The Pros and Cons of User-Submitted Editorials

The Pros and Cons of User-Submitted Editorials

Having your work in a print magazine is seen as the goal for many, but are all print magazines created equal? With the boom of on-demand printing, there has been an increase in user-submitted editorial magazines. But are these magazines for real?

I remember when I first started getting into fashion and beauty work. Like many, the ideas of Vogue and Elle filled my mind. Being able to go to any newsstand and find my work was the dream for a long time. Then I found out there were places where you can submit your work for their magazine and potentially get printed if you were good enough. I was so excited, it was an answer to the dream. The problem is that answer was a diluted version of what I was actually searching for.

I want to talk about these magazines, but the only way I know how to do it properly is with a pros and cons list. These magazines have a lot of good to them, especially for new photographers. But with the good comes a lot of bad, and for many, the cons outweigh the pros. I can’t decide that for you, I can only put that information out there for you to make your own opinion.

Pros

Having Your Work in Print Is Cool

No matter if it’s a 4”x6” card for a collection or an 8.5”x11” page in a magazine, seeing your work in print feels great. And when you see your name on the first page with the title, there’s nothing like it. I remember feeling so happy when I saw my first editorial in print, I knew it wasn’t Vogue or anything, but it was still cool to be able to turn the page and see my name.

Great to Grow Your Skills

Left is my first editorial with a model I went to school with in Connecticut. Right is my last editorial 2 years ago with an agency-repped model in New York.

Building up a concept with a team and seeing it through is not a skill everyone has. With editorials, you usually have to follow an idea or concept and see it flow consistently through multiple looks. When you’re new to photography, editorials are perfect for strengthening your skills. Especially as the photographer, you are usually the person leading these teams. Getting in those reps managing a set are important for when you’re working with a commercial team and you can’t be unprofessional like you might have been when you started.

Networking

I still work with makeup artists today that I met during editorial shoots. I’ve met a lot of models through these as well that helped me build up my portfolio to the point where I can just go to agencies. Editorials give you a great reason to shoot and sometimes that motivation is what gets a team together. When it’s a regular test shoot, everyone has their priorities. Models want their photos one way, makeup artists want them another, and so on… with editorials, you know exactly what you’re doing beforehand, and everyone is working towards the same common goal.

Validation

When you’re new, you’re looking for validation that you’re on the right track. No matter how many times they say it, your friends and family don’t know what good photography is. Having a legitimate editorial site tell you your work is good is a sigh of relief. I remember when my first editorial made Lucy’s Magazine's website. It just felt like my retouching and photography reached a new step and that feeling was so satisfying.  As you read the cons you’ll see why I put “legitimate” as a qualifier for the editorial…

I remember being so happy seeing these were accepted. It just felt like I was on the right path and that my skills were really growing to a point where other people liked what I was doing. And when you're new, you never really know if that's the case.

Cons

You’re Not Getting Paid

This one is pretty simple, you’re doing this for free. Your work is only helping someone else get paid, but with all the pros listed above, this might be worth it for you. It was for me when I was shooting them, but as I started to try and carve out a niche, I changed my feelings towards them.

Note: Some magazines will pay you if you reach the cover, but by shooting an editorial there's not a 100% chance of payment.

Stuffing Editorials for Profit

This honestly took me off guard the first time I was accepted for print. I remember the email said something like “Your editorial is in Volume 6/8”. This magazine was releasing 8 versions every month. What I thought was a unique experience for me and 10-12 other photographers, was actually for 100 or even more. That’s when I realized these magazines aren’t picking just the best submissions, they’re pushing out everything that meets a certain threshold. And there’s a reason for this…

This is a screenshot of one magazine's set of collections on MagCloud for the last 5 months. They're putting in everything they can with little to no quality control. Each magazine also costs $29.99 to buy.

No One Is Buying These Besides the People in Them

Using the last example let's do some math. Let’s say the average team for an editorial is 3 people; photographer, makeup artist, and model. If my estimate of 100 editorials is right (10-15 per magazine), that’s potentially 300 purchases per month to put photos and text into an InDesign template every month. They’re taking everything they can, and I’m not against the idea of maximizing profits, but when you see you’re in volume 4 of 10 it’s like seeing you’re the 200th person to make a joke on twitter you thought was original. Your work isn’t as unique as you thought and they're just using you for profit. I remember one of my last editorials I did, the model bought 5 copies for her family. I can only imagine there's other creatives who do the same thing every month.

