Times are tough all over for content producers but especially for freelancers in the magazine industry. It’s easy for "traditional brands" to rail against the miserly fees paid out by newcomers like AOL’s Patch, but the fact is that as cash-strapped publishers prioritize the bills they pay (pay-roll, printers, rent, etc.) it’s also easy to shuffle faceless freelancers to the bottom of the deck.
I received this letter from a veteran freelancer who wants the industry to know that he understands the financial woes out there, but says freelancers still deserve respect (and that includes timely payment). The letter is running in FOLIO:’s February issue but I wanted to offer it up to the audience here.
For freelancers, how do you feel you’re being treated? For publishers, how have you had to change your dealings with freelancers?
I have been a full-time freelance business magazine writer since 1976. In the last 35 years, I have seen magazine payment policies shift significantly. Years ago, most magazines paid on acceptance. The remaining paid on publication. Two or three years ago, more and more magazines began shifting to pay on publication. Most recently, many magazines have begun paying 30 days after publication.
This isn’t the fault of editors. They feel terrible for me, knowing that this is my full-time source of income, and that cashflow is critical. Publishers, though, seem to be unaware that their freelancers are people, too. Yeah, we’re not employees. The publishers don’t see us walking down the halls every day. They don’t have to make eye contact with us. We are nameless, faceless entities that provide articles on a monthly basis. So, why not string us out as long as they can?
As a professional, I pride myself on meeting deadlines. In fact, of the 10,000 or so articles that I have written over the last one-third century, I can count on one hand the number of times I have missed a deadline. Editors and publishers have a right to expect articles on time. Yet, it seems, a lot of publishers don’t feel a similar obligation to pay their writers in a timely manner.
For whatever reason, I have always been able to find enough work to keep me busy. Even during the recession, I always had enough assignments to meet my income needs. As such, I have tended to begin to shy away from magazines that are taking longer and longer to pay, and gravitating towards those that pay in a more timely manner. Yeah, it is a cashflow issue. But, just as importantly, it is also an issue of respect. Editors, writers and publishers are supposed to be working together for the benefit of the readers. So, publishers, don’t forget your writers. We actually are human beings, and we do need to put food on the table to feed our families.