Tiger Oak Publications is delaying payments to freelancers as it fights off acknowledged cash-flow problems. In some cases, the publisher of Minnesota Bride, METRO Magazine and six suburban lifestyle magazines is paying nearly a year after the work is done.
The situation got so bad that two weeks ago, Tiger Oak drew a letter from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office about the delays. Four freelancers who contacted me in October said they received partial payments soon after.
Says writer Jolie Mouton, “It’s pretty ironic after about five months of zero communication from anyone at Tiger Oak, we receive some money and a letter.”
Tiger Oak’s contract already grants the publisher a relatively long time to pay: 90 days after publication, instead of the more typical 30 days. Given magazine deadlines, that means freelancers get paid five or so months after doing the work.
Writers like Mouton say they agreed to that with their eyes open. The crazy-making part: Tiger Oak has missed its own generous deadline by up to five months. The writers — who, at the suburban titles, make roughly $125-$250 per story and were owed $900 to $1,930 — say they need that cash every bit as much as the publishing company.
Dena Alspach, publisher of the 10 local titles in Tiger Oak’s 27-magazine portfolio, acknowledges her company’s culpability.
“It’s been a really tough two years for the business,” she says. “Honestly, it’s been cumulative. Everyone thinks we’re Goliath, but we’re a small company that depends on small companies. Some [advertisers] have not paid, most people paid us slowly, and that affects cash flow.”
Just two years ago, Tiger Oak president R. Craig Bednar was on a buying spree, acquiring Washington state magazines; a Star Tribune profile touted the company’s “glossy outlook.” A year later, a deal to sell off nine titles fell through, leading to questions about Tiger Oak’s cash flow.
Alspach says the company has continued to invest in digital operations, including an upcoming iPad app for METRO, but denies Tiger Oak is using freelancers as the company’s unwilling bankers.
The digital work “is internal, with our staff,” she says. “We have not made any cash investment.”
Alspach says Tiger Oak is committed to paying off all writers in order of how long they’ve waited. She admits the company is past due to more than four freelancers, but did not offer a specific number or a total balance owed.
Alspach denies the A.G.’s letter shook loose the money tree, saying the November repayments had been planned.
“Things are looking up, cash flow is getting better,” she says, adding that no local titles are on the chopping block. “Sales overall are up in the single digits — but up, which is sort of amazing. The company is relatively healthy, and now we’re digging out.”
Still, Tiger Oak recently revamped its freelance contracts — giving itself 120 days after publication to pay instead of 90.
Can freelancers signing new contracts be assured they’d get paid on time? “As far as a guarantee, who knows?” Alspach says. “That’s our goal. Chances are very, very good.”
Mouton says freelancers should be skeptical, noting Tiger Oak’s “unprofessional” behavior and history of payment delays. “I’ll bet there are no companies that pay 120 days after publication except Tiger Oak,” she says. “New writers need to know that.”