Price fixing guidelines? April 3, 2007 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Are there price fixing guidelines for AskMefi? After this question came up, I realized I am not very certain of price fixing laws. Is it okay to tell someone that there's a typical entry-level rate for freelancing or that a certain range is typical? If they come up with a fee, can we say yea or nay? I'm in Canada, so I assume rules may be different in the US. But perhaps we can establish some sort of guideline.
posted by acoutu to Etiquette/Policy at 4:29 PM (42 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

There is no cabal.
posted by timeistight at 4:46 PM on April 3, 2007


How do you see price-fixing being an issue? Like, a practical example.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:56 PM on April 3, 2007


I'm not sure what the issue is here, but that is perhaps due to my own ignorance. Can you give an outline of what you mean by price-fixing? Or point to somewhere that can clue me in?
posted by wemayfreeze at 4:56 PM on April 3, 2007


There is also no cartel.
posted by timeistight at 5:01 PM on April 3, 2007


This seems like a silly question but I think it's legitimate. IANAL, but I imagine that a determination would hinge on how narrowly the question was targeted in terms of other producers. This would possibly include an evaluation of the AskMe community. If so, then the asker could be seen as merely taking a market survey. If not, and if the answerers are all other producers, then it looks like collusion (and direct communication between producers). But anything that would come up in an AskMe seems like small potatoes to me. A prosecutor would have to be really bored.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:01 PM on April 3, 2007


This Wikipedia article on price fixing freaks me out, especially with these points:

* In the United States, price-fixing also includes agreements to hold prices the same, discount prices (even if based on financial need or income), set credit terms, agree on a price schedule or scale, adopt a common formula to figure prices, banning price advertising, or agreeing to adhere to prices that one announces.

* Under American law, exchanging prices among competitors can also violate the antitrust laws. This includes exchanging prices with either the intent to fix prices or if the exchange affects the prices individual competitors set.

* Under U.S. law, price fixing is only illegal if it is intentional and comes about via communication or agreement between firms or individuals.

Does that help?
posted by acoutu at 5:02 PM on April 3, 2007


I refuse to comment from now on for less than five cents a word. Who's with me?
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on April 3, 2007


It doesn't help much. I mean a practical example of where (1) price-fixing would be an issue in an AskMe thread and (2) there could be any reasonable, enforceable guideline to apply.

I can't imagine that barring any discussion of rates for services among service providers is ever going to happen; nor does it seem reasonable that anything asked on the green could hope to target a significant enough market for anyone to care, but maybe I'm missing something.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:07 PM on April 3, 2007


The only way I can see this becoming an issue is if, somehow, a significant percentage of people in a certain industry in a certain locale end up on AskMe. The only two sign painters in Harmony, CA, for instance. But those two probably know each other already, anyway.

There's almost certainly enough diversity in the answering pool that any kind of fixing would be called out, anyway.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:14 PM on April 3, 2007


There's almost certainly enough diversity in the answering pool that any kind of fixing would be called out, anyway.

Yeah, that's part of my blink response; folks on AskMe are willing (sometimes even too willing) to disagree vocally with either anecdotal or authoritative statements to such a degree that I'm not clear how this would have a chance to happen.

Isn't the whole point of price-fixing to do it under the radar? Why on earth would AskMe be a good channel for that?
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2007


Well, the thread I quoted above includes a case of someone recommending that the OP not charge less than $30 an hour. Then the OP asks if $55 an hour with a $150 deposit is reasonable. And it would be easy to pull up other instances.

I have been searching, but I cannot find the past thread in which someone warned everyone that there was a risk of price fixing. Then they linked to some sort of web design forum which basically prohibited any discussion of rates.
posted by acoutu at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2007


But acoutu, this isn't a web-design forum, any more than it's a cat-naming forum; it seems like a very niche issue, and one made less pressing by the fact that no question will ever be exposed solely to service providers. That's why it seems like a weird request (or, to be fair, a question that when taken as an implicit request comes off weird).

