Barcroft Media: Sue us for your expenses
On Monday I wrote about camera rental company HireACamera.com not honouring quotes. Today I want to warn other photographers about Barcroft Media, the most prominent of the up-and-coming news agencies. I did several jobs for them last year, some with travel expense agreements, but it took action through the small claims court to finally get the expenses paid.
Barcroft didn’t have a regular freelancer in the Highlands, so in late-2009 they started asking me to do jobs for them. Some of the jobs were local so I did them on the usual 50/50 split — I make the effort to do the photos, Barcroft make the effort to sell them, and we split the winnings equally. But other jobs involved long journeys so I insisted on travel expenses. Barcroft weren’t at all happy about paying for travel but they needed the work done, and I wasn’t willing to do it for free, so they agreed to pay.
We ran up travel expenses of £160.08 before I billed them, and that was when the trouble started. It had been a while since I did any jobs for Barcroft, and I knew they had started working with another local photographer who often gives his pictures away for free and, I’m guessing, doesn’t charge expenses. So as much as I was disappointed, I wasn’t entirely surprised when I got a phone call from Barcroft telling me that they wouldn’t be paying the expenses they owed me. They didn’t need me anymore, so they had decided to burn me. Fine.
What really did surprise me was the reason they gave for not paying: The member of staff who commissioned the jobs hadn’t complied with their internal policies, and therefore — in Barcroft’s opinion — they weren’t obliged to pay the expenses that he had agreed to pay. Not really a good way to treat your contributors. As a group, we photographers do tip each other off about dodgy clients.
Phone calls and emails dragged on for a few weeks. Eventually I threatened to recover the money through the small claims court. Barcroft stopped talking to me at that point, so I went ahead with the claim. If you make a threat, you’ve got to see it through. The day that the claim was filed, Barcroft paid the expenses in full. Which should be the end of the story, but it isn’t…
See, it costs money to file a case with the small claims court. And as part of the procedure you are advised to claim interest on the money owed. The person or company who owes you the money is then obliged to pay the interest and the court fee. Barcroft didn’t want to do that. They left the £25 court fee and the £13.92 interest unpaid, and started calling again to say that it was very "unfair" of me to expect them to pay those amounts. I said I’d waive the interest, but they wanted me to waive the court fee too.
At that point I just stayed out of it. The case was in the hands of the court and would be resolved that way. A week or so later Barcroft paid the £38.92 that they owed. In other words, they ended up paying 24% more than if they’d just done the decent thing and paid the travel expenses in the first place. They also lost a reliable freelancer, who would whinge about them on his blog
There are two questions raised by this incident…
Firstly, how bad must business be for Barcroft if they’re willing to burn someone over a couple of hundred quid? It reeks of desperation, clawing at every penny.
Secondly, and more importantly: The news business runs on trust. Jobs are booked last-minute all the time, and you can’t start drawing up contracts for every booking. You need to know that agreements will be honoured, and they always are. I’ve never had any local or national newspaper go back on an agreement. Barcroft will renege on a deal. Do they really have any place in the news business?