What’s Your Number?

Kyle du Ford is at it again over at his blog Big & Sharp. This time, he’s stress-testing Folio’s editorial salary calculator, an exercise guaranteed to end in tears for most of us.

But not for the anonymous big cheeses he calls his friends. du Ford plugs four real-world examples into Folio’s calculator (go ahead, try it; we’ll wait) and two are spot-on. As it happens, that pair likely belong to the tiny world of niche sports magazines in which du Ford happens to be an expert. But the other two — who sound like Conde Nast Traveler’s Klara Glowczewska and Esquire’s David Granger on the face of it — earn real-world salaries wildly out of whack with what Folio predicts. (Because Folio readers are not career Conde Nasties; they work for trade magazine out in the hinterlands, so you can guess where the magazine’s area of expertise lies.)

The travel editor expected to make $96,430 actually makes four times as much; the other one, 10 times as much. Why? Kyle du Ford speculates using a football metaphor near and dear to us on Super Bowl Good Friday: “I like to think of it like football free agency and the NFL in general: players make a league minimum of $230,000 their rookie season. They all do, unless your name is Manning or Bush and have negotiated a killer rate. But $230K ain’t bad ka-ching, either. From there, it’s how you perform and how good of an agent one has. It’s the same with print magazines. There’s a standard for the medium-level magazines and the tried-and-true. From there, it escalates disproportionately and without rhyme or reason.”

We actually find his findings reassuring: why strive and strive and strive in this business if the maximum reward is $100,000 per year (a figure our full-time predecessor probably earned her first year out of law school)? Not to brag about how we actually read Freakonomics, but du Ford’s post reminds us of Steven Levitt’s conclusion about why in the world kids would sign up to be crack dealers: “The problem with crack dealing is the same as in every other glamour profession: a lot of people are competing for a very few prizes. Earning big money in the crack gang wasn’t much more likely than the Wisconsin farm girl becoming a movie star, or the high-school quarterback playing in the NFL. But criminals, like everyone else, respond to incentives. So if the prize is big enough, they will form a line down the block just hoping for a chance. On the south side of Chicago, people wanting to sell crack vastly outnumbered the available street corners.” At 4 Times Square, it’s the corner offices which are in short supply.