I’m a freelance writer. I’ve written four features over the past four days for some of the biggest magazines in the business. I just counted out loose change found underneath my sofa so I could afford to buy breakfast. My articles generate a colossal amount of advertising revenue for the multi-millionaire clients I work for. Last night my girlfriend gave me some money to go out drinking with.
My current debt list (money owed to me from publishers) stands at £2,010 and I have £1.56 in my account – I’m more than a bit worried about my upcoming rent payment and the money I owe for my education. Don’t get me wrong it’s not all doom and gloom: I’ve had an amazing summer, probably the best ever. I covered a fair few festivals – yet to be paid though – and I like working for myself, really like it (who wouldn’t; I answer to nobody and work the hours I want), but some days I wonder how long it can continue.
I’m sat here at my desk – which is littered with scruffy notes, stationary and letters from debt collection agencies; the key signs you have a freelancer on your hands – and I highly doubt that anyone will publish this. That’s due to the subject matter. If by some miracle they do, the chances that they will pay on time are slimmer than Nigel Farage joining the Green Party.
Here are the main ways I’ve found that publishers try and worm their way out of actually paying freelancers for their work:
They’ve got 5k likes on Facebook and an alleged reach of 60k a month. That’s a big opportunity, right? Surely your LinkedIn will be lighting up like an explosion in a firework factory the day you’re published by them. You will have several missed calls from The Guardian’s talent acquisition team begging you to take up a guest editor spot. Or not. Look, I get it; everyone has to do an unpaid internship to even get a chance at getting their foot in the door in this insanely competitive market. But if you continue to give your services for free you are not only fu*king yourself over financially, by devaluing your product to the point it is actually worthless, but you are making other writer’s lives difficult.
Imagine how hard it would be to do your job if there were countless people queuing up around the block begging to do it for free. I was looking at someone’s LinkedIn account once and they had done 10 (10!) years of unpaid internships before they got their first writing job. Still wondering why the British media industry is overrun with privileged middle-class people with only one world view?
Is it just me who thinks it’s only fair to get paid for work? Needing to know, I rang up a plumber who ranked high on Google. I asked the woman on the end of the phone if someone from the firm could come and fix my broken toilet for free. “No, sorry, we charge for that,” she said unequivocally. I conveyed my disappointment stating that it would be a good opportunity for the plumbers to get more experience and that if anyone asked me who completed the work I would certainly credit the right person. “Our staff are highly qualified and experienced anyway so that’s not something we would do,” she insisted.
Wow, that didn’t go well. Maybe it’s just plumbers who are totally unreasonable. So I rang a taxi firm and spoke to their operator, John. I wanted a free lift. “No, it doesn’t work like that I’m afraid,” he told me. Again, I dangled the ‘good experience’, carrot in front of them and extolled the virtues of getting credited for their work. “You do know that your number has shown up on my screen? 141 doesn’t stop it coming up.”
What have we leant? People who don’t work in the creative industries find the idea of working for free preposterous and – the real scoop – 141 doesn’t hide your identity anymore.
You pitch, it gets commissioned, a price is agreed, you file the copy on time, it gets published and is subsequently pushed through their social media. Everything went so well, but that’s the last you’ll ever hear from them. If you kick off, well done; you just committed career suicide.
Three months have gone by since they published your work and no money has hit your account yet. You owe your parents money, Enforcement Agents are ringing you up to talk about missed council tax payments and you’ve resorted to blagging promoters for guest list spots using a fictitious article you are ‘thinking of writing’ about their night. ‘Fu*k this’, you think, ‘I’m going to e-mail all the publications that owe me money’.
After ignoring the first two e-mails Janet, from finance, does get back to you. ‘Thanks for sending in your May invoice,” she writes. ‘But we never paid you because you left some information out of it’. ‘Can you resubmit it with an invoice number on it? Any number will do’ Right, no problem. ‘Cheers we got that one. But can you resubmit it with details of the commissioning editor?’ Ok, this has not been a requirement before but here you are. ‘Cool, now can you just put the date in larger font and tell us your NI number again and make your address bigger and put the word count on and make sure the title of the article is at the top and include the date it was commissioned and remove the due date because of all these mistakes and include your Paypal, please? Also can you e-mail it to Sarah instead? She deals with freelance invoices now, but she’s on holiday for the next two weeks, I shouldn’t even be dealing with this to be honest.’ Rigggght. The invoices always need so much more revision than the articles.
This happened to me a few months ago. The guy who ran the start-up was shocked when I turned him down.
The big boys do this fairly often. Some editors seem to coincidently forget half the time. Some new freelancers probably won’t challenge, or even chase up, the payment at all. This is through (a very genuine and very real) fear of burning bridges with their favourite magazines that they are buzzing to have written for.
These scumbags are the lowest of the low. They probably celebrated Brexit and secretly hope that Trump will be at loggerheads with Putin in the next few years. They have no intention of paying, they just want free sh*t – nobody has an issue with telling these vultures to fu*k right off.
It may be the case that without content creators, magazines or newspapers would not be able to function. But due to the huge number of people wanting into the industry, they are about as valued as a floppy di*k at a swingers’ party. I assume that in the not-too-distant future all the content will be created by middle-class kids with parents funding their lifestyle so that they can continue with their hobby. Think how many talented writers have packed it all in and got a job doing something else because they can’t pay their rent? I’ve got a feeling I might be about to join them.
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