Little Room for Dec. Saveur Freelancers

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14115cadbsaveur200912decp11jpgw300As Gourmet went down, Saveur went up. According to Eater, Saveur ended 2009 as the second highest magazine for ad page growth among all monthly mags. Its December issue was up 32 percent in ad pages, according to publisher Merri Lee Kingsly.

Impressive. Too bad she hasn’t raised the editorial budget in response. Instead, the editors have been working their tails off.

For the December issue, Executive Editor Dana Bowen wrote the 20-page cover story, including recipes and all but one sidebar, a feat that must have taken several months in addition to her full-time job.

In the same issue, Executive Food Editor Todd Coleman went to India to pen a feature on India’s Gujarati cuisine, weighing in at a roaring 16 pages. James Oseland, the Editor-In-Chief, accompanied him as the photographer! 

So how much of the book did these stories take up? In the magazine layout world, the “well” is the area between the columns and departments in the front and back of the book. It’s where the big juicy feature articles live, and where all freelance writers aspire to be published. The number of ads determine its size.

Before I give you the answer, I’ve got to hand it to the editors for their ingenuity and hard work. They made the best of what must be a puny editorial budget. It’s satisfying to write big features for your own magazine. And to be a decent photographer when you’re the editor-in-chief is a huge accomplishment. 

On the other hand, I did a little math. Combined, in-house editors produced 36 pages of the magazine’s 46-page feature well. That means they paid nothing but expenses for around 78 percent of the feature content, leaving just a few pages for contributors. So much for all that growth.

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  1. says

    So, a few questions. Since magazines are typically ready to go months, if not a full year ahead (as we know Gourmet was, and hence Ruth couldn’t write a farewell letter, or that’s what she said), do we know if the ads in the current issue came through right at the end or long ago? And if it was more recent after the decline of Gourmet, would it not be impossible to add more content at the last minute? Ruth Reichl even commented that their ads were up-but they still got the ax as we sadly know.

    As for editors as writers, Saveur has always had their editors write features, or is how it has been for some time. Surely a mighty job, though, as you say–but perhaps they are getting extra bonuses for the work? Or-maybe it leaves more revenue with the magazine?

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Nani, thanks for asking these questions. Most national magazines have a six month lead time. As an editor, you never know how big the well is going to be, so you always hold some stories in reserve, in case you get extra pages (so if you, as a freelancer, got paid for a piece that hasn’t run yet, that’s why). No one knows until the ad deadline how many ads will be in the current issue.

      The editors at Saveur write the occasional piece, like most editors, but this December volume is unusual. And no, they probably don’t get bonuses. They’ve saved money from within their budget.

  2. says

    Wow, I have that issue here with me & I hadn’t even noticed. But what about their web content? That represents a new content area for a lot of magazines–they have to give people a reason to go online, and that often means 1) re-arranging old & new content and 2) producing original, web-exclusive content. So the magazine has had to create a web budget & that means less likely to raise print editorial budget, right? Just wanted to mention that as a possible factor.

    • diannejacob says

      Adriana, good point about the web content. It’s an extra responsibility for the editors to manage it all. Yes, there has to be a web budget in addition to the print budget, but the website also creates new opportunities for revenue.

        • diannejacob says

          Good question. I had an interview with Ruth Reichl recently (!), who said a full-page ad in Gourmet cost $100,000, but ads on the web page were “nothing,” so you can be sure that web revenue has not caught up with print revenue.

  3. says

    Great post, with more freelancers would complain about this shit. That even the most successful, profit making magazines do this stuff (I’ve had a few recent experiences..) ,cutting down on the freelance and slave driving the in house editorial team, is pretty sad.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Adrian. I don’t know about the slave driving part. Two editors going to India on an eating trip, all expenses paid, sounds pretty good to me!

  4. says

    But, as for Gourmet, I’ve heard a lot of insider stories about how they spent cash….a friend of mine did a piece on cocktails in Paris, and not only did they fly her out there, the expenses for a few days of cocktail testing came up to about 4000 $ , which they paid , on top of her work, without a murmur. And that ended up as a half page internet article….

  5. says

    Surely, the expenses for sending two editors to India to research, shoot and write would be less than paying a freelancer based *in* India to do it?

    • diannejacob says

      True, Nate. But when you’re the editor, you get to make the decisions, and sometimes they benefit you and your team.

  6. says

    Sigh, this makes me sad. While Dana’s piece was great, the drawback of using editor-written features is that a magazine can quickly becomes stale when readers are stuck with the same voices over and over again. Any comments on keeping it fresh while keeping it in-house?

    • diannejacob says

      Stephanie, the December issue seems to be an aberration. The editors don’t usually take up this much space. Oseland, Bowen and Coleman are fine writers. Getting stale is not an issue. I’d read them any time.

  7. says

    I was executive editor of Food Arts for ten years so I know firsthand that writing features and doing daily editorial work at the same time is extremely difficult. Hats off to the editors at Saveur for their hard work and great content.

    • diannejacob says

      I agree completely, Julie. I hardly ever wrote features when I was a magazine editor, as I already had more than a full-time job. And certainly, I wasn’t a good enough photographer for a feature story.

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