Delayed payments in the publishing industry

It has been a long time since I last wrote about the decay of the book publishing industry. You’d think that, after the articles Por qué los libros digitales no salvarán a los autores desconocidos and Understanding why my book crashed and burned, the subject would be completely spent and no more text about it would be required. It turns out that this is not the case.

As you may already know, I signed a contract with Linux Magazine on year 2017. An article of mine was actually good enough to turn into the cover story of issue #205. I was promised that a payment for such work would be made around the middle of December. It is 15th of February already and I have seen not a dollar from them.

Delayed payments are always to be expected in any sort of business, and I don’t see why the publishing industry would be an exception. My main customer, to whom I provide system administration services, is always complaining because his own customers have a tendency to be up to half a year off schedule when it comes to setting the bills even. I have indeed talked to a fellow freelancer author over IRC, who signed a deal similar to mine, and he has confirmed that magazine publishers who pay on time are the exception rather than the rule.

This fact is particularly damaging to the creative industry. It is not because delayed payments are particularly harmful for freelance authors per se, but because it is harm done where a lot of harm has already been done. Think about it. Imagine somebody whose most outstanding skill is writing poetry or technical articles. If he tried to make a living out of such ability, it would mean that he had to find out a way to sell a product that has a market value close to zero, and may cost a whole lot of time and money to produce. All of it while competing with a thousand others who are trying to do the same. Then, after years of trying to sell his work to a publisher, he gets a publishing contract, the payment day arrives, and no money is delivered. No wonder many famous writers committed suicide.

The payment problem would be less of an issue if publishers were open and talkative about it. If the publisher is not able or willing to pay before the 90th day, the least thing it could do is tell. As I have already explained, I don’t expect people to gather and deliver the payment in an instant. What I expect them to do is to respect their part of the deal. If the deal is that the money is to be transferred within 15 days, you are dishonest if you both don’t comply with the letter of the contract and fail to communicate the reasons to the other party. If you think you cannot pay within 15 days when redacting the contract, you use another realistic number instead. Making empty promises is disrespectful.