When invented in the 19th century magazines were cutting edge. They were a step up, so to speak, from newspapers. They provided a more in depth look at various subjects. They educated people about Some specialized on certain subjects. For example when the electric railway industry blossomed a century ago trade journals were created for it providing useful news and information. They were also a place where novels were serialized and provided an outlet for short stories. Today, for the most part, this is long gone.
In the 20th century one thinks of such great magazines as Punch, National Geographic, Life, Mc Calls, to name a few. Here in Canada we had Saturday Night. Macleans and Chatelaine. Magazines were a must read. Today magazines, like newspapers, are under siege from t.v. and the Internet. Simply put magazines are not keeping up, although they certainly are trying.
From a writer’s point of view magazines have gone from good to bad to horrible. Where to start? Well the pay hasn’t increased since about the 1960s or maybe the 1970s and yet demands on writers have. Most magazines now want all rights and some are demanding a waiver of moral rights and they aren’t paying for these extra rights. Prior to this writers could make badly needed extra money by selling an article to one magazine and then turning around and selling it to one or two or even more other magazines. The acquisition of all rights kills this. Most contracts in the past were negotiable today they’re take it or leave it.
Some publications pay on publication, which leaves the writer stuck if they don’t run it, as two such publications did with me. Try going into a store and taking something, like a stove or even a bag of chips, and saying I’ll pay for if I use it. Some magazines are now passing on some of their costs to the writer, without increasing the pay, like, for example, demanding that you cover them in the event of a lawsuit.
Then there are the insane things some magazines do. Writer’s Digest, which proclaimed itself the leading magazine for writers, for years had a one or two page rambling form rejection. This continued after one writer did an article on the check list form rejection.
Too many magazines talk down to writers, like calling the writer by their name, but signing their reply with something like “The Editors” or “Editorial Staff”. Another way is for some to use a condescending tone, treating a professional writer like an idiot.
And how do you deal with this? I queried a magazine I’ve written for several times proposing to do a piece on the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The editor told me it would be more appropriate for their online site, whose editor told me it would be more appropriate for the print magazine. Scream!
Then there was one editor who wrote an article for a major writer’s magazine complaining about the poor writers he was dealing with. However, when I checked out the magazine I found they paid poorly, demanded all rights and paid on publication. In my view the editor got exactly what the magazine deserved.
This isn’t to say that writers’ are perfect. We aren’t. Even the best of us make mistakes, as do the best editors. And there are too many amateurs, in the negative sense of the word, who are willing to write for free, who fail to study the publication and who can barely put two sentences together.
What is badly needed is a good shakeup to bring magazines kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Pay needs to be substantially increased, contracts need to be made more equitable to the writer, writers need to be treated with respect and a system of cultivating new quality professional writers needs to be put in place. Until that time comes writers will continue to abandon magazines and content will suffer.