Saturday, December 5, 2009

Time & Money

Shit like this pisses me off like you would not believe:
Time Inc. has opened up a fantastic new market: charging its freelancers for the privilege of being paid for their work in a timely fashion.


If you choose to actually get all the money Time Inc. owes you, our tipster says, you usually get it within a month. But if you want it faster, here is the payment schedule—on the left are the number of days you have to wait to get paid, on the right is the portion Time Warner will skim off the top for the service.

25 days - 0.5 percent
20 - 1 percent
15 - 1.5 percent
10 - 2 percent
5 - 3 percent
3 - 4 percent

To which I say: Fuck you. It’s hard enough being a freelancer the way small operations jerk you around on payment. A popular ruse is to tell your freelancer that the payment policy is net 90 days -- three months to be paid. In the meantime, you keep getting assignments and filing invoices, only to find after 90 days that payment is just a pipe dream. Yes, that happened to me once. I also had some really awesome clients on the 90-day payment schedule, people for whom I wrote for literally years without ever having a problem -- until, naturally, I had a problem. They ended up going out of business owing me close to a thousand dollars.

But these were smaller magazines, nothing with the power and circulation and clout of a Time Inc. When Time starts treating its freelancers like so much sausage makers, well, all I can say is, it’s all over.

And I love the commenters on this story who see nothing wrong with this, that it’s “standard practice” for vendors. WTF? I’ve never heard of this before in the writing world. You know, writing a story is not exactly the same as making sure the coffee supplies and copier toner are fully stocked.

And even if it were “standard industry practice,” wouldn’t it be something the vendor offered, not something the one who owes the money presented? Hey, Time Warner: how about next time I buy a copy of Time Magazine I offer to pay now for 15% off the cover price, or you can get the full cover price in a month or so? Does that work for you?

I mean for crying out loud, how is this not extortion? What incentive do you people have to pay your bills on time? Absolutely none.

Sadly, this is just more proof that writer’s work is no longer valued. It stopped having value when we started letting people refer to what we do as “content” that is “consumed.” It’s not “content,” some nondescript “filler,” like the crap they put in hamburgers. It’s information, ideas, articles that make you look at your world differently or take you to another world entirely. It’s thoughtful and creative and it takes time to do it right and dammit it’s hard work.

As opposed to cutting my check, which is something they have literally invented a machine to do. And you think I should take a cut in pay for the fruits of my creative blood sweat and tears in exchange for getting paid in two days, which takes zero effort on your part?

Again: fuck you.

The internet with all of its “free content” (on blogs like this one, for which I receive not one dime) has ruined it. It was insane back in the early days of the internet; I remember getting paid $1-$2 a word for little 175-word pieces. Everyone needed a website, everyone needed “content,” and they needed a lot of it, because the key to getting hits was to have fresh articles up all through the day.

Those were the good ol’ days. Now content factories like Demand Studios churn out thousands of articles based not on any kind of editorial direction but rather search engine algorithms. And they’ll pay a paltry $30 per article. That’s just a shade better than the deal beginning freelancers invariably get offered: no pay at all, “but you’ll get exposure!” Um, thanks but no thanks.

Back in the old days when we walked to school in the snow, uphill, both ways, you’d run across people trying to take advantage of you and your talent and you’d tell them to take a hike. Usually it was some start-up or some small-market niche publication. You took some assignments you might not have wanted to because you were paying your dues; you were trying to get some clips and make your name in the hopes, one day, of working for one of the big guys, like Time Inc.

And here we are.

The media sucks, not just for people who “consume” it but for people who create it.