Questionable behavior gets noticed and called out on a case by case basis here; there's no one kind of question, or one context, so domain-specific rules are going to be scarce-to-nonexistent.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:23 PM on April 3, 2007


I'll comment for $.03 per word.
posted by OmieWise at 5:36 PM on April 3, 2007


No, I just meant that someone provided a link to a forum that had a ton of information about price fixing. I didn't mean this was a web design forum.

There's some info on this unrelated site about why that site doesn't allow price discussions.

Here's another from the HTML Writers' Guild.

It sounds like those two organizations (which I pulled up at random with a Google search) talked to lawyers who advised them not to allow discussions. And there are other sites with similar policies.

I'm not talking about banning discussions about how to figure out one's fees. And I'm not suggesting we ban those discussions. However, perhaps there's room for some guidance on what's allowed. (Not that we're discussing missing teeth among actors, but you don't want to get hit with a suit.)
posted by acoutu at 5:38 PM on April 3, 2007


I once actually bid on a job via AskMe because people were bitching and whining about how graphic designers don't get paid enough anymore. They said "You shouldn't do it for that price because it hurts other designers!" and I needed the work so I did it for that price. Fuck 'em.

You know what hurt the design industry? Desktop publishing. Fuck you mouse-pushing primma-donna Art Institute n00bs with your ceaseless bitching and whining. I bet you've never cut yourself with an X-acto in your life, much less touched cast type or had to hand-kern anything over 5 characters of headline monospace, you whingy fucking lightweights. You ever hand-place and justify entire pages and pages of paragraphs!? You'd go blind and mad first! The terror! THE TERROR!!!

Price fixing? Fuck. "Graphic Design" as an industry has been undergoing a "price correction" since about 1985. Desktop publishing turned graphic design into unskilled labor. Most "designers" these days are just glorified pre-production techs. True designers are far and few between. Most "designers" these days deserve the low wages they command. Because these days it's really all so much automated burger-flipping.

Yeah, that thing about George Jetson being exhausted after pushing buttons all day used to be funny, huh? WHERE'S YOUR GOD NOW!? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

*click*
posted by loquacious at 5:40 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was an antitrust lawyer in a former life. Exchanging price information = price fixing when firms that are supposed to be competitors get together in ostensibly legitimate groups, like trade associations or what have you, and share pricing information with the understanding that no one will charge less than a certain amount. That kind of agreement is, indeed, illegal. But just discussing pricing without anything more is OK. That is why firms try to disguise their price-fixing as such.

This is not really adding anything new to what's already been said, but the linked AskMe question and responses are perfectly innocent.
posted by chinston at 5:45 PM on April 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Just entertaining the concept of having someone pay me per word to write, here or anywhere else, makes me tingle in my swimsuit area.

Please tell me more about this exciting idea!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:47 PM on April 3, 2007


That said, I guess groups like the HTML Writers' Guild just want to be extra, extra careful not to get in trouble. That's what comes from talking to lawyers. Stay away from 'em, is my advice.
posted by chinston at 5:48 PM on April 3, 2007


I'll pay $5 to comment, so screw everybody!

Price fixing is only an issue in case of a monopoly or oligopoly ( a few sellers) or markets that could easily result in monopoly.

The AskMe was directed to a professional service. Professional services do not lend themselves to market power because the barriers to entry are low and members of the "cartel" can cheat.

The rates for professional services are determined by the market, and by that I mean the at whatever price someone is willing to pay and someone is willing to do the work is market price. Because professionals charge different rates based on their own experience, output quality etc, the price is often settled on a case by case basis.

The real legal issue would be whether freelancers should unionize (like SAG or the ABA), and the answer probably is yes.
posted by Pastabagel at 5:49 PM on April 3, 2007


No, there are no price fixing laws that could possibly affect AskMe. Freelancers can not really engage in price fixing in the same way that, say, major media cartel types can.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:59 PM on April 3, 2007


Again, though, acoutu, that's my point: you're linking to organizations with an explicit relevance to and originating purpose grounded in a service area. It's less surprising that they'll have some motivation to consider it, because it's more likely that it'll ever be relevant.

