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Oh, variable payment schemes. How you raise my ire (and blood pressure), and give me blog-fodder. Such a winning proposition.

There is a long back story here about a company that asked me to do some work for them, and it turned out to be unpleasant, and so I did the part I’d started and then foisted the rest back upon them for various reasons, including the unpleasantness of the work.

This company, which I shall refer to as the company, offered me a sum of money for a series of pieces, and I accepted a per-piece payment for the piece I did (after I did the work). The crux of the problem was that after I had done said work (calculating that it was a not completely unfair, if low hourly rate), they asked me to then look for a series of photos to accompany the piece. Hmmm. That was not in the initial deal. Other parameters changed as well, such as “make it more like your blog!” yet there was no stylesheet or sample text to work from. Also, my blog is not commercial. I don’t want to sell you anything. Extremely different tone.

I should say that it’s not that I can’t do work I find unpleasant (though that would be nice), it’s just that if I’m going to do that, I’ll get a real office job and wear actual pants while I work and gather around the water cooler and look on bemusedly while people talk about TV shows I haven’t seen. Because even if I get a real job, I’m still probably not going to watch TV all that much (or at all). But I’d get paid enough to buy several TVs, though I’d probably spend it all on Colombian coffee and ugly shoes. But I digress.

The company also asked me to ferret out other writers who might like to do the project (for free, and by the way, this particular request comes to me more often than you’d think), asked me if I would edit, standardize, compile and otherwise manage the admin side (for some unspecified amount of pay). I balked at the extra photo work, and they balked at my reaction (quitting), and we had a very entertaining “misunderstanding”, which I shall detail below. I think this comes from the fact that this company is dipping a toe into tour sales, in addition to whatever fabulous innovative “platform” they are promising (oy, with the platforms, can’t anyone actually create anything new? It’s all just mashups and copycats these days, it seems). The company wants to hire travel writers to generate copy, but doesn’t know thing one about travel writing. (They also don’t know thing two, but that may be because they don’t read Dr. Seuss, and I will get to that later).

Thing one has to do with letting slip out their beliefs on the relative worth of travel writers. For example:

“We are working with some Lonely Planet writers who are sort of the top end when it comes to travel writing.” (paraphrased, emphasis mine)

What’s wrong with this sentence?

You are telling me I am not valuable. Strangely, I do not like this.
You have no idea how much people writing guidebooks make on an hourly basis (hint: ain’t much)
You make the mistake of overlooking the fact that nearly every travel writer, nay, every freelancer, will take high-, medium-, and low-paying jobs. It depends on workflow, general amount of busyness, positioning, and many other personal and professional factors.

But what am I whining about? I did the work, and got paid. End of story, insults be darned. But then! Oh then, the job comes back offered to me again through my handy network of cross-continental travel writers, and this time it pays much more! It came through the pipeline without the company name, but I recognized the task straight away, and confirmed that it is, in fact, the same company.

That’s a bit suspect, no? Here is a project that we will pay X for. Unless we decide to pay Y for it. Or Z.

Here’s an excerpt from the email that sits in my drafts folder,  jumping up and down, and saying “send me!”

I recently heard through the travel writer grapevine (and this one is international) that your same project, “XXXXXXXXXXXXX” about (place I know very well) is once again on offer, this time at $Y per piece, which, it seems perhaps redundant (as I’m sure you’ve already thought of this) is a great deal more than you have offered other writers, and in fact, paid me.

I suggest that as you continue your career, you consider people as more than fungible goods, think about how variable pricing and payments reflect on individuals and the businesses they run, and also consider that the world, despite opening borders and international dealings, is a very small place.

Because the second thing the company doesn’t know about travel writing?
Word gets around.

Some friends of mine who work in video, film and sound production here in Chile have a blacklist of people they won’t work with, because they don’t pay on time, or are just a generalized pain in the ass. I won’t publish my list, but it’s beginning to take shape, boy howdy.