Public response to an opinion piece

As a rule, Rusty Quill tries to avoid directly addressing unfounded social media accusations, preferring to provide formal updates like any other business. In this instance however, we are being forced to defend ourselves from what appears to be a case of carefully timed, deliberate defamation from people seeking to exploit recent hardships for our staff possibly to sabotage our fundraising and reputation.

There are far too many false allegations within this blog to address them all at this time, so we will do our best and provide what information we can until we have finished consultation with our legal partners regarding this situation.

Firstly, whilst it is true that there have been some redundancies this year at Rusty Quill, the company has no history of “financial failings” nor “worker exploitation” as is alluded to in the hearsay of this article. In fact, our most recent formal Employee Satisfaction Survey, which was conducted by an independent third party, found our scores to be “exceptional” and these were shared internally. Furthermore, we have already internally released a 2023 Operations Update which included factual information on related topics including recent redundancies and our plans for the future. This update is due for public release in the new year and multiple staff have already volunteered to provide testimonials in Rusty Quill’s defence.

We were approached by Newt Schottelkotte to assist in “a comprehensive guide to fiction podcast networks” in November, and they did not disclaim their position as the Marketing Director of a competitor network called Fable and Folly. They later reached out to us asking if we cared to provide comment on “recent changes our network has gone through” for this article. They again provided no information as to the actual content of their writing, instead referencing their “guide”. We were not provided a copy of this article prior to publication, nor were we informed of any allegations, meaning we did not respond due to the lack of common journalistic practice. Multiple staff and contractors have contacted us warning of similarly misleading approaches.

Since publishing this article, the writers have made multiple edits, including retroactively adding acknowledgement of Newt’s position as the Marketing Director for a competitor network but neglecting to mention other relevant conflicts of interest for other contributors. Two out of the three of the contributors appear to be involved in fundraising projects running at the point of publication, and the article actively encourages people to pull support from The Magnus Protocol in favour of other creators.

The article claims that anyone who chooses not to engage in social media discourse regarding this blog tacitly approves and fears retaliation. Since publication, our network partners and employees have contacted us to inform us that they are angry they were not approached for any formal comment by the writers, who claim to be acting on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. Many have already spoken out in our defence without our request.

As far as we can tell, it seems that all the allegations relating to employment stem from a very small group of ex-employees (some of whom have not worked for the company for multiple years). In terms of network partners, the allegations seem to be made by a single former creator on the network who left some time ago and another who is not, nor ever has been, a network partner.

With regards to allegations of wasteful spending, our primary outgoings have remained production and funding for third party production. It is true that we provided a raise to employees in spring 2022 to help combat inflation pressures on staff. Our company wide flat pro-rata rate is £13.25 per hour for all staff including leadership, but this excludes creators who are paid separate rates as industry standard. It is true that freelance editors would expect a higher rate, but this pay is competitive in the UK for people holding permanent positions that also offer additional support such as paid holiday, pension contributions and other benefits (including mental health care provisions and staff-training), as is the case for us.

It is also worth noting that we pay a minimum amount to performers regardless of how much they record in a session, as that is a standard industry practice endorsed by performer unions and required by agents.

The only employees who have ever not been paid for work in our history are leadership members who, unprompted, kindly volunteered to postpone a month’s wages in order to further delay redundancies for other staff. These wages are to be paid this month now that the redundancy procedure is completed, regardless of the result of the Kickstarter. There have been no cases where Rusty Quill has “forgotten to pay invoices”, though it is true that due to unforeseeable delays and project overrun, certain productions needed to be slowed to avoid overspend.

Since we began business operations in 2015, there have been a couple of instances where Rusty Quill has been unable to fulfil an advertisement due to reasonable business complications. In every instance the advertiser was offered (and accepted) a replacement or refund of equivalent or better monetary value.

We use a basic Microsoft Teams package for coordination, which is a standard professional package, and monitor shifts and timekeeping using a basic Sling package. Both of these are considered the most cost-effective options at our scale given their functionality.

