On NYC and Free Editorials:
1. You can squeeze some money out of the job on the production through markups. Even Conde Nast would wink wink nudge nudge at 2-% markups, except when they made you rent from Fotocare which billed them directly at a highly discounted rate.
2. The exposure is worth their page rate for advertisers. So think of it as part of your marketing budget.
3. I usually got work after an editorial. $30k - $50k catalogue shoots, beauty shoots, etc.
4. There is usually minimal art direction, if at all. You get a letter of intent from the magazine which gives your stylist the ability to pull whatever clothes, accessories etc you need. The production is paid for, at discounted rates, so you can use the Piers or Splashlight or Fast Ashley's or Shoot Digital, and their equipment rooms. Like those Brieze Focus umbrellas with an HMI? Go to the Piers and get your freak on.
5. The food us usually very good.
All that being said, I don't really shoot fashion anymore. I lost the drive and energy, I have a wife and kid so I can't be at Mars Bar or the Rabbit Club all night, or that awful Lit Lounge where the newbies like to hang. About two years ago I felt I was pushing harder and harder for the same amount of work/money I made the year before, so I started phasing out of fashion and beauty and getting into motion, which pays better, has less competition, a higher bar to entry, etc. No one asks you to work for free in motion, because even a small music video, shooting the Red so no film/processing costs, runs $10k in hard costs, paid out with 30 days. Two days of shooting, location/studio fees, transpo, lighting rentals, feeding 15 - 20 people, editing time, day rates for those 15 people, etc.