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.


  1. Yet another step along the path to neofeudalism that our corporate masters have laid out for us….


    Comment by Darryl Hamson — September 23, 2010 @ 8:45 am | Reply

  2. It just occurred to me that this is similar to using PayPal, but somehow it seems … worse – I think because the publisher is making it mandatory. PayPal does take something like 2 percent of what I receive from a client who uses it to pay me, but it isn’t mandatory – I can still opt to be paid by check. I use PayPal for the convenience of getting paid quickly and not having to drive to the bank to make deposits, but it’s my choice whether to accept payment this way. If the fee were to increase, I would stop using it and go back to asking for checks from all clients.


    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — September 23, 2010 @ 9:09 am | Reply

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jose Afonso Furtado, McDulwich, Anthony Gladman, George Stirling, Gavin Thorpe and others. Gavin Thorpe said: RT@agladman Freelancers take note. Would you pay to submit an invoice? – surely this is breach of contract by MM? […]


    Pingback by Tweets that mention Have You Been Aribaed: The Harbinger of Getting Paid « An American Editor -- — September 24, 2010 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  4. I freelanced for McGraw-Hill Higher Education for twenty years. Notice the past tense. I’d been tapering off ever since they did a major reorganization a few years ago, but I still took on one or two copyediting projects a year from them. But M-H just aribaed me, and that straw broke this camel’s back. I’m finishing up one last project for them (which I accepted just before being aribaed, so I can invoice for it as usual), and then that’s it; no more.

    Earlier this year, I was also headwayed by another client. That is, I am now officially an employee of Headway Corporate Resources, which does pretty much what Ariba seems to do, though without making us pay for it (yet at least). This change came about because the MM that hired Headway was afraid of running afoul of state laws regarding misclassification of independent contractors.

    So is this it? Freelancing to become a thing of the past? (Gack! I can hear it now: “Freelancing isn’t free.”)


    Comment by Janet Renard — September 24, 2010 @ 1:07 pm | Reply

  5. What is the fee percentage that Ariba is taking and how is that broken down?


    Comment by Curious — September 30, 2010 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  6. I was Ariba-ed in October and it has been a nightmare at best. A 1-man freelancer operating out of my home office in Germany, I am still waiting for October payment from one of the largest banks in the world, and neither the folks who “hired” me nor the hotline manners somewhere in eastern Europe, know how to make sure my money ends up in my account. It has been constant runaround and now, maybe, they have found the only person who MAY have the answers but darn if she isn´t on vacation till next week! In the meantime, those with comfy and reliable salaries tell me to wait. I have been freelancing here for 17 years and it has never been harder. Not optimistic about the future either.


    Comment by Ellen — December 6, 2010 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  7. I’ve been a freelancer for McGraw-Hill for 10 years. I’m awaiting payment for months now from Ariba for a project I completed months ago. And now I find out that if I want to get paid what I’m owed I have to pay a “transaction” fee.

    It is despicable. I blame McGraw-Hill for this, and consider the company unethical rip-off artists.


    Comment by TR — June 9, 2012 @ 9:54 am | Reply

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