Dear Doctor Deadline,
A couple of months ago I was commissioned to write a piece for a certain national newspaper (I won’t say which one), which I delivered on time to the required length. It was a good piece (though I do say so myself) and they seemed very happy with it. For various reasons, though, the piece never ran and now events have overtaken it, so they won’t be able to run it because it’s out of date.
But when I rang this week to ask what to do about payment, the editor who’d commissioned me told me I wouldn’t get the fee at the originally agreed rate. Because it had ended on the spike, she said, I’d only be eligible for a proportion of that. That can’t be right, can it, doc? It wasn’t my fault that it didn’t run.
What are my rights? Annoyed Freelance Dear Annoyed Freelance, You don’t mention the name of the newspaper group in question, but the Doc can nonetheless take an educated, statistically based guess. Like airlines, most national newspapers (and to a lesser extent, some magazines) have an overbooking policy. Just as a number of passengers won’t turn up for any given flight, a number of commissioned pieces either won’t turn up, won’t be good enough or won’t suit the whim of the editor when it’s brought up at conference. That means they’ll need something to fill the gap.
Now some groups are legendary for this over-commissioning – a certain Kensington-based organisation springs to mind. So they’ve developed a “kill fee”, which is basically hush money to keep the freelances whose copy doesn’t make the cut quiet. This may be half the original rate. It may even be less than that. Many accept this on the grounds that they don’t want to be labelled as a troublemaker next time they’re pitching something.
But your rights are that you are owed the originally agreed amount and you are perfectly entitled to insist on full payment.
Indeed, if every freelance rose up and did just this, the kill fee would be killed off soon enough as the commissioners were forced to become more efficient by horrified accounts departments.
It’s also a good reason to watch out for the “payment on publication” clause that some titles are trying to slip in to contracts. In other words if there’s no publication, there’s no payment. Beware. Got any questions for Doctor Deadline? Or do you disagree with his advice? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org