Spec work being a hot button issue in our community recently afforded Dan Cassaro a swell of support when he publicly turned down Showtime’s offer of unpaid work. But despite the growing backlash against accepting projects without compensation, designers are content to remain silent about clients who refuse or systematically stall payment after a project is completed. While it remains important for members of our community to reject spec work invitations, we must also warn one another of those who leave contracts unfulfilled, turning what was legitimate work into a form of unpaid spec work.
With that said, the potential for this post to be misconstrued as bitter or angry is nearly infinite, and I’m afraid future partnerships may be jeopardized by writing it. However, after talking it over with multiple colleagues and researching similar scenarios, I’ve decided at the end of the day, I have to do what I feel is right.
If you are a designer or illustrator, I would advise against working with Tumblr.
I have been, and continue to be, an ardent supporter of their platform, having personally hosted Games Designed, Future 52, and my own blog on Tumblr for years. When they contacted me in January, I was ecstatic to work with them on their collaboration with Axe and Yahoo! Sports to celebrate the Super Bowl. However, that excitement has given way to exasperation in the seven months since that I have gone unpaid. I won’t quote any dialogue with tumblr’s employees, as I acknowledge and respect that our conversations were had in confidence. Furthermore, I just want to say that I don’t hold any ill-will toward the employees that I’ve spoken with, as I believe they have had nothing but good intentions. The problem lies not with them, but with the broken system they are working within. That said, here is a brief summation of the events that have transpired:
• Today is August 26th. My original invoice is 136 days past due.
• My wife (who handles my invoicing) and I have exchanged 49 emails with five different tumblr employees over a period of six months.
• I have received four different payment timelines, ranging from “This week” in March, to “Within a 60 day period” in July. Last week, a PO was issued, which should guarantee me payment within the next 60 days.
• I have submitted two invoices and I have signed up as a Yahoo! vendor twice.
• Tumblr employees have apologized 10 times for the delayed payment.
• Tumblr sent me a very nice thank you card when the project was wrapped. (I’m not being sarcastic of facetious, it was very thoughtful of them and I wish more clients sent follow-up cards like that.)
After six months of back and forth, in an attempt to find a contact within the company that might help me navigate the labyrinth, I reached out to a number of other freelancers who have worked with Tumblr. Of the six contacted, four have also gone unpaid for a considerable amount of time. All, including those who were eventually paid, experienced the same difficulties my wife and I have been wading through for months. This is what propelled me to write this post.
Make no mistake: Tumblr’s service has allowed clients to discover my work, helped me find new projects and offered me the chance to share my output with thousands. It’s for these reasons that I love Tumblr and am also incredibly disheartened by the professional disrespect my colleagues and I have received from them. They should not be asking for work from artists if there is no infrastructure in place to pay them within a reasonable period of time.
This issue is something Tumblr needs to address internally; a company that values art and the creative community should be prioritizing compensation and the respectful treatment of the people it works with. In the mean time, I encourage the creative community to be more open with one another about clients that leave invoices unpaid, and avoid those clients that act in such a manner. If we don’t respect ourselves, how can we ask for respect from our clients?