"Christian" business models?

EutychusEutychus Shipmate
I was recently invited to translate a Christian book. While the subject matter was interesting, the price I was being offered was less than half my "pain threshold" for book translation, the excuse being that it was a Christian book...

This is just one example of a practice I've come across not only in Christian publishing but also in Christian holiday camps and the like. I hear horror stories along these lines from the Christian music industry too. On the one hand, workers and artists are expected to contribute their time and energy for free or for minimal pay; on the other, the product or service is sold at pretty much normal market rates. Where is the difference going? Can it be justified?

Half of my life revolves around doing a lot of Christian ministry stuff on a voluntary basis. I'm happy do that for zero pay (I deem reimbursement of reasonable expenses to be perfectly legitimate and to be expected, although I don't always file for them). The other half revolves around running a secular business where I charge and clients are happy to pay (well, usually!).

I can make both these models work separately, but I really struggle with attempts to hybridise them. I am not sure how a business model serving a Christian market is supposed to work, or indeed whether it should work. Any thoughts?
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Comments

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    The worker is worth his hire?
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Make a good shoe and sell it for a fair price?
  • Hmmm ... I think this applies across the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors as well as Christian ministry- and I presume other religions too.

    It's a tricky one. When I did more freelance work I had a sliding scale of charges depending on the nature of the client / customer.

    I do think the Christian scene is particularly prone to messing people around though.
  • If your business model involves exploiting people then it's not "Christian".

    Or may be it is, but it certainly shouldn't be.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    Work for free gets you exposure. It's called exposure because it doesn't pay your heating bills.
  • Indeed. I've heard plenty of horror stories about so-called 'Christian businesses'.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I was recently invited to translate a Christian book. While the subject matter was interesting, the price I was being offered was less than half my "pain threshold" for book translation, the excuse being that it was a Christian book...

    This is just one example of a practice I've come across not only in Christian publishing but also in Christian holiday camps and the like. I hear horror stories along these lines from the Christian music industry too. On the one hand, workers and artists are expected to contribute their time and energy for free or for minimal pay; on the other, the product or service is sold at pretty much normal market rates. Where is the difference going? Can it be justified?

    Half of my life revolves around doing a lot of Christian ministry stuff on a voluntary basis. I'm happy do that for zero pay (I deem reimbursement of reasonable expenses to be perfectly legitimate and to be expected, although I don't always file for them). The other half revolves around running a secular business where I charge and clients are happy to pay (well, usually!).

    I can make both these models work separately, but I really struggle with attempts to hybridise them. I am not sure how a business model serving a Christian market is supposed to work, or indeed whether it should work. Any thoughts?

    You would be entitled to decline the work for the payment offered.
  • I've had idiots say this to me, too. And I begin to think that you either pay me what I'm worth in full, or you ask for my work as a volunteer--but don't half-ass it and tell me "it's for the ministry." Because before you know it, you're doing other abusive shit as well. And ministers have to eat.

    If your ministry is really that good, you can pay your employees in full and ask/allow/NONCOERCIVELY them to donate to your group as they (privately) do or do not see fit.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I was recently invited to translate a Christian book. While the subject matter was interesting, the price I was being offered was less than half my "pain threshold" for book translation, the excuse being that it was a Christian book...

    This is just one example of a practice I've come across not only in Christian publishing but also in Christian holiday camps and the like. I hear horror stories along these lines from the Christian music industry too. On the one hand, workers and artists are expected to contribute their time and energy for free or for minimal pay; on the other, the product or service is sold at pretty much normal market rates. Where is the difference going? Can it be justified?

    My first thought is to wonder what the size of the print run looks like. Back when I was (briefly) involved in academic publishing there was a flat cost from the printers for about the first 2500 copies - I’m sure that number depends on a number of factors, but if you’re not selling a lot of copies you could be charging market rates without making anything like market profits.

    I suspect there is such a thing as semi-volunteer work where it’s just too much work to ask someone to do it for free but they just can’t make it work on market rates. The question I suppose is whether you want to volunteer the difference between your normal rate and what they’re paying on that basis. If you think they can actually afford market rates and choose not to then obviously no.
  • The problem with that, though, is that the powers-that-be seem incapable of keeping the idea "semi-volunteer-" in front of the word "employee." And thus the unedifying sight of Christian organizations mistreating their sacrificially-living workers in ways that would be inappropriate if they were as well-paid as they deserved to be.

    I fear I see no way around it but to demand full wages--or none!--because the hybrid situation leads to the worst kind of exploitation.

