Print is dead. There is no money in editorial. The market is oversaturated and undervalued.
These are some phrases you hear a lot as a fashion photographer. In a digital age of accessibility to brands and image creation, everyone wants to be a fashion photographer. Everyone wants to be paid to create content that is interesting and engaging. A lot of younger photographers classify their work as "editorial" style, usually meaning creative portraits. Yet despite some of the best ideas and images coming into the industry every day, why aren't they making money?
I stumbled upon the Conde Nast showroom yesterday by complete accident. Conde Nast is the parent company of every Vogue, GQ, Love, Allure, and many other publications you see on the newstands. This showroom in particular is very unique. It is the only physical location in the world where you can purchase the issues of their publications (vogue for example) from every country. You can buy GQ China in the same room as Vogue Arabia and physically see just how wide the reach is of the company.
To say that it felt like I walked into a gold mine would be an understatement. It was incredible seeing just how many publications the company produces worldwide and within each of those magazines is a huge collection of unique editorials. I thumbed through about 5-7 different Vogues from across the globe. Portugal, Japan, Arabia, Italia, and US all of their own unique styles and points of view. Yet laid out together, you feel a cohesiveness in the brand.
There were two extremely pleasant employees in the showroom. I decided to ask them some questions. I started by shooting it to them straight, WHO reads these magazines?
While some of the demographic information was covered in my post with Samantha Southern, the representatives at Conde Nast gave me an interesting perspective as well.
Looking at just Vogue, you have two demographics: subscribers and one time buyers. Subscribers tend to be the most loyal and the biggest market. They are able to afford the products in the magazine and engage with the different articles. One time buyers tend to be either younger readers or those in the industry (sometimes both). The rep said that she sees a lot of younger people coming into the store to buy issues with their favorite celebrities on the cover or to have an "analog" experience of a fashion magazine. Its "trendy" to have things in print or to read books. You can rip the pages out and use those for inspiration or have the magazine in the corner of an Instagram story as a prop. It may sound silly, but those are genuine reasons some people purchase these publications.
So for each of the 23 Vogues, there is an established market and personality to each one. Each one brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising money and is the biggest fashion publication in the world. Yet despite all of these features, editorials have no budget. Models, photographers, expenses, etc are not paid for by Conde Nast. If they are, they're either HIGHLY regarded artists or minor expenses are reimbursed.
I used to believe that when you started working for Vogue, Harper's, Elle, etc that you could make thousands of dollars from editorial shoots and it was only smaller publications that didn't have a budget. Now, the industry no longer has a strong "editorial" market. So if you shooting for the biggest fashion magazine in the world and receiving no money, how can you make a living as a photographer? Most of the money in the industry is now in commercial, portrait, and social media advertising. You can make anywhere between $1000-50,000 for a single job in a campaign or lookbook for a designer or get paid for posts creating social content for brands.
Companies and brands are spending almost more money than ever to produce content for advertising and audience engagement. You have printed media, stills, and videos across various platforms both on and off line. You need to have unique content for each of these platforms in order to capture an audience and stay relevant. There are more jobs than ever for content creators. I think traditionally in the fashion world, editorial was kind of seen as the sign that you've made it because there really isn't a bigger job than Vogue. However, even as budgets have declined the pedigree is still there. Why do photographers/artists/models take on these jobs if there is no budget? Simply put, being featured in Vogue is essentially advertising. A model seen in Vogue Italia one month can be seen in a massive Prada campaign the next. A photographer can establish themselves and their styles to prove their abilities in the pages of the Wall Street Journal but then take on a job for GAP doing a social media story with various celebrities.
There is no money in editorial, but there is more money in fashion than ever before. As more ways to grow a product and reach consumers become available, the money to hire talent is just distributed differently.