In the Spirit of the Pulps, and Paying Even Less
A friend of mine drew my attention to the following link on the Locus magazine Web site sidebar:
Black Matrix Publishing seeks submissions for four new magazines “in the spirit of the pulp magazines of the last century”
So I clicked through and discovered that in addition to wanting to replicate the “spirit” of the pulp magazines, Black Matrix Publishing also wants to replicate its payment scale as well:
We pay one-fifth of a cent per word on acceptance. Payment is for First Serial Rights.
Yes, you’re reading that correctly: one fifth of a penny per word. That’s 500 words for a dollar, for those of you who don’t want to do the math, and 1/25th of the current SFWA qualifying rate of five cents a word.
For perspective on this, back in the 1920s, Hugo Gernsback, who was notorious for paying his authors poorly, was paying his science fiction writers a quarter of a penny a word. So these people at Black Matrix Publishing are paying 20% less for their fiction than an editor who famous for being cheap eighty years ago.
In the absence of knowing anything about these Black Matrix folks, I’m going to be charitable and assume that they’re not actually intending to be contemptuous of writers. But the fact is, as far as publishing goes, when it comes to paying authors badly, there’s cheap, there’s insultingly cheap, and then there’s just plain being an asshole. Black Matrix Publishing, with its one penny for five words rate, currently lies slightly beyond the “we’re assholes” frontier, in a zone of being typically reserved for tracksuited predators who park outside elementary schools, dangling lollipops from panel vans. Hopefully this will come as shock to them, and they will move forthwith to bump their payment to, say, a penny a word, which would at least point them in the right direction.
But, you may say, at least they’re paying something. Bah. A fifth of a penny a word is not something, it’s a rounding error. And more to the point, if as a publisher all you can pay writers is a fifth of a penny a word, you’re signaling to anyone who cares to look that you have no clue what you’re doing. Competent publishers would have factored the cost of reasonable compensation for writers into their business plan. They would have also researched into what rates qualify as “reasonable compensation.” Either the Black Matrix people don’t know what they’re paying sucks, which doesn’t speak particularly well of them as business people, or they do know, which doesn’t speak particularly well of them as human beings.
Either way, it’s ridiculous. If you’re a writer, avoid this market until such time as they start paying something within hailing distance of reasonable. If you’re a reader, avoid this publisher until it treats the people who are entertaining you with their words with something approaching respect.
This entry, by the way, is worth exactly one dollar to the Black Matrix folks. Oh, the irony.