POP, go the weasel words...

POP, go the weasel words...

This week, I wrote a piece for the journalists' trade title Press Gazette on the insidious practice whereby cash-rich publishers make impoverished freelances wait for payment on publication (POP).

It's caused quite a stir on social media, and now the NUJ wants me to get involved with campaigning on the issue.

In a hard-hitting piece, NUJ president Tim Dawson said: "Eugene Costello has done us a great favour by researching and writing an excellent piece on the pernicious practice of payment on publication. Like a spark falling on dry tinder, his efforts have set social media aflame... see #StopPOPand #payondelivery.

"Scores of freelances are now relating the appalling treatments they have experienced at the hands of magazines, newspapers, book publishers and broadcasters. The depth of feeling was underscored by dozens of colleagues spontaneously offering to crowd-fund Eugene's research..."


ast week, I went to a really good restaurant that has opened near me. It’s had great reviews and so I could rely on its reputation to ensure I’d be happy. I wasn’t especially hungry so I said: “I’d like a table for one. I’m not sure what I want, so let’s go for the tasting menu. If I’m still not hungry when it arrives, I’ll pass.

“And if I do decide that I fancy it, great – I’ll try to pay for it within 90 days but obviously that will depend on budget and cash flow. Don’t email me to chase me for payment – I’m really busy, so I’ll ignore your emails. And whatever you do, don’t ring – I’ll divert you to voicemail and I won’t call you back.

“You’ll be paid in due course if and when I feel like it and if – and only if – I eat it. If I don’t, I might be prepared to pay half the bill. I’ll take a view within a few months. Possibly a year.”

OK, of course I didn’t. I would have been thrown out, arrested or – possibly – sectioned. But that is no different to the approach of many publications when it comes to paying the freelance journalists upon whom they rely to fill their pages.

The insidious policy of payment on publication, or POP, means that some can wait months – years in one or two cases – before being paid for work that they carried out on time and to the best of their abilities.

In the interests of transparency, I am writing this piece free of charge – a sign of our changing industry. I approached Press Gazette and offered the piece gratis because it has an admirable record of championing journalists and campaigning on issues that affect our industry.

For those who write for daily newspapers, usually it’s not a problem.

Features are often time-sensitive and appear soon after filing, meaning the writers receive payment within 30 days. It’s becomes more of a problem with monthlies, who commission way ahead of publication, meaning it’s potentially months before the work is published and longer still before you see settlement – long after you did the work.

One problem is that stories that are not time-sensitive, such as travel or real-life pieces, get bumped to make room for more topical pieces. It can be months and months before a piece appears, and case studies, who have often been required to attend photoshoots, either want paying as agreed and harangue the journalist as they have told family and friends that they will be in a publication.