Exclusive: Outside Plagued by Layoffs, Late Payments to Freelancers

Yesterday, we received a tip that in the past six months Outside and Outside’s Go had laid off employees, cut pay of remaining staffers, and was waiting more than half a year to pay some freelancers. After speaking with a half a dozen former Outside staffers and freelancers, we’ve confirmed that the tip is true and the reality isn’t pretty.
In the past six months at Outside, between five and seven people (from a staff of roughly 50) have been laid off, editor Christopher Keyes told us. Three of these layoffs came when Outside’s Go dropped to four issues per year. Furthermore, there have been two rounds of pay cuts for senior staffers — and one for junior staffers — and the company is imposing a weeklong furlough in June, applicable to all employees except sales staff.
“Like every other magazine, we are looking to weather the current conditions,” Keyes said. “We have a five-week production cycle in June, so we are having a furlough. It’s company-wide but salespeople will be working that week.”
Keyes stressed that the pub has always taken a long time to pay writers, but they always get paid. “While it’s true that Outside has a long payment cycle, it’s an independent publication and in 32 years we’ve never defaulted on a payment. There’s no doubt people will be paid.”
While paying freelancers late “has always been an Outside thing,” according to one source, in conjunction with the deteriorating economic climate, “it’s only gotten worse.” Multiple people with intimate knowledge of the situation at Outside reported payments being sent an average of four to six months after publication, with some invoices nine to 12 months past due. One person confirms being owed more than $10,000, and sources say that’s the case for other contractors, as well.
A particular point of freelancer ire is how Outside sends reporters and photographers around the world, with them fronting the cost of those trips for overly long periods of time. One person said the magazine’s failure to reimburse these expenses in a timely fashion puts the writers and photographers in a difficult position, as they can have thousands of dollars on their credit cards for half a year or more. “A lot of people want to work for Outside because they send people all over the planet, but it’s very expensive and freelancers expense everything,” the source explained. “[Outside owner Larry Burke]’s mentality is, ‘Hey, I sent you to the far reaches of the world, you should feel lucky.’ You can’t do business like that.”
Payment delays are apparently taking a toll on the magazine’s famed freelancing ranks. “Men’s Journal pays better and on time, so why would I even bother with Outside,” said a freelancer who’s written for the two competing pubs.
Several of the sources who spoke with FishbowlNY said that even amid the magazine’s payment delays, they were repeatedly assured that Outside wasn’t in financial trouble, although one person did equate securing payment from the company to “squeezing blood from a turnip.” We also obtained an internal company email indicating that Outside sought investors in March 2008. (It’s after the jump and includes the plea, “It would help to have a warm body in that office.”) [UPDATE: A clarification — The company was seeking investors for Go only.]
Keyes assured FBNY that Outside is in good financial standing. “I feel really good about our longterm viability,” he said. “This April’s issue is 140 pages, while last year’s was 136.”
Some people we spoke with question the continued publication of Go earlier this year, especially given the battered market. (Best Life, a similarly themed book, folded earlier this March.) Ironically, Go is reportedly paying its writers more quickly than parent Outside — although still months late — but many within the company wonder why the money-hemorrhaging magazine still exists.