The description of our Network monetisation model and services is extremely inaccurate. Our distribution partner Acast does take a cut of profit in exchange for required services, but it is significantly less than the amounts claimed though we cannot give exact figures as that would breach our confidentiality agreements with Acast. This is clearly codified in our legal documentation. Additionally, the mention of Fable and Folly’s competing product neglects to mention that Rusty Quill offers a large suite of optional additional services with no additional charge. This includes investment in production, direct sales made by our in-house marketing team who hold advertising agreements with multiple parties, legal and documentation support, marketing consultation, representation in negotiation, strategic consultation, distribution, re-distribution (i.e. Youtube, broadcast radio etc.) and merchandising.

We also offer technical assistance on the understanding that we can only instruct third party platforms such as Apple and Spotify but cannot be held responsible for them. We also offer our shows a minimum of 1 million audio advertisements promoting their show within the first six months of signature for no charge. It is worth noting at this point that to our understanding, the duplicated Spotify feed alluded to in the article was believed to pre-date anyone joining the RQ Network, and the claims of lost listenership seem to be conflated with a transition from a non-IAB certified host to Acast’s IAB 2.1 certification. This transition would result in large numbers of historic false downloads being discounted from metrics as unreliable.

Additionally, all shows on our network have direct access to Acast for various points of contact, though Acast would not discuss elements of broad network-wide strategy with individual clients in accordance with their legal agreements with us.

The claim that a show would require 125,000 downloads on the network in order to make $1000 is completely false. Furthermore, any investment in external shows is entirely optional and not a requirement for joining the network. We would however, like it to be known that the majority of shows on our network have already far surpassed this download figure. Rusty Quill only normally considers adding a creator to our network if we believe their shows have the potential to make at least 20,000 downloads per month. Rusty Quill, along with many other networks, does not offer minimum guarantees and would never offer a guarantee in excess of the predicted profit a show could make over the full term of an agreement as this would be fiscally irresponsible. Whilst we have explored the option on request, we have not offered a minimum guarantee to date.

It is true that we offer the option for some shows to join the network and receive these services without needing to publicly declare an association. This is normally offered as a courtesy if a creator wishes to keep their branding completely independent from Rusty Quill, or wish to trial the network for a period before deciding on publicly associating with us. In such instances both parties are required to not publicly declare an association.

In terms of allegations relating to our legal practices, it is first worth noting that any displayed excerpts from these confidential legal documents and private correspondence are heavily cherry-picked and do not even include the entire wording of the clauses they pertain to. We do require prospective network partners to sign a basic mutual NDA prior to reviewing our confidential documentation. This is a standard procedure in all industries that hold confidential information, and our contract explicitly states that it may be shared with legal representatives and formal advisers.

At the creation of the RQ Network we provided any associated documentation such as our Code of Conduct and Ethics to prospective network partners on request. We have since modified these procedures to provide them regardless prior to signature. It is possible there may have been a delay in a single network partner receiving these documents, for which we apologise, but at no point was anyone forced to sign a contract without reviewing all documentation.

We do not forbid network shows from promo swaps, crossovers with other podcasts, or live shows as the article claims, though we do request consultation regarding such so that we can ensure no accidental competition and similar concerns. It is also worth noting that all the guest writers listed on The Magnus Protocol have a previous positive working relationship with Rusty Quill, which is why they have agreed to participate.

Our clauses regarding archiving materials are industry standard. They are required so that in the event of legal proceedings we have a documented copy of everything that has been associated with our network. All our contracts contain explicit mention that our use of third-party materials is only allowed with explicit permission of the creators unless requested by lawful authorities. Limiting liability to fees paid during the term is also a standard procedure in most industries.

We were once accused of breach by a former network member, but this was proven false. In fact, this former member appeared to be in a minor breach themselves. We took no legal action against them and asked them only to complete the three months of their term with us. According to our legals, in the event of a proven breach a network client is given 30 days to work with us to remedy the situation and can even be released from contract in cases of force majeure where external circumstances beyond anyone’s control make it impossible to complete their obligations. If they believe the accused breach is unfair they are also entitled to challenge the accusation. The only time we would consider pursuing a show for damages would be in cases of serious breach such as theft, conviction of serious crimes, bribery or similar. This is all detailed in our legals and are all standard industry terms that have been reviewed and accepted by multiple independent lawyers including those who represent network shows.

