Even in ideal conditions, it is not easy making a living as a freelance writer. It is much harder when the places you write for don’t pay you promptly. That’s where we come in.
In most industries, a worker is paid before—or directly after—a service is rendered. Want a massage? Pay up front. Want your car fixed? Pay when you pick it up. In the writing world, though, the standard arrangement is much less straightforward. Most writers must do all of the research and reporting work; write the piece; deliver it, and do any follow-up work requested; and then, only after the story is published, invoice the publication for payment. The time between invoicing and actual delivery of payment varies wildly throughout the industry. Some well-run publications pay almost immediately. Others, including well-financed operations, make freelancers wait several weeks to several months as a standard practice. Still others can string writers along indefinitely with unfulfilled promises to pay eventually, or just blow off writers’ pleas entirely and stiff them.
This arrangement exists because of a power imbalance. The average freelancer has no power, and the publication has all of the power. Therefore, publications feel free to pay in a manner that is most convenient for them. The fact that this system is extremely inconvenient to freelancers who would like to, for example, pay their rent on time does not matter to many companies. They can always find another freelance writer. Struggling freelance writers, though, often cannot afford to write off publications that take too long to pay them.
In a just world, payment would be delivered upon receipt of the work, or very soon thereafter. The media is not a just world. Writers are routinely being screwed, just because they have little recourse. The only tool we have at our disposal: public shame.
In 2009, we solicited stories from freelancers about who exactly was screwing them out of their money, and for how long, and published the results. The problem still exists today, so we’re doing that again. If you are a freelance writer who has experienced a publication either taking an unconscionably long time to pay you—or failing to pay you at all—we want to hear from you. Please send the following information, subject line “Payment time,” to Hamilton@Gawker.com:
- Publication name
- Link to your published story (if available)
- How much was the agreed pay rate for this story? How much were you paid? How long did it take for you to get paid?
- Specifically, what is your complaint with the way that this publication handled paying you, or working with you in general?
If you’d like to be kept anonymous, that’s fine, just note that in your email. Together we will try to make this industry operate in a slightly more fair way.
[Image by Jim Cooke]