For some background on this post, please read Erica Holthausen’s call to #StandWithWriters.
In May of 2015 I was contacted by Lauren Clark—the Editor-in-Chief of Take Magazine—with the hope that I would contribute to the magazine. Let me back track a bit and tell you about Take Magazine, in case you haven’t heard of it. Take Magazine is a relatively new magazine with well-written stories about the makers who are shaping New England’s arts and culture. The visual arts, music, design, literature, dance, food, fashion, and theater are all explored through the magazine’s glossy pages, beautiful layout and excellent photography.
Visual arts, design, food and fashion? How could I not fall I love with Take Magazine? I did. I fell for it and was so thrilled to have such a beautiful magazine in New England—a region I’ve always known to love. I cheered for Take Magazine and wanted it to succeed. I became one of the magazine’s biggest cheerleaders; I contributed to their Kickstarter campaign and devoured the first print issue within hours of getting it in the mail.
My heart started fluttering when I heard that a new arts-centric magazine was launching in New England. I unabashedly promoted it to friends and throughout the summer on my Twitter feed, in hopes of getting my friends and followers to subscribe to it. I knew I already loved Take Magazine. I did not know much about the publication or the people behind it with one exception: Lauren Clark.
I’ve had a writer’s crush on Lauren Clark for years and followed her on twitter and read everything she ever published on her terrific and still relevant blog, Drink Boston. I read anything she wrote outside of the blog as well. I read her book Crafty Bastards: Beer in New England from the Mayflower to Modern Day (get it, if you have yet to read it) and knew that if Lauren was involved with this new publication, that it had to be a great project and worthy of being promoted and talked about, like I and many other people gushed over it. I’ve yet to meet Lauren and hopefully I will one day.
I was already IN LOVE with the publication in spite of not having seen an actual physical copy, so imagine how I felt when Lauren Clark reached out to me asking if I would write for the magazine. I was ecstatic, exhilarated and a bit nervous, to be honest. I wrote back and explained that I wasn’t doing much freelance writing at the time of her email. I was just wrapping up my full-time job at a local non-profit due to health matters and needed to take the time to heal (all good now!). “Thanks so much for your email and I’m flattered you found me through Big Red & Shiny, though we’ve been following each other for a while on Twitter,” I wrote back. “The magazine looks beautiful! Looking forward to reading more and getting familiar with it. I’ve read a couple of articles from people I know or follow on Twitter. That’s super exciting! Please keep me in mind for something else,” I ended that email.
I continued to cheer for the magazine and recommended a couple of other writers who could write for it. I was again contacted in November 2015 to write a story on a group of artists working in analog film and photography. I enthusiastically accepted the assignment, signed a contract, sent in my financial paperwork and went off to write. I interviewed and exchanged emails with everyone involved in the story, conducted site visits and researched at the Boston Public Library. All this was done while I was in the midst of two other freelance projects and curating a highly successful (if I may say so myself) printmaking exhibition at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.
I submitted my story, went through a few rounds of copy-editing and waited until the magazine came out. On a cold January morning, I opened my mailbox and saw two copies of the magazine. I went to my local public library to continue working on a couple of other freelance projects I had picked up while finishing the Take article. I immediately opened my laptop and emailed Lauren. “Just got my copy of the magazine. The article looks STUNNING! Thanks so much for everything,” I wrote.
And that was that.
I was still smitten with Take Magazine and was only waiting on my payment which was stipulated in the contract to be made within 30 days of publication. On February 19, a day after my birthday, I emailed Take’s Project Manager to inquire about payment. “Hope things are well over at Take Magazine. I was wondering if you had any idea of when I should be expecting my check for the article I wrote in the Analog issue. Is there anything else you need from me?” I wrote. To this day, I never got a response from this person. Even a “Hello! We’re doing great. I’ll put someone else in touch with you regarding payment,” would have worked. But the no response was festering a wound I sensed was going to erupt, but I laid low and continued doing my freelance work.
On February 28, I received a response from Take’s Director of Operations and Finance stating that the magazine was behind on payments and that they were working around the clock to come current. Okay, fair enough. I get that and understood where this email was coming from.
On April 1, I sent another email to the Director of Operations and Finance to inquire about my payment. At that time, payment was 71 days late. “Now as of today your payment is 71 days late. That’s unacceptable, if I may be honest. I had a good experience writing for Take, but I am a freelancer and my income and bills depend on me getting paid on time. Take Magazine already published another issue after the Analog and still no signs of getting paid,” I wrote. “Without your freelancers the magazine would not happen. I’m being very patient about this, but like I said, I did the work I was supposed to do and on time,” and then I went on and on.
