KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Freelancers Left High and Dry

Here's a sad New York Times story of publishing freelancers facing financial ruin because their clients have stopped paying:
A factory in New York has vanished. The door is locked and the lights are out. The phone rings and rings. No one answers. The promised checks are not in the mail, and a small army of workers, owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, scramble to pay the rent and buy groceries. ...

Mr. Baxter is one of about 50 unpaid freelance writers, editors, page designers and others who worked this year for Inkwell [Publishing Solutions] on textbooks that are to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is owned by a holding company based in the Cayman Islands, and floats in oceans of debt.

"The explanation I have been given is that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt owes Inkwell money," Mr. Baxter said. More than 30 freelancers who were interviewed by phone or e-mail told the same story: Inkwell stopped paying them for work on textbooks, claiming that Houghton had stopped paying it. ...
What makes things worse is that in New York State, full-time freelancers are not entitled to unemployment compensation. We're at the mercy of the financial health of our clients. And we lose homes and health insurance just like people laid off by employers do, but we're not counted in the unemployment statistics. We're invisible.

Updated at 11:55 p.m., June 22, 2009: Someone who commented on the blog post here claims to have access to a memo that was distributed to all Houghton Mifflin Harcourt employees after the Times story appeared, saying that HMH did pay Inkwell and is asking the Times to print a correction. This may not be the end of the story.

Updated at 12:20 p.m., June 24, 2009: The original June 19 column in the Times now has a postscript, added today:
The About New York column on Sunday, about the closing of Inkwell Publishing Solutions, a book development company in Manhattan, reported that about 50 of its freelancers were still owed hundreds of thousands of dollars for their work on textbooks commissioned by the publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In an e-mail message to the freelancers, Inkwell's president blamed slow payments by Houghton, which did not respond to three requests for comment before the column was published. On Monday, a spokesman for Houghton said it had made the "vast majority" of its payments on time to Inkwell, with the final two checks it owed issued on May 8 and June 1. Inkwell ceased operations in mid-May.


John Soares said...

Katherine, thanks for your close attention to this issue, especially catching the postscript to the article.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

You're welcome, John. As a former journalist, I want to provide all pertinent info regarding important issues. As a freelance copyeditor, I want to keep up with stories like this one about my industry.

robyncz said...

Hey Katherine,
I'm another Editor Mom--in Austin, Texas. I found you while poking around for more information on the Inkwell/HMH story. These are challenging times, to be sure.

I've bookmarked your blog and intend to lurk around. Hope that's okay with you.

Robyn in Austin

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Hi, Robyn. It's nice to hear from another editor and mom. And though I live in New York State, I grew up in La Porte, a suburb of Houston, so it's cool to hear from another Texan too. Lurk or comment, whichever you like. :-) I've been swamped with work and also hanging out on Twitter, so lately I've been posting here less frequently than usual. You can follow me on Twitter if you want: @KOKEdit.

Funny about Money said...

{sigh} Remember when Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt were respectable companies? Those were the days, my friend....

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