. I really don't care about making any money off the magazine, that's not the point. . . "
Free and Non-profit magazines have an erratic history. It's hard to keep such a thing going for very long. Threshold is an excellent recent example of a free, high quality magazine. Crawl! charges 3.95 and issue and rewards contributors with a free copy, but is completely non-profit, putting all profits into printing hard copies and postal costs. Fight On! is effectively finished. It is clearly a hard thing to do and a labor of love.
But the fact remains, profit is being made on the magazine and the contributors are paid in exposure. Is this a bad thing?
Stacy Dellorfano, who has recently written about hiring practices in the industry and is the publisher of an excellent pay what you want zine Randomocity herself says "Payment doesn't always mean in the form of cash." This is true! If it does what it says on the tin, and you actually do get paying work from contributing the article then you are benefiting in a concrete way from the exposure. Speculative Work can get you paid.
John says: "I maintain d20pfsrd.com which gets, on average, 150,000 daily visits. I sell ads on the site to publishers. I can easily offer advertising space in exchange for either piecemeal art, or on an ongoing basis for a "staff" artist. I also send out a monthly newsletter that has thousands of subscribers so again, while paying direct money is hard to do, offering screen real estate on a very popular website and/or high subscriber newsletter seems like it would be of value."
That seemed kind of vague, so I followed up on it with some more questions, asking if his magazine only made him $100, how did this translate into views for the authors?
"[T]hat's not entirely what I meant when I used the term exposure which prompted this entire fiasco. By "exposure" I mean that I manage a site which routinely gets around 150,000 visits per day and I manage several social networks with thousands of individuals in the networks, as well as send a monthly newsletter with thousands of subscribers. By exposure I mean I can promote your content to those people. . . My point also was based on the proven fact that other writers who started by submitting "free" content to the magazine are now paid regularly for their work. One could relate this to the thousands of hours of work I've done for free over the years building d20pfsrd.com before it ever generated 1 penny of profit. So I take a long view of compensation. That is, doing work early for little to no pay is a requirement to proving your work is good and worth other people paying you."
This statement about writers getting paid from later articles was backed up by a Tyler Beck who contacted me. He says:
"I've written, (I believe) 5 articles for Open Gaming Monthly and haven't gotten paid for any of them. HOWEVER, what writing for the magazine HAS earned me is a monthly contract with Fat Goblin Games for which I DO get paid, AND I got an offer from Paizo to write a monster for one of their upcoming adventure paths (which theoretically will be coming out in July of next year!) This is all a direct result of getting started writing free articles for Open Gaming Monthly."
These things do have real quantitative value, likely greater than any cash payout made. Any artist or writer should consider advertising space or personal recommendations as a real form of payment.
|The chart that answers the question "Should you work for free?"|
Note that all options from "Is it for a legitimate business?" lead to no.
There are plenty of ways of getting exposure for yourself, that do not involve giving work away so someone else can profit from it. You can add your best work to your portfolio it will still have value towards getting you future work.
Work for free is not automatically bad. But the issues involved are varied and manifest. Both the publisher and the creative have to be aware of what is going on when they request or provide free work. If you're going to ask for people to donate work, a high priority should be put into place explaining exactly what they can receive as well as what you are expected to make from the endeavor. As a publisher, I can certainly understand having a project and needing work done for it and trying to figure out a way to avoid giving away anything you don't have to. In capitalism, when you are paying for work, it's up to the creative to avoid those pitfalls when getting paid. Do they keep rights? Do they get paid for secondary publishing? But when you are in a gift economy, not being straightforward and open about all the compensation options the setup is exploitative, in the Marxist sense of the word.
Coming back to the magazine, why charge for it at all? There are plenty of examples of free magazines that accomplish the same goal. John says:
"The pricing was determined by [the magazines manager and marketer] and with the intent that we had to get something to justify the many hours per month [the manager] was putting into arranging, laying out, and writing content for the magazine, and to cover distribution costs and such. However, with [the manager and marketer] stepping away now we're considering reducing further or going 100% free. Right now we're leaning towards free for multiple reasons, possibly the biggest of which being that the amount of "profits" gained from the sales certainly don't make up for the perception that is gained by profiting off of the work of others. If going 100% free means that "stigma" goes away I'd be all for it. Truly, the amount the magazine earned is not close to enough to make that worth the beating you take over it."
And there is the complexity of the situation right there. Money was being charged because "we had to get something to justify the many hours per month [the manager] was putting into [work on the magazine]". Didn't the writers put hours into their articles? But in reality, the profit was small, and the benefits of exposure being offered by the magazine were concrete benefits for at least some of the authors: "[T]wo of the regular contributors are now steadily writing for established big-name RPG companies and directly link their new "careers" to the exposure they gained via the magazine and via their connection to me personally, and to the publishers I recommended them to."
And really, it seems like communication is really the core issue in these situations. Being upfront, clear, and concrete can head off a lot of negative responses at the pass.
Tomorrow, in part III we're going to look at a multibillion dollar company and a contest with an unusual "reward".