    Now mind you, I could be converted if the CEO of such an organization made a point of receiving exactly the same sacrifical salary as the lowest paid employee. And no extra allowances, either!
  • "My rate is <whatever it is>. If it's not within your range and you want me to do it, maybe you can find someone to donate or sponsor the portion of my fee which you cannot afford. I'm not able to/not prepared to donate to you myself."
  • Simon ToadSimon Toad Shipmate
    edited March 3
    That happens in disability work too, but my employer is getting better at not exploiting the workforce. As we speak, the people who cop it in our sector are at the bottom few rungs of the management ladder. We workers are now getting paid well because it was primarily female work, and we benefitted from the wage equalization efforts over the last decade. We also have a good union focused on our sector. Experienced workers get paid about the same as a person who manages the house I work at, responsible for 5 people with disabilities and their families, and basically on call 24/7. They take all the responsibility for the voluminous compliance paperwork. and have to suffer through endless meetings.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    "My rate is <whatever it is>. If it's not within your range and you want me to do it, maybe you can find someone to donate or sponsor the portion of my fee which you cannot afford. I'm not able to/not prepared to donate to you myself."

    Realistically though differential pricing is very much a fact of life everywhere - airlines being the obvious example. More relevantly, it's not uncommon for professionals to have different lines of work at different rates - there's the high-paying work that funds the mortgage and the pension plan, and then work they find interesting or care about for some reason that brings in some money but not nearly enough to make an entire practice out of it.

    LC mentions the employer-employee relationship which is a different calculus. But I think the point in both scenarios is to recognize that you are giving something you don't have to (assuming you have other options) and that you have the ability to say no if it's not making sense or they're simply asking too much.

  • Sure. But I must decide if I'm going to give my time and skills away. No one else.

    Many who ask for reduced rates can actually afford to pay. There's nothing so infuriating as someone asks and gets a reduced rate and then later learning what they'd valued more - often themselves.

    If you want a reduced rate I need you to disclose something the justifies me doing it. It's bit enough that you espouse Christianity or another special pleading.
  • It's assuming that there is another choice that is a problem. I watched a lot of my contemporaries get roped into situations where they had no feasible alternatives--going elsewhere would have meant a major reinvention of themselves, including a geographical uprooting and possibly a complete career change for both partners in a marriage. For certain nonprofit work, there simply isn't well-paid outside alternatives. It's why I'm urging my son to have several extra strings to his bow, so that he isn't at the mercy of bastards who behave in unChristian ways and justify it as ministry.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    I remember talking to a church musician about 20 years ago who said he made it a personal policy never to depend entirely on church jobs for his entire livelihood. Unfortunately experience has demonstrated the wisdom of this policy for not a few church musicians of my acquaintance since then. But as you say, that kind of thing is often easier said than done. I was thinking specifically of Eutychus’s description of his situation where it seems clear he has other options.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    edited March 3
    Marsupial wrote: »
    My first thought is to wonder what the size of the print run looks like. Back when I was (briefly) involved in academic publishing there was a flat cost from the printers for about the first 2500 copies - I’m sure that number depends on a number of factors, but if you’re not selling a lot of copies you could be charging market rates without making anything like market profits.

    This was my least uncharitable thought, too. However, I have previously translated a niche book on energy transition, by an EU politician, which was not expected to have a big print run, for over twice the rate being offered here. Perhaps somebody subsidised the process, but at least they were willing to ensure everybody in it was paid properly.

    I practice differential pricing to some extent but as mentioned I have a "pain threshold".

    One of my big annoyances with this state of affairs is hinted at by @Lamb Chopped: guileless believers can get trapped into low-income jobs for Christian ministries to the extent that they do not make proper pension plans, get proper qualifications, or learn proper professional skills (I've previously successfully lobbied for a local Christian camp to change its "employment" policy because of this, but it was hard work and I didn't do my "Christian" reputation any good as a result).

    I do indeed count myself lucky/blessed to be able to run a successful business and have half my time left over to do Christian stuff for free, all the more so in that it means I will have some sort of a pension eventually. What I find ironic is that it took leaving the full-time ministry scene to discover that this was possible, and realise how many people were being ripped off.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    The worker is worth his hire?
    That is indeed what I wrote in my refusal... (in Christian lurve of course).
  • I've been asked several times to do X--typesetting, proofreading, translation work--by fellow Christians who blithely propose a course of ten to forty hours' work--and look entirely blank when I ask about pay rates. In a couple of instances I've gone on to do the work (when it was very very clear that it needed doing and that there was no possibility of pay), but only after giving them a salutary shock. If you're going to be a beggar, beg. Don't expect.
  • One of the cardinal rules of free work is to check whether the person asking you to do free work is getting paid themselves. If there's enough money for them to be paid, there's enough money for you to be paid.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Make a good shoe and sell it for a fair price?

