An American Editor

September 23, 2010

Have You Been Aribaed: The Harbinger of Getting Paid

Have you been aribaed (that’s ariba + ed to somewhat simulate the verbing of a company name)? I have and I must admit, I don’t like it.

It’s the modern megacorporation’s way of further shafting (squeezing mercilessly) the little person who really can’t fight back. It isn’t the battle between near-equals or almost-near-equals or even fantasy-almost-near-equals, but the battle of multiple giants against an ant.

Okay, I hear you asking, “so what’s the problem?” The problem is this: freelance editors are generally 1-person small businesses. They do not make million-dollar grosses, do not file SEC reports quarterly, and do not worry about being delisted on the stock exchanges. Instead, they worry about keeping expenses down, getting enough business to earn a living that is at least equivalent to what they could earn working at the local convenience store, and getting those who hire them to pay them the agreed-to amount on time. In other words, we are part of that cadre that both Republicans and Democrats seemingly want to protect when they speak of small business but consistently fail to protect because we don’t fork over enough cash to them.

What is Ariba? Ariba is a megacorporation that serves as an intermediary between suppliers and clients for invoicing and payment. I assume that the reason for a company to sign on with Ariba is so that it can eventually eliminate its own accounts payable department, saving the costs of writing checks, verifying invoices, and, of course, all the costs associated with having human beings working in these departments; I don’t know this for certain.

So far, so good — right? Well, setting aside the idea that if American companies continue to forcibly retire low-level workers so they can increase the perks to very-high-level executives there soon will be only a handful of people able to afford to buy the company’s products because the vast majority of people will have no disposable income (and let’s face it, if you manufacture book, how many copies of a title is the company CEO likely to buy), there is nothing particularly wrong with delegating to a third party bill paying.

Except when you — the supplier of labor or goods — are aribaed, because when you are aribaed, you have to pay Ariba a percentage of your invoice in order to get paid. Imagine this. MegaMonolith Corporation (MM) hires you to edit a book and because of competition and outsourcing to packagers, in order to compete you have had to set your price at the same level as it was in 1995.

So you do the job with great skill and care, working long days and weekends to get the job done in time to meet MM’s compressed schedule — and getting no additional monies for working more than 8 hours in a day or on weekends — and submit your invoice for payment. Previously, your invoice went directly to MM, the client.

But out of the blue MM gets the bright idea to use Ariba. Now you get your chance to be aribaed. In order to edit books for MM, you have to get a purchase order (just like before, so no big deal) but now you have to submit your invoice through Ariba, who won’t process you r invoice unless there is a matching purchase order. On the surface it looks great until you get your check and discover that you’ve aribaed — Ariba charges you a percentage of your invoice for sending you the money you are owed. And, if you don’t join Ariba, process your invoices through Ariba, and pay Ariba’s fee, you can no longer sell your services to MM. Welcome to the group of people who have been aribaed!

On wonders if MM needs to replace a thousand computers is it likely that Dell or IBM will voluntarily pay this fee? My guess is not, but they have the power that us freelancers don’t and offer goods that are relatively unique, which we don’t. In the end, it is the small fry like us who will pay MM’s operational costs or be barred from doing business with MM.

Ariba’s pitch is that it is a place of networking. Other potential customers will find you in its database and send you business. And my great-great-great-great-grandmother will be elected president of the United States right after her resurrection. Do they really think we are so naive as to believe that the people who make the decision to hire a freelance editor are searching Ariba’s database?

Unfortunately, just as many publishers have forsaken quality for quarterly returns, so they will squeeze the little person because they can’t squeeze the IBMs and Microsofts of the world. They will squeeze where they can, which means the workers in the trenches. And aribaing freelancers is just one more way to do so. It is a natural next step to the outsourcing of editorial services to packagers that began in earnest in the late 1990s as a way to squeeze editorial pricing.

Are you ready to be aribaed? If not, get prepared, because it is coming.

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