By mid-April, I was beginning to sense that my love affair with Take Magazine was falling apart. The romance started to turn bitter as I began to learn of other writers who hadn’t gotten paid for work they did in October 2015. That’s just unconscionable.
In spite of me persisting about my payment and sending email after email and being very patient, payment had not arrived. I began to noticed other writers were also frustrated with the magazine and I began to talk to friends of friends who had also written for the magazine. I sensed what was going on, but I kept quiet. I kept quiet because I wanted to get paid and I wanted to continue writing for the magazine, in spite of having a difficult time communicating with some of the people behind it (and for the record, working with Lauren Clark was a wonderful experience). I kept quiet because I was still in love with the publication and believed in it.
I kept quiet until a couple of weeks ago when I got a general email from Take Magazine inviting their readers and supporters to a party with a ticket cost of $300 per person or $100 if you just wanted to attend the dance portion of the party. (The magazine was a media sponsor, it was a fundraiser organized by the Boston Center for the Arts, not Take Magazine) Mind you, where am I going to get $300 from when I have yet to still get paid for work I did in December 2015?
I finally decided to speak out on Take Magazine’s Facebook page.
Michael Kusek, the Publisher of Take Magazine published this note on Facebook on Monday night explaining what has been going on at the company. I appreciated Mr. Kusek’s heartfelt response and also that he acknowledged the root of the problem, but this is something that is endemic to the publishing industry, not just Take. As artists and writers, we’re constantly being cheated out on our worth. This has got to stop.
Thanks to Mr. Kusek’s note, we now know that the magazine is going through financial hardship, but this is the nature of the beast and anyone who has worked for a start-up company or in the commercial publishing industry, knows this to be true. Print is fucking sexy, but it is also expensive.
The good news out of all of this is that at least some of the writers have gotten paid, but there are others who have yet to see payment. The other good news out of this, is that the hardworking staff at Take Magazine has been getting a paycheck sporadically here and there. “Not only are some of our freelancers waiting for money, but my amazing staff has worked for many months over the last year with sporadic paychecks,” writes Michael Kusek in his note posted on Facebook.
That’s great that the staff has been getting sporadic paychecks here and there, but here I am, along with other writers who have yet to see a penny for the work they did for Take Magazine. Of course, I want the staff to get paid. I want them to get rewarded for the excellent work they put into every issue, but let’s not forget about the freelancers who are the amazing people that make Take Magazine the excellent publication that it is.
From reading Mr. Kusek’s note, we learned that in order to run the business efficiently and without any financial shortfalls, Take needed to raise $1.1 million. “I quickly learned that fundraising goal was much, much harder to reach than I ever thought it could be. What we have been able to do is raise approximately to $550K from a group of very supportive people who believe that New England should have a magazine that covers the cultural scene,” writes Michael Kusek.
Trust me, we get it. Running a company is much harder than most people imagine it to be, but the fact that the magazine was not able to raise the money it intended on raising, is NOT the problem of all the writers that were hired and promised payment within 30 days of publishing their work.
Take Magazine wrote a contract in which it was stipulated that payment was to be made within 30 days of publication. Take magazine and I agreed to the terms of the contract which again, they had written and we both (the Editor-in-Chief and I) signed it. I honored my contract, but Take Magazine broke it. I understand that as a start-up, Take Magazine is going through some very difficult times, but this does not excuse the poor communication and not paying its writers just as it was clearly noted in the contract.
Many of us got burned and it hurts and even if we end up getting paid, we still feel like we got burned.
In spite of this situation, I sincerely hope Take Magazine learns from this experience and as Erica Holthausen says, “live up to its potential,” and can become the great magazine Take strives to be. Will I continue to read some of the articles the magazine publishes? You bet. I really love the magazine and the quality of the writing and the photography and hope that if you see it at a newsstand, you’ll understand why I and many of us who wrote for Take, feel this way. It’s a fucking sexy magazine.
I really hope the magazine succeeds because New England needs a gorgeous publication like Take Magazine. I’m so glad we have it around, but I’m hoping that many of their shortfalls are addressed within the coming months and the magazine gets on a financially viable path. And that everyone is happy, which is what matters.
And yes, I still want to get paid.