Magazines use short articles, short-shorts, quotes, jokes, trends, recipes, puzzles, tips, news and facts and lots of other items to fill out a page or the end of a column or any space too small for an ad but too large to leave blank. Length may vary from a phrase to a 500-word personal account.
With nearly every magazine also employing a companion website, the need for filler has grown. Some people actually make their living writing filler.
Why should you write filler rather than a full article?
I'm a firm believer in writing whatever you can sell. From a one-liner to an epic novel, if you can sell it, write it. But a primary benefit of writing filler is that filler is often a break-in point to a magazine. Sell a few pieces of filler say to More magazine, then when you offer a query on a longer piece you can point to the material they have already bought. Like most of us, editors like to work with people whom they are familiar so if you sold to an editor or to one of his colleagues one time, you'll likely sell again if the experience was good.
The pay varies. Some magazines don't pay but offer a byline of sorts. Some pay a few cents a word or a flat fee ranging from $5 to $50. I sold a brief, funny story about my brother to Reader's Digest for $30 a line. It ran four lines once the editors were done, netting me $120. This was before email so I probably spent a total of two hours typing it up and getting it ready for the mail. That's a good payday!
A third reason for writing filler is that it could help make you a better writer. Writing short and tight makes you choose words with meaning and power to express your idea effectively. Filler offers you the opportunity if you're stuck on one piece to write something else without making it a huge commitment. Send "Four Must-Have Shoes" to Ladies Home Journal while your novel plot untangles itself in your mind. You'll have time away from your problem and still be productive.
Who needs filler?
Practically every magazine out there needs filler, if not for its hard copy, then for its website. Tips, lists, anything short, informative or entertaining will find a home on the web. If you can write it and it's short, you can sell it.