    Ah, yes. The business of saving soles...
  • Sounds more like fishery conservation.
  • My church doesn't pay its employees enough, and I don't think we're unusual in that. And this is entirely with the connivance of the employees, who keep doing things like volunteering extra work for free, or saying "I'll work for free if necessary".
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    My church doesn't pay its employees enough, and I don't think we're unusual in that. And this is entirely with the connivance of the employees, who keep doing things like volunteering extra work for free, or saying "I'll work for free if necessary".

    Which speaks of the kinds of attitudes Eutychus talks about in the initial part of his reply above, and reflects the generally very bad understanding of economics in church circles.
  • tclunetclune Shipmate
    Sounds more like fishery conservation.

    "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men."
  • goperryrevsgoperryrevs Shipmate
    We give discounts to charities or social organisations if we think what they do is valuable and worthwhile, and believe that they're a force to good. But that's our choice and discretion. It's the ones that specifically are looking for big old reductions in cost that you have to look out for - because they're usually the ones that want super-speed and quality as well (and as they say, you can get two out of the three, but not all three of value, speed and quality).

    These fall into the same category as "Let's do this one cheaply as a pilot, and if it succeeds then there'll be lots more follow-on work for you later". I've never ever known those to work. You do the first one cheap and the follow-on never comes. The only pilots I've seen work are where you do the first one full price, and then do the follow-on projects cheaper because you can reduce costs due to economies of scale.
  • Yes.

    There's also the problem that a lot of people value your work according to how much they have to pay for it. I have had cases in my own family where people have preferred going to some unknown, unqualified asshole who charges them 400 dollars to do their immigration papers--wrongly--in preference to having us do it right for free. (How do I know? Because after he fucked it up, they came to us to fix it. How many times has this happened? *knocks head against wall*)

    I really appreciate being treated like a valuable person (current job) rather than an annoying slave (last major job).
  • The5thMaryThe5thMary Shipmate
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    One of the cardinal rules of free work is to check whether the person asking you to do free work is getting paid themselves. If there's enough money for them to be paid, there's enough money for you to be paid.

    Very good point!
  • ExclamationMarkExclamationMark Shipmate
    edited March 4
    When the expectation is that you will do it for free (above and beyond natural support hours for the church) then that's the time to worry. There's also the expectation that if you are a paid church worker then they have you body and soul 24/7 .... a little painful when the net earnings now is the same as that in 1986! Living costs have gone up ... but different area of work and no comparison.

    Like everyone who has one, when I had my own business, I had to live. Some projects paid massively (occasionally money for old rope in the mayhem that was deregulation in the financial services sector in the mid 1990's) which allowed me to do some pro bono work and reduced fee work.

    Mind you just because I could, didn't mean I would. When I did it was usually for smaller, less fashionable matters who had usually offered to pay the going rate but which I was able to bless a good work by not charging.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    I must attract these people. Long and pushy phonecall today from somebody wanting me to join some digital evangelism campaign. She described herself as an "employee" of the organisation, referred to her "line manager", etc., but turned out to be self-employed. The Uberisation of Christian Ministry™ has clearly arrived. How the "employers" can believe it to be ethical escapes me. (It wasn't clear, but it sounded as if her "line manager" was paid solely on the basis of whether he achieved unspecified "targets", which is illegal here).
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    The Uberisation of Christian Ministry™ has clearly arrived. How the "employers" can believe it to be ethical escapes me.

    Because there isn't clear teaching against it and at this point by default most churches accept whatever 'market innovation' gets foisted on them.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    The worker is worth his hire?

    Snap.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    Because there isn't clear teaching against it
    This is where I despair. It reminds me of a former director of the EA explaining that they couldn't sanction all christian leaders caught in adultery because then there would be hardly any christian leaders left. And of a line from Adrian Plass about colluding in corporate acts of dishonesty. Talk about the shepherds muddying the waters so the sheep can't drink.

  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    edited March 4
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Because there isn't clear teaching against it
    This is where I despair. It reminds me of a former director of the EA explaining that they couldn't sanction all christian leaders caught in adultery because then there would be hardly any christian leaders left. And of a line from Adrian Plass about colluding in corporate acts of dishonesty. Talk about the shepherds muddying the waters so the sheep can't drink.

    Don't misunderstand me; I think uberisation in general (and a whole bunch of things linked to surveillance capitalism) is immoral, it's just that churches aren't in the mode of speaking out on subjects like that.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    Because there isn't clear teaching against it
    This is where I despair. It reminds me of a former director of the EA explaining that they couldn't sanction all christian leaders caught in adultery because then there would be hardly any christian leaders left.

