Mag publisher Future temporarily cuts back freelance budgets during pandemic

Magazine publisher Future has cut back its freelance budgets during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic but has dismissed rumours of a sweeping freeze on commissions.

Future, which publishes around 140 online and magazine titles, said the decision was only temporary and insisted its commitment to “quality content” remains.

A freelance journalist who regularly writes for a number of Future websites told Press Gazette they were informed by an editor at one of the titles yesterday that freelance budgets had been cut across the country.

“They were apologetic because it wasn’t like it was the editors’ choice,” they said, adding: “Future owns a lot of the industry so Future not taking on freelances is a big deal.”

Future publishes a number of titles across the technology, gaming, entertainment, music and photography verticals, including Tech Radar, PC Gamer, Total Film and Classic Rock.

The journalist added that their main criticism was the “crappy communication” as demonstrated by varying reports on social media of the scale of the cutbacks.

One tweet claimed Future had “cut its freelance budget for all sites and magazines” while other journalists later believed this was true for the publisher’s websites but not its print titles.

Future has now confirmed it has reduced its freelance expenditure “in some areas”, but has not completely cut spending at any of its titles.

A spokesperson said: “Future’s commitment to the quality content driving record-breaking audiences is resolute. We continue to strongly invest in all brands with both in-house and outsourced expertise.

“During this unprecedented time we have made the decision to temporarily reduce freelance expenditure in some areas but no brand or vertical has entirely lost its freelance budget. We have no doubt that our brands will continue to return market-leading results.

“Suggestions that all freelance budgets have been completely cut are simply inaccurate.”

A post from Future’s union in the US earlier this week referred to their websites’ “sudden loss” of budgets for paying freelances.

It also lobbied against the planned layoffs of nine “essential employees” in its bargaining unit as it called for Future executives to accept “additional cuts to their generous compensation packages”.

Press Gazette is not aware of any similar plans to cut staff in the UK.

A Future spokesperson said: “Like many organisations right now, we find ourselves making difficult decisions. We have a duty of care to all our staff during this time and our focus is on protecting the business for them and for our customers.

“We have introduced a raft of measures to keep the numbers of lay-offs to an absolute minimum, including significant pay cuts for our Board, Executive Team, and senior managers.

“However, we have had to make the difficult decision to let some people go in the UK and the US – where we’re doing what we can in what we see as unavoidable circumstances to support impacted colleagues – including continuing to offer them healthcare cover for the next three months.”

In a trading update published on Friday last week, Future said it had “continued to trade robustly” throughout the past few weeks thanks to its diversified strategy, with “limited impact” on its digital revenues.

“Whilst we have seen declines in the travel outlets within the magazine portfolio we are seeing year-on-year growth in the grocers which is partly offsetting the impact of this and therefore, based on our visibility of our key metrics, we continue to expect trading to remain in line with our previous expectations,” it said.

“However, prudently because of the increased volatility, we have implemented some profit protection measures.”

The publisher is currently preparing to complete its £140m buyout of TI Media but the UK’s competition watchdog last week urged it to sell off three titles before it will give the deal the go-ahead.

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