In terms of allegations regarding our production processes, it is true that we have slowed production in order to mitigate overwork of our production team. This is public information. As we have third-party advertising obligations, suddenly swapping to bi-weekly releases without warning is not an option. So, as mentioned in the article, when a producer needed assistance we hired in additional staff to alleviate their workload. Once that was found insufficient, made timeline alterations instead.

It is true that we do not retain contact details for some former performers. This is because they have not provided written confirmation of their consent for us to retain such information after their work with us, so under GDPR guidelines we must remove their contact information from our databases.

It is also true that many performers do not have home recording setups. That is why we provide a complete professional-grade recording setup to any performer if needed at our own expense, including shipping. We also pay performers for the setup time and any time required for maintenance which is beyond industry standard. It is also worth noting that we have continued with remote recording after the pandemic in order to better enable those with accessibility issues and international performers to take part in our shows, rather than require them to visit specific studio locations.

It is standard procedure for producers to factor in pickups for recordings and for producers to be provided with our Standard Operating Procedures so they can help with equipment setup if needed. Having heard that these procedures may not have been observed, we have begun a complete check of our production processes to ensure no such issues occur with future productions.

In terms of allegations made regarding our historic discord server, these have all been addressed in previous company messaging. Our decision regarding this server’s future is included in our 2023 Operations Update scheduled for release next year.

In terms of our transcripts, these are historic allegations that are now factually untrue. All our official, original transcripts have been generated by paid professionals. We also offer to assist network shows seeking to improve their transcription processes for the purposes of improved accessibility.

Regarding the recent restructure, contrary to claims in the article, our redundancy process is complete and no further adjustments are expected for the foreseeable future. It is true that the former staff member explicitly mentioned in the blog chose voluntary redundancy over alterations to her contract as part of our recent restructure. At the time she posted to social media regarding job cuts she was still under contract, and had been informed that she needed to maintain confidentiality for at least 48 hours to afford her colleagues the same courtesy of an official consultation in accordance with UK HR best practice. When this confidentiality was breached, an HR representative contacted her requesting she take down the social media post until this required confidentiality period was passed.

Immediately following the consultation process we actively encouraged former employees to look for further work and offered assistance in finding such. We have stated we would preferentially seek to rehire former staff if new positions become available but there were no conditions given for this. It is true that our website was out of date following these consultations as we have been required to hold making alterations until our redundancy process was complete in accordance with UK HR best practice. It is since updated. Producers were informed that they should not contact show staff as a company representative once they had been served their notice as this is considered HR best practice and ensures GDPR requirements are met.

In summation, it is possible that this article was written in good faith by someone seeking to ensure our company is maintaining fair business practices. If so, that intent is laudable. However, the tone of the post and the questionable manner with which this has been conducted indicates otherwise. We are aware that Fable and Folly claim the actions of their Marketing Director were made without their knowledge, but we are not aware of any attempts to retract or modify it.

We at Rusty Quill are committed to working for the betterment of everyone we associate with and have worked tirelessly towards this goal. We have donated more than one hundred thousand pounds to charitable causes, pushed for increased diversity in front and behind the microphone, and constantly work to support and upskill new people joining our industry. We do not claim to be perfect at all, and there are always improvements to be made. We are incredibly saddened by the necessity of our recent redundancies, and we did everything in our power to avoid them.

We cannot however, accept this level of unprofessional misinformation made at the expense of our colleagues and clients, regardless of whether it was well-intentioned or not. Such actions are wildly irresponsible and damaging, not just to Rusty Quill but our whole industry, as it discredits legitimate journalism in the space.

We only hope that this has not worsened the upset for people already in a hard situation and wish well for all our colleagues and clients, both former and current.

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