Editorial Salaries Decline Amid Industry Instability
Respondents to our annual salary survey express frustration over a lack of compensation for additional responsibilities and the persistence of the gender gap.
Magazine professionals know all too well the fiscal woes of their industry: declining print readership, digital advertising models that fail to replicate the success of their print precursors, contracting budgets and shrinking workforces.
Some are grateful they’re still employed. “At this point in the industry, I am lucky to have a job at all,” wrote one editor-in-chief partaking in this year’s Folio: salary survey, which indicates a 14 percent year-over-year dip in the median annual base salary for magazine editors, from $86,000 to $74,000.
Some expressed frustration in their responses to the survey—conducted in partnership with Readex Research over the course of 23 days in early 2018—including one editor-in-chief who accused industry leaders of “treat[ing] editors like a churnable commodity,” and a managing editor who bemoaned the “devaluation of the written word [and] real life experiences.”
And a few desperate individuals said they’re preparing to ditch the field entirely, like the respondent who planned to “jump ship into content-driven marketing communications,” proclaiming magazine editorial work as being “for the birds.”
While gloomy prognostications abounded and many survey takers indicated they believe advertising revenues will have the largest impact of any factor on their salaries and bonuses in the coming year, results for this year’s review suggest that magazine editors and writers may have more control over their earnings than they think.
The value of publishing industry experience and hard work remains encouragingly strong: Editorial employees with 20 or more years experience earned a median total compensation of $89,000, 68 percent more than those with less than 10 years under their belts. Across the upper-, mid-, and associate-level strata of the editorial hierarchy, employees committing 50 or more hours a week to their jobs made 48 percent more than those committing less than 40 hours.
Other major factors impacting gross earnings in the editorial field included: regional differences in pay (survey respondents in the Northeast and particularly in the tri-state area out-earned their peers, in part due to the area’s higher costs of living); length of tenure at a particular company; and type of publishing company and organization revenue (public companies and those earning $10 million or more in revenue were predictably far more generous with salary and bonus money).
Managing editors may have seen women among their ranks compensated more substantially than men this year, but the gender pay gap persisted among the 2018 survey sample as a whole, with men earning not only a higher median base salary, but bonuses greater than those of women. While several participants voiced their concerns over that discrepancy, far more complained about assuming additional responsibilities without a commensurate raise in pay. Respondents who said they had taken on new duties in the past 12 months, 80 percent of the total, reported earning 11 percent less in median total compensation than peers whose workloads had remained constant.
Upper editorial managers participating in this year’s survey were the most dominantly female of the three groups, and the least established in their present companies and positions. Still, they reported the highest annual total compensations, with a median of $94,500, and the more experience they could claim, the better they were paid.
Top editors also found the investment of extra time at the office to be worth their while: those who logged 50 or more hours took home a median total compensation 21 percent greater than those who logged between 40 and 49.
The highest ranking editorial managers did not, however, see returns on extended commitment to one position, earning only $3,500 more in median base salary and $2,500 in median bonuses after 10 or more years in the same role.
“You basically need to look for another job and get an offer in order to negotiate a raise here,” noted one editor in chief of that pay ceiling.
At mass-consumer magazines, the median base salary for a small sample of 11 editors-in-chief was a whopping $103,000 greater than that at special interest publications. Additionally, digital media jobs in editorial management offered 41 percent more in median total compensation than their print counterparts.
Managing editors, who play a less public-facing role than editors-in-chief, didn’t find as much fiscal advantage to working at mass consumer magazines, but they still made 23 percent more in median total compensation than those in b2b media, which offered the stingiest salaries and bonuses among publishing categories.
Employers prized experience more among managing editors than editors-in-chief: those with the most years in the industry earned a median total compensation of 65 percent more than those with the least.
Overtime, however proved comparatively fruitless for mid-level editors, who were rewarded with only $7,000 more in median total compensation for working 50 or more hours, rather than 40 to 49 hours.
Bucking an industry-wide trend, female managing editors actually took home 6 percent more in median total compensation than their male peers. That lead narrowed at the 75th percentile, where men fell only 2 percent behind and claimed almost twice as much in bonuses.
Post-graduate study evinced a similarly slight effect on managing editors’ pay. Editors who had completed at least some post-graduate work earned only 4 percent more in median total compensation that those with undergraduate degrees.
Like managing editors, entry-level editorial employees saw little bang for their buck when it came to post-graduate study, taking home only 3 percent more in median total compensation for that extra schoolwork.
Unsurprisingly, experience and company revenue were also less significant factors influencing this group’s earnings. Association magazines remunerated them best for their labor, but publishers for the most part continue to see these employees as cheap and interchangeable. As one editor commented, “The debasing of the value of content derived from deep subject matter knowledge and judgement has kept content pricing lower than it should be.”
Qualities that did make a difference for content creators’ paychecks were productivity and an expertise in digital media. Employees writing five or more stories a week, as opposed to four or less, netted $11,000 more in median base salary. Digital media jobs proved more far lucrative than print-exclusive ones, offering 28 percent more in median total compensation.
Data for the 2018 Folio: Editorial Salary Survey was collected via online survey over a period of 23 days in conjunction with Readex Research, who tabulated the results. In total, 392 editors completed the 41-question survey jointly designed by Folio: and Readex. The margin of error based on the tabulated responses is +/- 3.3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.