Death of Magazines Greatly Exaggerated

December 21st, 2012 | Posted in Freelancing

While I do freelance illustration for a variety of clients including some animation, advertising, product illustration, etc., the majority of the work I do is illustration for magazines. For the under thirty crowd, those are these things that are printed on dead trees requiring ambient light to read, feature no clickable links to anything and do not instantly add your completely irrelevant and often anonymous “opinion” on their articles in a comment section… with magazines those are called “letters to the editor” and take months to get published, if they ever do.

Putting the snarkiness aside, I do seem to get a lot of sympathy from my younger friends who assume my career is in a tailspin and headed towards obsolescence because “print is dead”. They will cite things like the recent announcement that Newsweek is ceasing print publication as evidence of this fact.

I think the death of print is a very far off event, if it ever happens at all. Certainly work for an illustrator like myself will not be ending anytime soon.

True, major publications like Newsweek are seeing precipitous drops in circulation, and struggling as a result. These types of mega-magazines have huge overhead with staff and office space, and without gigantic circulation and the advertising dollars that go with it, their economic viability is in jeopardy. However it’s the dirty little secret of illustrators that no one makes a living doing work for just the TIME, Newsweek and Rolling Stones of the world. There just are not that many of those types of publications, and not enough work in them to solely support an illustrator’s career. Even the biggest names in magazine illustration…artists like C.F. Payne or Steve Brodner, do a lot of work for smaller magazines and publications. For most illustrators, medium to small circulation magazines are the bread and butter of their careers. It’s the Actuaries Monthlys, Snow Country Magazines, Utne Readers, and other smaller publications that are keep illustrators working. Less glamorous, but more plentiful.

Medium to small circulation magazines are not going anywhere anytime soon. These types of publications are targeted at niche markets, have manageable circulations that are mostly via subscription, and low overhead as they are being produced with smaller staffs and as parts of either larger organizations or supported by specifics industries. Enthusiast and aficionado magazines are like this, as well as sports/business/industry-specific publications. They don’t pay as much as TIME, but there are many thousands of pages published every month by these smaller magazines, and TIME only has about 30 pages per issue. The math is pretty easy.

Will even smaller, niche magazines get replaced by online equivalents eventually? Yes, I imagine they will, but as that happens the online versions will need illustration done as well. In the near future, however, humans still like to hold things, collect things, and read things that don’t need to be recharged nightly or turned off when the airplane is taking off and landing. The illustration world will follow along as the world of media evolves and changes, but until computers can be creative do their own drawing and illustration, there will always be work for illustrators.


  1. ROLFE says:

    A refreshing change from the doom and gloom point of view.

    Thanks for sharing,


  2. Ed Meisinger says:

    Encouraging to hear. We especially want to keep our beloved MAD in print. Nothing beats seeing it in the mailbox and holding that paper in your hands to read! MAD fans have to keep their subscriptions going and also get gift subscriptions for friends and relatives!

  3. jailerjoe says:

    The charming and personal thing about print is that it has
    more of a tactile, lasting quality than something stored and
    blipped away. Good points, Tom!


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