Freelance Life: When Sites Go Bankrupt, You Lose Cash – The Story of Mode.com’s Unpaid Contributors

A Billion Dollar Website Went Bankrupt. Guess Who Got Screwed.

“Being a freelance writer must be awesome! – Everyone.

There’s no commuting, no boss on my case, no dress code, and no limit to how much time I can take off or when. Of course, there’s also no guaranteed salary, no health benefits, and no paid time off, either. That said, the perks are pretty damn nice, and obviously I’m of the belief that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Yet, sometimes you get slapped in the face anyway, like when a massive online property goes bankrupt and shuts down overnight, with you holding an unpaid tab for $1,200.

First, let’s backtrack a bit. My original impetus for launching ManTalkFood.com was when the Yahoo Contributor Network shuttered its doors. While I had been planning on this site prior to that, YCN’s closure forced my hands.

They had been the home for much of my local-centric food and drink content, and with their closure not only would I be unable to write new stories for them, but my old ones–hundreds and hundreds of pieces written over a period of years, also venturing into sports such as boxing, football, and hockey, and assorted oddball themes–were being unceremoniously dumped into the ether, removed from the cluttered tubes of the Interwebs once and for all.

That was over two years ago, but now once again the cruel reality of freelance life has showed up to make its unwelcome presence felt. This time it came in the form of Mode.com’s sudden shutdown and bankruptcy. It left me holding an empty sack where $1,200 worth of unreceived payments for completed assignments should have been.

Mode.com’s Bankruptcy

As opposed to YCN’s closure, there was no advance warning. No timetable in which to download or save previously published content, or any type of transition period. One day it was there, the next day it wasn’t, the entire site removed with a few keystrokes from an undisclosed corporate location.

Now, there had been some uneasiness along the way, but nothing that foretold of doom. Earlier in the year Mode.com had fallen behind on their payments. Yet, after some delay, they managed to get caught up. I didn’t think too much of it, as ultimately the payments were made in full and they explained it away as some sort of transition between payment systems along with the timing of when they were receiving their own advertising revenue. Their staff had rapidly responded to my questions, offered their apologies, and kept me informed of the process.

If you think my alarms should have gone off, and I should have ceased writing for Mode.com entirely right then and there, then good on you for having the benefit of hindsight. Keep in mind this isn’t some guy named Bob who was hiring me to write content for his new upstart blog. At its height, Mode.com was easily one of the top 20,000 most popular websites in the world:

mode-com-alexa-rankings

In a Forbes.com piece on the property’s closure, they say the website at one time had been valued at $1 billion. As a freelancer, I suppose this gave me the outlook that they were too big to fail. Whoops.

And before other freelancers chime in that there should have been contracts in place, or you should have done this or that to protect yourself…well, there were signed contractor agreements in place. Tax forms filled and filed. Payment schedules written and hashed out. None of that matters when they go bankrupt.

Recently, I did receive bankruptcy claim forms in the mail to fill out. There’s a chance I could end up receiving some or all of my unpaid fees. Of course, that chance is incredibly slim. Bankruptcy claims are doled out based on priority of whether they are secured or not, as well as the total owed. That $1,200 assuredly is very low on the totem pole for an at one time billion-dollar-website.

Yet, the freelance life must go on. Mode.com’s bankruptcy is a reminder of the sometimes tenuous position you’re in as a freelancer, and why it’s important to diversify your list of outlets and clients. It’s why deadlines often accumulate to a dozen a time, and why nights may sometimes be spent tediously transcribing yet another round of lengthy interviews. It’s why when a good assignment comes along, regardless of how busy you are, you say yes. Because sometimes in this freelance life, you just don’t know what tomorrow’s or next month’s work load looks like.

Tread wearily out there freelance friends, and keep fighting the good fight.

Author: Jake Emen

I’m Jake, and I’m your host on this journey. I'm the man doing the eating and the talking around here. I’m a writer based outside of Washington, D.C., and I'm also talking whiskey, local events, travel, and other assorted misadventures. Follow me on the Tweet Machine - @ManTalkFood, or send an email to jake [at] mantalkfood.com.

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