The State Of Print Magazines In Poker

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.    


Michael Scrivens said...

Do you think the poker magazine industry will pick up greatly once US poker is legalised/regulated or is the future online?

Barry Carter said...

It will pick up for sure, a whole host of new rooms with advertising budgets will inject some life into them.

Martyn Lester said...

The devil will be in the detail, Michael. It looks likely that US online poker will eventually re-emerge in a way that only allows players to use sites registered and licensed/taxed in USA. This is sure to involve higher licence/tax rates than in, say, Gibraltar, and one assumes that these costs will be passed on to the players by way of higher rakes or similar.

If this is the case, then those sites will have to offer something spectacular to get non-US players to join them, when those players can enjoy lower rakes (or whatever) at the sites where they play now. If the new US sites cannot hope to attract, for example, British players, then they won't waste money advertising in British magazines. They will focus their ad spend where the competition for market share is, which (if my theory is correct) will be at home. So there will be an ad revenue bonanza in America, but not Europe.

And it's still far from certain that things will go even that far. Most of the gearing up going on in the US at the moment, as far as I can tell, is for intrastate sites – ie if you live in Nevada, you will only be able to play on a Nevada-registered site, in Pennsylvania on a Penn-registered site, and so on. In that case, the ad spending will be even more localised – no point in advertising to LA or NY players when they won't be allowed to use your site.

Greg said...

I am the poker author that is the subject of the aforementioned 2+2 thread and this blog post. I find it pretty suspect that within hours of posting this it was utilized in the same thread to justify why payment had made by WPT Poker Magazine as "meh pretty standard." First and foremost I have to question your motives for writing such a piece.

With that said I believe that you have misrepresented the facts in a way that your readership might find somewhat sympathetic toward your side of the story and feel that those facts should be called into question.

1. I sent in my first two articles in mid-December of 2010. As of now it is mid-August. It has been 9 months not 7. 7 is the total number of articles I wrote, because this month, prior to my post, they did not have the audacity to ask me for another article after months of telling me a payment was days away.

2. None of the "standard issues" that you mention were ever brought up with me until they were an excuse for why payment that was promised had not yet been received. For example, month 1 and 2 I was told, only after asking that payments come in 3 batch increments. Month 4 it was that there was a delay in printing. Month 5 it was that payments were delayed due to advertisers. Month 6 it was that payment was imminent. Month 7 - payment any day etc...

3. Advertising, although a major source of revenue should not be the reason that freelancers are not paid. I sincerely doubt that the magazine waits 7-9 months to be paid by advertisers. As a result I can only assume that they were taking in income and simply choosing not to pay me.

4. You yourself state that you would not be chasing payments for 5 months. How do you explain the last four months on emails where I had to press for information, only to be told I would be paid "any day and, oh by the way while you are at it can you send us another article?" By month 9 they simply stopped returning my emails. What would you think then?

I do agree with one thing you wrote which was that setting a realistic expectation upfront would be the best policy. It certainly would have alleviated certain problems here. However, it would not have alleviated the blatant and repeated lies I was told. That is simply bad business and there is no other way to cut it.


Barry Carter said...

Hi Greg,

I don't work for WPT magazine, I did years ago when it was a different team and publishers. I am friendly with Jon Young, but only in a 'have a beer when we are at the same events' kind of way. I have done one article for them in the last 12 months, which FYI I haven't been paid for yet (4 months ago). With that in mind, I think I have more reason to side with you than them.

I actually was surprised Jon quoted my blog, I actually thought it was bad PR for his industry.

My motives for posting were because in the last year or so, I only really blog about the poker media industry, I get asked about it a lot and use this blog to write about it (see the 'poker media industry articles' tab in the top right of this blog for similar blog posts) Your case made me realise I had a lot to share on the subject of the print industry. The timing was prompted by your thread, but what I wrote is a fair representation of what I would have wrote any time)

As you will see in the blog post I wrote 'the following is not about wpt' - I wasn't talking about your case, I was talking about my experience with most of the uk based magazines.

I certainly wasn't trying to make readers sympathetic to the plight of editors, far from it. I simply wanted to show wherethe problems are in the chain and how the editors are sometimes scapegoats for the publishers. I myself am still owed money by several magazines where i never got past the firewall of the clueless editor, and I think I make it clear this is a side of the industry I am glad I am out of.

IMO I was shining a light on what a damaged industry it is. I don't condone the time it takes to get paid at all, and I certainly don't condone the manner in which you were misled about the timeframe you would get paid. As i said earlier, although prompted by your thread, the blog was not about your particular case.

As for my intro, I did get the 7 months bit wrong so apologies there, and 9 months is frankly awful. I remember once screaming at someone down the phone at someone who had not paid me after 11 months, and I will never forget how angry and powerless I felt.

I also think you did the right thing posting about it on 2+2 and I personally wouldn't have removed the emails because you were well within your rights to do so.

I hope you get your money, I think you will get your money, and I hope you realise my blog was to highlight what the magazine industry was like, rather than to excuse it.

If you ever want advice on any of this just drop me a line, I would be glad to help.


Greg said...

Barry, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I see now much better where you are coming from and appreciate your perspective.


Anonymous said...

I have a great relationship with the guys at WPT, and I am quite confident that the guy will get paid.

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