I want to add that not every magazine does this, but most do. One exception is Lucy’s Magazine, they do 1 issue a month and it’s exclusive. It’s still user-submitted and you’re not making money off it, but you know if you get accepted, there’s some actual exclusivity involved. They care about their quality.

Real Clients Don’t Care

When you reach out to clients and you say who you’ve shot for, saying your work is printed in one of these magazines isn’t a good look. Real clients with actual budgets look down on these places as they are not legitimate print magazines like Elle or Haper's Bazaar. A lot of decisions makers know the difference and will do the research. If you like the work in your portfolio that's great, just don't use it as one of your name drops when you're introducing yourself to potential clients.

It’s like saying you worked with Canon, but really you just repair cameras for them. Or when you say you worked with Maybelline, but they just shared your post to their Instagram. When your client list is smaller and not as connected to the creative industry you can put it on there and maybe they’d be interested, but in the long run these magazines really don’t impress the people that matter.

What's also important is knowing what you want to be paid to shoot and shooting just things around that. Personally, as fun as creating editorials around creative concepts was, it didn't connect to the work I wanted to be shooting for money. I've found for myself, what has brought in more work is creative speculative work. People always say personal projects bring in clients and while this is true, the personal work needs to connect to the professional work. Going above and beyond is fun, but if you're portfolio is filled with avant-garde beauty you shot for a magazine, you can't expect Target to be calling you anytime soon. 

These two images were part of test shoots that led to working with a national brand and a startup hair brand.

In Conclusion

I have a tough time being completely absolute on my position here. They can be great stepping stones for building teams and growing your skills. Outside of those two benefits, you're giving up a lot And for audience, the only people who care about being in them are other creatives who also want to be in them. Outside of that bubble, they have zero meaning.

The only thing I can really say about these magazines is if you plan on shooting for them, understand what you’re getting into and don’t rate them too highly. Be a part of them to grow your skills and build a team, not to say you're an internationally published photographer.

Footer Note: I left out all editorial names and didn't call out anyone specifically. That's not my job to single out specific magazines when there's dozens that do this. If you're interested in researching this information more, you can go to Kavyar and look into the different magazines yourself.

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8 Comments

Sennia Kyle's picture

Thank you! I agree with everything you've said. Additionally, a lot if not most of these "magazines" are now charging for submissions. Often, paying money will guarantee publication, or a larger spread, or even a cover depending on how much you want to pay. With a very limited number of exceptions, submitting to magazines has become a joke.

Henry Louey's picture

Or this one

I'm published in Vogue!!............................ (italia).........................................(website)

I had a friend who sent me this Big Announcement that he was now shooting for Vogue. I asked him which issue so I could check it out. A few days later he finally sent me the link for Vogue......(italia).......(website).....with his one shot halfway down the page...about the size of a playing card. With no credit.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

This seem like a very model and fashion oriented article, but basically I see the same in the automotive industry. Very few magazines pay something worth your cost of transportation, hotel... I am kind of done with this. So my new way of doing it is actually to be paid by the car owner to shoot their car and then submit to publications. I do like shooting cars, but my real photography income is in another industry. Plus those plaque businesses make tones of money from my work by totally skipping me and I suspect some small publications to benefit from it by submitting files like PDF which is actually illegal. By law they can only use cut off from actual printed copies.

C Fisher's picture

30 bucks for a digital magazine? What the 🤬??? And they don't even pay you? Wow what a scam.

Brook Brown's picture

”No One Is Buying These Besides the People in Them“ is the only thing that needs to be said on this topic, except that friends and loved ones of the people in them are probably also being separated from their money.

Dan Marchant's picture

"No One Is Buying These Besides the People in Them"

It called vanity publishing. It's a scam and it has been around for many years. Very common in poetry publishing.

Everything right up to the moment you submit is great. You assemble a team, plan, execute. All great experience... But you would be better off doing the project and not submitting it. Instead put what you made into InDesign yourself and create a mock-up to use in your portfolio. It has the advantage that you can show your ability to get a project done without the stigma of being that noob who thought that they were really "being published".

Sennia Kyle's picture

Yes. All of that.