    That's... pretty troubling. There seems to be a world parallel to my own where adulterous temptation lies around every corner and is frequently indulged in. Then again my extended family is pretty much a bastion of heteronormative monogamy.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Because there isn't clear teaching against it
    This is where I despair. It reminds me of a former director of the EA explaining that they couldn't sanction all christian leaders caught in adultery because then there would be hardly any christian leaders left.

    That's... pretty troubling. There seems to be a world parallel to my own where adulterous temptation lies around every corner and is frequently indulged in. Then again my extended family is pretty much a bastion of heteronormative monogamy.

    Indeed. Chance would be a fine thing. Even just so I could refuse the offer.
  • Yeah, I don't understand that one. Temptation must be a localized thing--I'm not seeing adultery-on-parade in my circles, either. (Plenty of gossip and backbiting, though)
  • RuthRuth Shipmate
    My church doesn't pay its employees enough, and I don't think we're unusual in that. And this is entirely with the connivance of the employees, who keep doing things like volunteering extra work for free, or saying "I'll work for free if necessary".

    Not to say that this is not the case at your church, but anywhere this appears to be happening, I would look at whether they are truly volunteering or if there is an element of coercion.

    I have had to draw clear lines for my supervisor -- the senior minister -- more than once. I am an hourly worker. If I'm going to field calls from church members (a number of whom now have my cell number since I've been working at home for nearly a year) outside of regular hours, the church needs to pay me overtime.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    One of the problems with global publishing being in freefall is that traditional roles and practices have changed so much in recent years. Many smaller publishers (including Christian publishers) now expect authors (especially those with a history of self-publishing) to market their own books, create selling platforms and a readership on social media and to arrange their own publicity by appearances at at book festivals and talk shows. Many authors are now asked to help pay costs towards publishing their first book, a variation on the old theme of vanity publishing. Struggling authors or journalists may also be asked to ghost-write copy for Christian motivational speakers who can't put a sentence together and this is another no-no in terms of exploitation.

    Commissioning or text editors are expected to double as fact-checkers, proofreaders, help write marketing copy and organise cover blurbs. Editors sometimes act as typesetters if they know how to use graphic design software like InDesign for digital and print media. Almost no publisher (in South Africa) now pays for detailed manuscript assessment or development which is often crucial to the success or completion of a manuscript. The costs for paper, printing and binding have gone up and the publisher working with a skeleton staff often struggles to cope with distribution, shipping, selling, storage of a backlist, discounts, returns, reprints etc. Although there is more flexibility (in my limited experience) when it comes to working from home or freelancing for different clients, the fight to get market-related payment is just as hard.

    And one way for inexperienced would-be editors or book designers or illustrators to break into publishing is to offer to 'intern' for six months with no remuneration, as is done on lifestyle publications. Sometimes the new intern becomes indispensable and the gamble pays off. Most of the time it is just another unethical and exploitative practice. The more so since the corporate publishing industry is now mostly staffed by under-paid women although in most places men remain dominant in senior management.
  • Being asked to do work for non-tangibles is exploitation - whether those non-tangibles are "exposure" or "the ministry" or "experience".

    If someone is worthy of doing the work for you, in their professional capacity (in any part), then they are worthy or appropriate remuneration.

    I am reminded of the Quaker business models - which always inspire me. They involved paying fair wages, building towns for their workers, providing social security for the families.

    Also, they had a reputation for being honest and sincere. So would have had no truck with this sort of attitude.

    And - I think - the business owners tended to earn money in line with their position, not draining money from the business.
  • jay_emmjay_emm Shipmate
    The5thMary wrote: »
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    One of the cardinal rules of free work is to check whether the person asking you to do free work is getting paid themselves. If there's enough money for them to be paid, there's enough money for you to be paid.

    Very good point!

    Definitely a good start.

    If they get paid.more than.you that's a definite red flag (not sure if that's fitting or ironic).

    As a strict rule the simple rule messes with some things more than I think it ought (demanding payment to read the lectionary at your normal service, is a bit extreme), but so does coercion the other way (and obv professionals* need stricter boundaries and get approached for things I wouldn't).

    *Who can feasibily do professional work without company authorisation
  • Jane RJane R Shipmate
    Several years ago, I did some work for the Society of Friends (aka Quakers). They asked for a quote based on my hourly rate and estimate of how long the job would take. I gave it to them, they signed the contract. Then I discovered the job was far less complicated than I expected, so I actually charged them about half what we'd agreed. They were of course delighted, and I got my usual hourly rate. But they were willing to pay my original estimate.

