Sunday Mailbag- Less Work Out There?

February 19th, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You make your primary living as a magazine illustrator, yes? Now that magazines are going away, are you finding you get less work than you used to get?

A: Magazines are going away? Didn’t they say that about radio when TV came around? Magazines are not “going away”, they are just morphing into a more niche or focused market model. It’s true the internet and its seemingly unlimited content has changed the way the world consumes media, but there are still plenty of magazines around, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I would also take issue with the idea I am primarily a magazine illustrator. I’m a freelancer and I work for clients from many different industries. Last year I did worked for magazines, advertising, comic books, book publishers and product manufacturers.

That said, the world of magazine illustration has had to roll with the times. Some of the big ones have switched to 100% digital publishing, others have scaled back their frequency of publication, a few have folded… but magazines have been popping up and going away just as fast long before the internet came around. One area that was and still remains pretty healthy is the niche industry magazine. Publications that focus on a single interest or industry, like magazines about specific sports, collector interests, areas of business, hobbies or leisure activities, etc., appeal to a small but highly engaged audience and they maintain a smaller but reasonably steady audience. These kinds of publications have always been the bread and butter of freelance illustrators. There was never enough work for most illustrators to earn a living only from the TIME and Rolling Stones of the world. Most of us have always needed work from magazines most people have never heard of to make a living, as well as work from other types of clients.

This past year I lost a regular client, Penthouse, to closure. That’s a first for me. I’m sure many magazines I’ve done work for in the past no longer publish, but I keep getting calls from new ones for work here and there. I’ve never really made a living completely from magazines, but the amount of work I do get from that source hasn’t dropped appreciably. Maybe I’m just lucky.

One thing I will say that is a problem, is the amount of money one gets paid for magazine work, The fee for a magazine illustration hasn’t gone up in the 25 years I’ve been doing this work, and I’ve been told it’s similar to the kind of fees that illustrators were getting 40 or more years ago. That’s crazy. A loaf of bread was 70 cents in 1990. It’s about $2.40 today. That makes it a lot harder to earn a living today in illustration.

Thanks to Darryl G for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!

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