This week a thread was posted on 2+2 where a writer was outing WPT Poker Magazine for not having paid him for 7 months. It now looks like he is (hopefully) going to be paid as a direct result of him doing this.
I can see why a lot of people would think that 7 months was a scandalous amount of time to be paid, but I spoke to several of my fellow poker writer peers, and well all shrugged our shoulders and said “meh, pretty standard, I wouldn’t worry at 7 months”.
7 months was a long time to wait, but not as long as you would think. Most poker magazines have a policy of not paying until 3 months after the article is printed, and often it takes about 2 months between submitting the article and before it is printed. So even though I think 7 months is long, I wouldn’t even be chasing for the first 5.
I used to solely rely on magazines for my income. It once was a gold mine, but over the years I have watched that part of the industry change dramatically. I'm glad I got out of magazines, unfortunately I have done so with three magazines still owing me money to this day (Only one still exists).
I should also say that I have a great relationship with the guys at WPT, and I am quite confident that the guy will get paid. The following is not really a comment on WPT magazine, but most poker magazines I have dealt with (other than the B2B magazines).
There were some comments in the thread about the wait time was indicative of the magazine being close to bankruptcy. I don't agree with that, but I do confer that many of them live on the breadline. Lots of them literally rely on the same advertising revenue from issue x to pay for the freelance contributions for issue x, with no spare budget waiting around for situations like this.
This is not all magazines of course, for example I wouldn't expect this to be the case at PokerPlayer Magazine, because they are part of a larger publishing network, Dennis Publishing. But most of them are part of much smaller publishers, in some cases standalone ones.
It wasn't always this hard for poker magazines, there was once a time, right after the boom, where they had money to burn, and paid ridiculous amounts (I’ve never been paid better for a single article than I was the first year I started writing them). But the UIGEA hit the advertising budgets hard, and more recently, Black Friday did the same. Even non-US magazines felt the impact as hard, despite not being directly affected.
While the freelancers are being delayed by the magazines, the magazines are being delayed by the advertisers. This doesn't make it ok for the magazines to string the freelancers along in the meantime, but it is important to know they are part of a long an arduous chain, and often get screwed out of money themselves (Sadly, advertisers not paying is a frequent occurrence in poker).
This may seem odd to many, that poker magazines are so dependent on advertising revenue. The fact is that most of the time, poker magazines don't rely on sales, or at least, they only make up a small part of their revenue which is deemed a bit of a bonus at best. In fact, many advertising packages are based on the presumption that the issues will be distributed for free in casinos, guaranteeing lots of gamblers will see them.
To give an extreme example of this, I did some work for GX magazine, who never paid me. It turned out that they weren't a real magazine at all, they just printed a few hundred copies of their pretend magazine to show advertisers, so they could hoard in the ad revenue without worrying about the printing costs. Check out this blog from Nick Pryce, someone who worked for them, to learn more about them.
The last frustrating part of the process with poker magazines is that the editor is not the boss, not in the traditional sense at least. Most freelancers expect the buck to stop with him, but in reality they often are pretty powerless when it comes to payroll. Editors are often in an impossible situation here, where they have to take the flak when people don't get paid, but can't do anything to influence it.
They only thing they can, and should do, is create realistic expectations with freelancers from the start.
Times are tough for print magazines in general, and even harder for poker magazines. Most of the best content these days, or at least the most up to date, is available online and advertising revenue is getting tighter by the day.
Most magazines these days rely on free contributions from people with something to promote. Strategy articles from sponsored players, news articles branded with the logos of a news site, tournament reports provided by the people organising the tournament. The few bits and bobs I have done for magazines in the last year or so has been to promote my book more than anything.
Anyone looking to freelance for magazines these days, in my opinion, should be very aware of this. There is still a future for print magazines in poker, but it will be on shoestring budgets. There are still people out there that will pay you to write for poker magazines, but it is not necessarily the guys that publish them.