    I have occasionally offered my services free of charge, but I always charge the going rate in commercial transactions.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    Jane R wrote: »
    I have occasionally offered my services free of charge, but I always charge the going rate in commercial transactions.

    That's basically what I do, and it makes the ethical position a lot clearer to my mind. But it requires one to be in a position in which one can afford to do that, which not everybody is.

    (Update: the person who made the translation offer was nice enough to get back to me after my controlled diatribe. Since they are by trade a lecturer in practical theology, I suggested that this thread topic would make a good syllabus item for them :naughty: And after much tracking down, a director of the cold-calling charitable organisation has had an earful from me about duty of care. We shall see).
  • jay_emm wrote: »
    Definitely a good start.

    If they get paid.more than.you that's a definite red flag (not sure if that's fitting or ironic).

    As a strict rule the simple rule messes with some things more than I think it ought (demanding payment to read the lectionary at your normal service, is a bit extreme), but so does coercion the other way (and obv professionals* need stricter boundaries and get approached for things I wouldn't).

    *Who can feasibily do professional work without company authorisation

    It's not uncommon to have a paid employee coordinating teams of volunteers. That's not usually exploitative, because there's usually a delineation between the tasks and expectations of the volunteers and the paid employee, and the volunteers are just volunteers - if the volunteers are also employees, there's more scope for exploitation.

    I do several things on a voluntary basis that are quite close to my paid job, and use all the same skills, but there's a clear separation between the things I'm paid to do and the things I do for free (although when I have competing deadlines for both, it doesn't always feel like it!)

    But I'm certainly in a clearer position than, for example, many teachers (who find themselves spending their own money on school supplies etc., working extra hours for free / putting in extra effort to help address the needs of individual pupils, and so on.)

    I think all of these potentially exploitative situations have something in common - the thing that should maybe be paid work is also a thing that the employee wants to do. Teachers want their pupils to succeed, and tend to be invested in their pupils. So they want to go the extra mile for them. Our parishioners want our church to flourish, and they want stuff to get done.

    So they're not quite the same as the blatant exploitation / abuse of power type situations, where employees are pressured to do extra work for free / perform extra services for their boss / etc. under the threat of being sacked.

    When people want to do the things they are employed to do, they often play an active part in their own exploitation...
  • Gramps49Gramps49 Shipmate
    Going back to the original post: While the excuse for the low pay is that the book is a Christian book, ISTM that Christian book sales are pretty hot, beating adult fiction in sales. I am not going to buy that excuse.

    I also think if the publisher wants a quality translation, they need to be willing to pay quality wages for a quality translator. (Redundancy intended).

    This reminds me of a meme I saw this morning.

    Having coffee with Jesus

    Contractor: I have been thinking of adding a fish symbol to my webpage.
    Jesus: I think not.
    Contractor: Why not?
    Jesus: Let the quality of your work, the fairness of your prices, and the satisfaction of your customers show who you are.
  • Christian book sales hot? I'm pretty sure that's not the case this side of the Pond. I don't imagine it would be the case in the USA and Canada either other than for books by big name speakers and so on.
  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    The book was not Frank Peretti material. The planned print run was 1000 copies. I've said what I think about that and suggested a course of action to them (see above).

    The charity have got back to me too. I think I've got their attention.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    The book was not Frank Peretti material.

    And that is not a high bar.

  • EutychusEutychus Shipmate
    In terms of sales it is.
  • RuthRuth Shipmate
    I think all of these potentially exploitative situations have something in common - the thing that should maybe be paid work is also a thing that the employee wants to do. Teachers want their pupils to succeed, and tend to be invested in their pupils. So they want to go the extra mile for them. Our parishioners want our church to flourish, and they want stuff to get done.

    So they're not quite the same as the blatant exploitation / abuse of power type situations, where employees are pressured to do extra work for free / perform extra services for their boss / etc. under the threat of being sacked.

    When people want to do the things they are employed to do, they often play an active part in their own exploitation...

    I have zero desire to go the extra unpaid mile at my job. Where I work it's mainly thoughtlessness that's the problem -- it doesn't occur to church members that I'm not getting paid in the evening and on weekends. When my boss has called me outside of working hours, it's been because she's stuck somehow and doesn't know what else to do.

    As for the idea that people who like their work may play an active part in their own exploitation -- ugh. People who are underpaid and/or under-resourced at their jobs and go the extra mile because they care are still being exploited; that they are not adequately paid and/or resourced is someone's choice. It might not seem blatant to you, but it does to me. The very fact that they care is being exploited.
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