Re: Re[2]: Agencies-response

Subject: Re: Re[2]: Agencies-response
From: Richard Yanowitz <ryanowit -at- NYCT -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 14 May 1997 11:27:06 -0400

At 08:04 AM 5/14/97 -0500, Walker, Arlen P wrote:
>From: Arlen P Walker on 05/14/97 08:04 AM
> To be very crass about it, 50 percent mark-up on a product is not
> outrageous. And in this context, the TW is the product. (By the
> way, I suspect it was way below that on my projects with them.)
>Jim makes a very valid point here. I wonder if anyone who gets upset at
>this kind of markup buys books at their local Half-Price Books store? That
>book you buy for $4.98 (or $7.98, or whatever) cost them about 25 cents
>tops. I

The first response I got along these lines I answered privately. But since 3 similar views have now been stated, I'll comment to the list as a whole.

I gotta confess that I'm kinda stunned by these positions, but chacun a son gout. My own gout--forgetting now about KTI/DDI--differs from the above statements.

At a 50% split between writer and agency, here is what each gets if the rate to the client is $30, 40 or 50 an hour (without adjusting for time off or any benefits the agency might offer--I've never been offered any, but I understand there are exceptions):

$30/hr $40/hr $50/hr

1 week (40 hrs) $600 $800 1000
4 weeks (160 hrs) 2400 3200 4000
3 mos. (520 hrs) 7800 10,400 13,000
6 mos. (1040 hrs) 15,600 20,800 26,000
1 yr (2080 hrs) 31,200 41,600 52,000

(To me, there's a difference here between the effects of book markups and labor markups, but people tell me I'm weird.)

Now some will contend, with justice, that the agency merits something for its efforts in hunting up jobs, doing the bookkeeping of collecting and paying fees (though writers still have to do time sheets, invoices, whatever), maintaining spiffy offices, paying its employees, paying its share of the writer's social security, and so on. Each reader can make adjustments according to what he or she thinks fair.

Given such expenses, for a short-term job I would grant that the agency deserves a larger percentage than for a longer term job. On the other hand, they always use the selling point that they pay more for a short-term job (usually in the context of saying in reference to long-term jobs: "Well, yes, the rate might seem low, but remember that you'll be working for a long time") But perhaps a rate should differ depending on job length.

You'll all make your own judgments about whether you feel exploited at such rates. For myself, I have worked for many agencies. They have never taken 50% (though I might have knuckled under to such a rate if in dire straits or needing to build a portfolio). In rare cases they have taken very small percentages--but that's been where getting me in the door has benefited them by having an entry to the company or by solving a company's short-term problem and building up good will for future hiring; and oh yeah, I'm (cough, cough) very good, so they build up a reputation that way, too, as a source for quality labor.

We should not forget that if the company is offering us something, we're offering them something, too.

I also grant that taking a cut under 50% doesn't make a company intrinsically wonderful: I've had my share of good and bad experiences with agencies, good and bad experiences with individuals within agencies.

And we should remember that one of the reasons contractors are so locked into having to use agencies is because of IRS rules which, if nominally intended to forestall unscrupulous companies from exploiting part-timers, has had the practical effect of largely restraining our ability to trade directly with clients and having instead to go through agencies, which have thereby experienced a certain windfall.

Incidentally, I don't consider sending a rep on an interview with me to be giving me individual attention. But I may be idiosyncratic on this: I'm used to promoting myself, and I prefer it. Perhaps it's another topic for working with agencies: those who like having agency reps can ask for them, those who don't can go alone.

There are, of course, numerous money, contractual, work standards, ergonomic, etc., etc., issues that affect us as tech writers. I myself am addressing these in the National Writers Union (a union for free-lancers with a strong tech writing membership), which has been querying writers on their concerns and is working towards unified action, including maybe drawing up a model contract that would be fair to both contractors and agencies/direct clients.

Richard Yanowitz, NYC
ryanowitz -at- bigfoot -dot- com
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