Times Have Changed: Why Photographers Should Not Submit to Magazines and What to Do Instead

The times have changed. It isn’t 1980. It isn’t 2008. Even 2012 feels a century ago relative to how the world is changing. Which in my mind renders the question: why are we still submitting to “vanity” magazines for exposure?

This video has been bubbling in my head for more than a year and I am finally ready to share my personal opinion why submitting to these magazines isn’t the best use of your efforts and time, and why steering your focus to another medium is best well suited for today’s age. To be clear, this is not referring to magazines that have a strong subscription base, healthy ad revenue, etc.

What inspired me to talk about this is from inquiries I’ve made in the past with other creatives about collaborating on personal projects. Most usually agree, but I still do get some that answer with an “only if it’s submitted to magazine” kind of answer. This answer leaves me scratching my head. Honestly, what is the cold hard truth about the benefits of these vanity magazines in today’s age?

After submitting a few editorials and personal projects to these magazines, there isn’t much play for this in my opinion. There are four reasons why I believe this.

First, social media today has more eyeballs than a MagCloud magazine hidden in oblivion. An editorial piece hidden on MagCloud doesn’t hold as much value. Second, you can’t even share your work right away, you have to wait a month usually. The world moves so fast nowadays, a month old shoot can feel ancient. Thirdly, in an age of storytelling, you’re going to rely on someone else to tell your story the way you want it to be told? I’m over here scratching my head. Even if I had my photos named in a specific order, I’ve received editorials where I was disappointment in how the photos flowed. And finally, they don’t even give you a magazine, you have to pay for it yourself. Enough said.

In the video above, I explain how you can steer your focus from submitting to these magazines and instead telling your story, your way. A great example you can refer to is how photographers like Joey Lawrence and Benjamin Von Wong share their personal project content. They methodically share their content little by little and have complete control of their story.

In the end, your projects that create a buzz, the photos you submit to art buyers, and your stories you tell on social media are much more important nowadays than submitting your work to someone that you’re trusting to tell your story. No one else can tell your story like you can.

Front page cover photo by Wokandapix via Pixabay.

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Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

Most likely will a magazine pay better than a "web service"/"web magazine" ... and for most of us, we need to sell work to those who pay best...
and one thing is for sure... Social media do not pay the bill.

Daniel Shortt's picture

Find me a magcloud mag that pays anything...

Mihael Julius's picture

He wasn't talking about getting paid. He was talking about exposure to those who pay. Being seen in a bs magazine, that won't pay you anyway, or being seen on a popular social media site. What has the greater chances?

ron fya's picture

I kinda agree with him about the vanity magazines. Though I hate the fact that too much people (like him in this case) think social media is THE answer to all marketing problems.

Dan Howell's picture

yes, but I would interject my opinion that submitting to Vanity/MagCloud magazines never had a the impact that you are suggesting has left. again my opinion, that truly qualified image-hiring professionals (art directors, photo editors) were never snowed by vanity pubs. if the idea that individual models or tiny companies would be impressed by tearsheets from a magazine they'd never heard of are almost always similarly impressed by just presenting images in mock layout form in a portfolio or a website.

Kirk Darling's picture

Dan Howell, yes, that's always been the case. There have always been vanity outlets--unpaid or even where the photographer had to pay--and actual image-hiring professionals have never given anyone credit for such exposure. This is nothing new at all, same old scam. PDN magazine published the same warnings decades ago.

Dan Howell's picture

though i would say that shooting the actual content is still valuable.

Jon Miller's picture

I agree that giving your work away to a vanity magazine is not going to bring you any other business or assignments. I was asked to help a friend of mine with his magazine ( he had subscribers and advertisers and he wanted to have someone that has worked with magazines in the past) and after 2 shoots I noticed that this magazine wasn't even being published on time. Since I've worked twice as a photo-editor to a couple of magazines, I know the importance of getting your publication out on time. I think I came in on the 5th edition and did a shoot for 2 months to get us ahead of the game. What I started noticing was the magazines were not being published as promised, so I quickly vacated that position. You do not want to work for a mag that isn't even being published especially if you've spent some of your own money to produce the spread.
I'm from the old school where you show your work to magazine photo editors or publishing editors/image buyers and they either take what you've got or they assign a job to you. Either way 1) you get paid, may not be the pay of old but its something whereas the vanity mags there is no pay. 2) your image will appear in a reputable publication where others will see it.
I know of models and mua that has said a similar thing they will not collaborate with a photographer who cannot deliver a 'tear sheet'. I've known friends that submitted to magazines only to have to pay to get a tear sheet, this is not on since you paid to do the shoot, the least the magazine could do is send you the copy of the sheets. Too much take, take and take some more. My advice is to stay away from these mags, the only person making any money if any is the publisher and they are not sharing it.

Marc Rogoff's picture

Totally agree with this. Times have changed. It made sense in a time where magazines had budgets for editorial and frankly I would still shoot for mags that paid or at least funded the shoot costs but most don’t. The more stylists and model agencies and makeup artists realise this the better. Spread the word.

Kirk Darling's picture

The title of this article is clickbait, and the gist of this article was in another article only a couple of months ago. The title should be: "Why Photographers Should Not Submit to Vanity Magazines." Vogue is still a pretty good vehicle.

Ralph Hightower's picture

If a magazine doesn't have rack-space, like Popular Photography once had, then the magazine is worthless.