Freelance fury over fines for late copy

Magazines are threatening to slice money off fees if copy arrives late

Magazines in two of the UK’s biggest publishing companies are threatening to fine freelances who continue to miss deadlines and hand their copy in late.

The move – branded “shocking” by the NUJ – has been introduced by IPC Media and Future Publishing.

Although some journalists are calling it “draconian”, editors believe the policy has proved a success and resulted in copy being delivered on time.

Steve Kirk, editor of IPC’s Cars & Car Conversions, said the rule was introduced as a “scaremongering” tactic as part of a new procedure.

“Like all magazine editors, we get a little bit narked with freelances continually churning in late copy. It is fair to say some came back to us and said they weren’t happy with our new rules, but with others it’s given them a kick up the backside,” he told Press Gazette.

Kirk said he feared losing good writers and there was a fine line to tread. “The problem is, it is a very specialised market. There are guys who are good writers who we want to hold on to and, obviously, we don’t want to piss off too much, so we can’t be as strict as we’d like. It is about treading a fine line between annoying your key freelances and getting copy in on time.”

While most freelances were very reliable, Kirk said, some were handing in copy as late as two weeks after the deadline. “It was keeping the whole magazine behind and, because they were key freelances, we had to use them. It is a minority who are consistent offenders and it’s those guys we clamped down on,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it is the magazine that suffers – we run late and get financially penalised by repro companies and printers.”

He added: “I suppose it has worked in a way because it has bucked their ideas up and shaken up the freelances into handing their stuff in on time.”

The idea has also been tested at Future Publishing. Hi-Fi Choice editor Tim Bowern said he was aware of other magazines penalising late copy and had told his own freelances that their pay would be reduced if they frequently missed deadlines.

Rival magazine Hi-Fi News, published by IPC, has also warned its freelances. Editor Steve Harris said: “We haven’t officially introduced it yet, although we were intending to.” Harris refused to discuss the exact fines but it is understood that around 10 per cent is taken off commissioned fees. In some cases 5 or 10 per cent is cut for every day that the copy is late.

NUJ freelance organiser Jon Toner said: “I think it’s shocking. Giving that late payment is the constant nagging problem for every freelance across the country, I can imagine they would be extremely irate.

“Are the companies going to pay an additional fee when they fail to pay freelances on time? Is it going to be a quid pro quo?”

By Ruth Addicott

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