Commentary

Magazine Writers Ride High On Hollywood's 'Peak Content' Wave

Magazine writers are finding themselves in demand as story-hungry Hollywood studios bid up prices in the era of “peak content.” TV production is booming as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and even Walmart vie with traditional media companies for video programming to fill the digital pipes of their streaming services.

Studios that used to pay $5,000 or $10,000 to option a magazine story for a show are now ponying up $20,000 to $50,000, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. If a studio produces the project, the writer’s fee can easily surpass $350,000 and climb as high as $1 million.

The number of scripted TV shows doubled to 500 last year from a decade earlier and likely will climb further after companies like Disney and Apple launch their streaming video services in the fall.

When Apple unveiled its Apple TV Plus service in March, the iPhone maker wheeled out Hollywood A-listers like Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston to talk about their upcoming projects. Apple wanted to make clear that it was willing to write some big checks for exclusive content to push out to subscribers.

While fiction writers like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and George R.R. Martin make up most of The Hollywood Reporter’s list of most powerful authors, nonfiction writers like Michael Lewis, Ben Mezrich and Jeffrey Toobin also made the cut.

David Kushner, who has written several books and dozens of magazine articles for publications including Wired and Outside, has sold 15 projects to studios, including the BBC, movie studio A24, Hulu and Netflix, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

Magazine writer Chris Jones is producing and writing for Netflix’s space drama “Away,” based on an article he wrote for Esquire. Reporter Michelle Dean is working as a writer and showrunner for a Hulu series based on a true-crime article she wrote for BuzzFeed.

Apple is developing an anthology series called “Little America,” based on articles from Epic Magazine. Journalists Josh Davis and Joshuah Bearman started Epic to channel magazine journalism into Hollywood production deals. Vox Media, which bought Epic last month for an undisclosed sum, also makes shows for Hulu.

Condé Nast, which formed an entertainment group to capitalize on the boom, produces “Last Chance U,” based on a 2014 GQ article and an original production called “Fastest Car” for Netflix.

Studios also like the idea of producing shows based on true stories because they generate more publicity, journalist Geoff Manaugh said. His first studio deal was based on an article he wrote for the Daily Beast about a bank robber who said he helped the government plot heists against al-Qaeda.

Studios are more willing to work directly with magazine writers because of the tight supply of top writing and producing talent in Hollywood.

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