I don't just write this column, you know. From time to time, computer companies hire me too. And before you ask, this is not a pitch for business. As a semi-skilled manual labourer, already working all the hours God and my family grant me, I don't need any more work. Just more money.
In the past three years, I have filed editorial copy with half a dozen distributors, and supplied marcoms pieces for nine or 10 computer vendors.
The arrangement works well. They have magazines to fill, I have mouths to feed (five including my own).
Manufacturers can be difficult clients. But they pay well. And - as the commission is typically arranged through a PR firm which likes to keep us hacks sweet - they pay promptly.
Distributors are much easier to deal with - except when it comes to paying.
The best-paying distributor takes 15 days longer to pay me than PC Dealer.
The worst takes three, sometimes four months to settle. You know the score. Some companies don't pay until you chase them. Other companies pay only on receipt of a statement.
As a sole trader, I am geared to earning, not clerking, which is why I employ an office manager part-time to do the chasing for me. She is far more successful in extracting money from publishing houses than a computer distributor. When a publishing company raises a cheque, I know the money will be banked within three working days. When a computer distributor says it has raised a cheque, I don't know the cheque has been raised.
The much trumpeted disciplines of ISO9002 rarely percolates through to distributor bought ledger departments. I have - for my sins - actually worked in bought ledger (it was Shell UK, and I was desperate). So I know these people are either incompetent, working on crap systems, or telling porkies.
At first I suspected the latter, now I have the facts to prove it, courtesy of research conducted by Computer Market Intelligence Centre, a specialist unit of credit management company Dun & Bradstreet. At last month's launch of D&B ComputaNet, CMIC analyst Brian Burke ran the financial slide rule over the UK trade-only distributor sector. The results do not make pretty reading.
In 1996, for example, the sector collectively lost #3.90 on every #100-worth of products shipped.
There are plenty more horror stats where that came from, but I will concentrate on one area - debt collection. Between 1994 and 1996, distributors in the worst quartile were paid on average in 70 days.
Over the same period, top quartile distributors saw their performance slide from 39.9 days in 1994 to 44.4 days in 1996. Maybe distributors loosened the purse strings to go for growth, or resellers got more reluctant to settle their bills. Either way, something's got to give.
Distributors, as Burke, points out, are the biggest source of credit for the channel, which is why I don't blame them for taking so long to pay me. I blame you.
Drew Cullen is a freelance IT journalist.
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