If you write on alternative medicine and other non-conventional approaches to health, Natural Solutions (formerly Alternative Medicine Magazine) might seem a natural, but according to recent reports from freelancers, doing so could do some serious damage to your cash flow.
What brought the topic up was a flood of posts on the Freelance Success board from people who said that payment was taking upwards of five months. For example, one writer told me that she had written a piece in the summer and told to invoice on September 2007. The contract, which I've seen and reviewed
, says that payment is supposed to come in 45 days. This writer was finally paid in early February. Even if we assume that the invoice arrived toward the middle of the month, that is still 4 1/2 months to be paid for a piece that was already accepted.
Another writer mentions having completed two pieces in November. One of the pieces, slated for the April issue, was a short for which the writer had heard no feedback. "I repeatedly attempted to get feedback or invoice info from my editor, and finally did on 4-Feb, when I was told to send my invoice," the writer says. The person has not been paid. However, the lack of feedback meant that acceptance was withheld, so payment was now not technically due until mid-March (it still hasn't arrived as of the time of writing). As there were no questions to the writer, the piece could have been accepted as was back in November, suggesting that a January payment would have been reasonable. Yet a third writer completed a "rush job" in November, and the piece ran in the March issue, but as of yet has not been paid. Even more disturbing was a writer who had pitched a story idea in November. Three months later, in February, she followed up. Apparently the magazine decided to use the pitch as is as a short piece, and the writer says she was never contacted about this. She immediately sent in an invoice but has yet to be paid.
I spoke with Natural Solutions editor in chief Linda Sparrowe, who came in about three years ago when the magazine, under the former name of Alternative Medicine, was going through a change in ownership and many writers were complaining about late payments. She admits that there have been "some absolutely slow payments," though she says that at least some writers have been paid on time. Sparrowe says that payments have appeared to get slower over the last few months, which coincides with a redesign, which apparently has caused the company to be "short of cash."
"Of course I know who gets paid and who doesn’t get paid," Sparrowe says, though she also stated that she was surprised that many writers were complaining. "It is a concern to me." She does stress that everyone has been paid, though obviously not under the terms of the contract. Sparrowe also says, "I try really hard to get [freelancers] paid," but that she is not in control of cash. Check runs are every two weeks, and she puts in a list of who she needs to pay, but the ultimate decision of who is paid and who isn't is up to company management.
I brought up the issue of the contract. I double-checked with publishing attorney Anthony Elia about my suspicion that when payment continues, on a wide basis, significantly beyond the contractual terms, then there may well be grounds of claims of fraud. Generally contract breaches do not rise to the level of fraud, but when there is a pattern of behavior that shows a company is making promises that it reasonably well knows it will not keep, that it is not doing business in good faith, and that could make the breach a fraudulent action. She expressed surprise and concern about that and said she would talk to management and alter the contract going forward to include a more realistic payment deadline. She said that without speaking to management, she could not say what that period should be, but that I could contact her next week for an update.
I've never done business with the magazine or editor, and don't know the inner workings. However, I will say that a significant increase in time to payment is a classic indication of financial trouble, particularly when the editor says, "We're paying out as much as we're taking in." In my opinion, that would mean there is no cash cushion to allow for smoother operations, and that puts business operations into a risky state. My suggestion would be first to not query the publication until a contract showed a realistic time scale for payment. That might be a longer time than you are willing to wait, but better to know it up front. Second, my own inclination in such a situation would be to hold off for a significant period of time - at least six months if not a year - and wait to see if payments started to come more quickly. Continued slow payment would suggest consistently poor cash flow, which could mean that the client was not financially stable and you could potentially find yourself lining up with many others, dealing with a bankruptcy court. Just ask the people still waiting well over a year for payment from the company that used to publish Pages.
Labels: complaint, contracts, magazines, warning