Monday, June 22, 2009

Tale of Woe from One of Harcourt's Vendors

Freelance editor Katharine O'Moore-Klopf pointed me in the direction of this really depressing article from the New York Times. To sum it up, Inkwell Publishing Solutions did a lot of editorial work for Harcourt's textbooks. Now that Harcourt is in trouble, it's not paying its vendors. So Inkwell has gone belly-up, leaving approximately 50 freelancers scrambling for their very survival.

Something similar happened here in Indy about six years ago. A packager declared bankruptcy and many freelancers got just a fraction of what they were owed. (Somehow I got lucky and got my money just in time.) The lesson we all learned is to never let a client owe you too much. If they owe you money and it's more than a month overdue, you might have to refuse future assignments until you are paid. You have to go with your gut, of course. You don't want to risk being seen as a troublemaker. But you also have to be able to minimize your losses in case the worst happens, as it did for the Inkwell people.


Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

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.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Interesting! Keep me posted if you see anything more about it. Internal financial mismanagement at the packager could be the culprit instead.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

The original June 19 column in the Times now has a postscript, added today, June 24:

"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."

Susan V. said...

I run a small development house in upstate NY. It has become increasingly difficult to collect payment from the "big three" in ed pub. Six month receivables have become the norm. Obstructed cash flow, coupled with the credit crunch, have made it a struggle to follow the same model we did years ago, which was to pay freelancers fairly and within two weeks of invoice.

Disregard for vendors, in addition to demanding basement rates for more services, have forced us to shift our business away from the large corporations and focus instead on content development for smaller, niche publishers. It's been a change that's worked out well for us.