Unpaid Plenty Writers Consider Lawsuit

Was anyone paid for the last issue of Plenty? Certainly not any of the five contributors FishbowlNY has spoken to in the last few days, all of whom are owed money for pieces that were published in the Dec/Jan ’08 issue, which was the last to hit newsstands, and some of whom are owed money for work that was done for the Feb/March ’09 issue that never made it to print.

It was no secret Plenty had been struggling these last few months. Rumors that the environmentally focused magazine, which launched four years ago, was cash-strapped began circulating last fall. For a while, a number of people were reporting that Al Gore was in line to acquire it, but sadly (for the staff) that never panned out and the magazine and website were shuttered in January leaving a slew of freelance writers unpaid.

Says one contributor we spoke to: “I had been writing for them for almost a year or less. Payment had always been quite slow but I’ve never not been paid.”

Compounding the situation is the fact none of the writers we spoke with currently are seeking payment seem to have been able to reach publisher Mark Spellun to find out where their money is and when they might expect to see it.

“Since Christmas last year I have lost 75% of my projected income and not only is it upsetting to not be paid, it is maddening that he won’t even acknowledge he’s received your email,” a freelancer there told us.

At least one writer we spoke to (no one was willing to go on the record for fear of losing payment as a result) has retained legal counsel, and we hear there are upwards of ten people who are interested in doing the same, potentially as a group.

Said another: “This is a very unfortunate situation, as myself and many of the other writers for the magazine have worked very hard for Plenty, and it is a shame we are not being paid what we are owed. Mark has been difficult to get a hold of, which makes the situation all the more difficult for everyone who is worried and uncertain about when or if they will be paid.”

One contributor, who tells us they are owed a few thousand dollars, seemed puzzled by Spellun’s behavior, “It’s a very small community of environmental writers in New York, we all know each other. It’s a movement. It’s a community. There’s a grassroots feeling,” the source says. “Obviously, Spellun knows we are talking to each other. I think he will never be in this part of the industry again. Or maybe he will. We are all desperate right now.”

Meanwhile, when FishbowlNY emailed Spellun on Monday, (Plenty‘s phones are no longer in service) to ask him about the situation and why so many former writers seeking payment hadn’t heard from him, he had this to say: “I am looking to raise the money to get people paid. Our financing was unexpectedly withdrawn, so people will have to be patient…No time line unfortunately. These are difficult economic times, as I am sure everyone is aware.”

Difficult times or not, it doesn’t look like the problem is going away. Says one of the writers, “I won’t ever give up. This is money that is owed me. There are things that have my name on them that are on the newsstand that I’ve never been paid for. I’ve been writing for magazines for over 13 years. I have worked for a number a places that have folded before, and things have been taken care of. This has never happened to me before.”