I wasn't misunderstanding when I said this isn't a web-design forum; my whole point is that this isn't a confluence of professionals in a specific arena. AskMe is so broad in the scope of its queries that the idea that the site would get heat for price-fixing is up there with a lottery win.

An in-thread reference to the issue of price-fixing by an informed mefite, on a thread-by-thread basis should it seem to come up, seems like it'd be sufficient where an explicit guideline would be overkill and probably untenable besides.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:00 PM on April 3, 2007


Price fixing requires proof of a conspiracy. Where there is no proof of conspiracy there can be no price fixing.
posted by nixerman at 6:12 PM on April 3, 2007


"Freelancers can not really engage in price fixing in the same way that, say, major media cartel types can."

I strongly question this assertion.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2007


CablePackageFilter: How much should I charge for my "Extra Innnings" package? What is everyone else charging? Is the MLB screwing me over? [more inside]
posted by time_warner to computers & internet at 8:06 PM - 9 answers (3 new)
posted by geoff. at 6:47 PM on April 3, 2007


I strongly question this assertion.

Yeah. If they called themselves a "union," they could price-fix all day long, and it would be perfectly legal.
posted by Kwantsar at 6:48 PM on April 3, 2007


I strongly question this assertion.

You are not a lawyer, sorry EB. All good business law students know that courts rarely find documents from, take for example: all area porn shops discussing to set price floors. Most of it is circumstantial and conspiracy charges are often based merely on the intent to price fix. Especially for service based work this is incredibly hard to bring to court. Until we start seeing:

"Hey y'all. Dallas area Chinese entrepreneur. How much should I sell 1QT of rice for?" we do not have a problem.

Besides this looks to me to fall under bid-rigging as the price has yet to be agreed upon. What they're asking for is a bid and any good client is going to, at the very least, inquire in other potential agencies (or freelancers). If this was a board of freelancers for small companies in a specific market (or even a national market) I could see a case for bid rigging. I see nothing in the thread indicating conspiracy.

I took a couple business law and contract laws so I know everything there is to know about law, obviously.
posted by geoff. at 7:00 PM on April 3, 2007


classes, I took a couple of business law and contract law classes. Damn smart assness.
posted by geoff. at 7:03 PM on April 3, 2007


"Especially for service based work this is incredibly hard to bring to court."

Yes, but jessamyn's assertion was about the behavior, not whether it is practically prosecutable. She didn't limit her assertion to the context at hand. She made a blanket statement about freelancers. Well, five freelancing roofing specialists in town X that meet together to decide their pricing is price fixing.

What she asserted and what we are talking about specifically are two different things.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2007


Is it okay to tell someone that there's a typical entry-level rate for freelancing or that a certain range is typical?

This is silly, I have read many books and articles on freelancing which recommended exactly what the poster said... "don't start at less than $30 per hour". They even have pricing surveys available for freelancers where hundreds of people respond to detailed questions, so you can price your services accordingly. If publishing houses can get that past their lawyers I think that some guy saying this on AskMetafilter is probably going to be fine.
posted by crackingdes at 7:26 PM on April 3, 2007


The questions of "How much do I charge" on askme cover such a diverse geographical and business area there's no way it could be construed as price fixing. There's no monopoly (or a cabal to go with it) in this case. I think it's along the same lines as a job applicant looking for salary guidelines, and there are loads of those all over the web.

I work as a freelancer, and I know the going rate for my services in the area. Not because of any agreed rate fixes between freelancers, but you pick it up in conversations. Is that price fixing? Not really - certainly no one is stopping me from undercutting them, or doubling my rate to seem all shiny and special.
posted by Salmonberry at 7:29 PM on April 3, 2007


but jessamyn's assertion was about the behavior, not whether it is practically prosecutable.

No it wasn't, not really. My point was that asking about pricing, the way it happens on AskMe, is unlikely to get into some legal gray area because of the nature of freelancing and the nature of price-fixing laws and how they are enforced. That may have been unclear by the way I phrased it, but that was definitely my intent.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 PM on April 3, 2007


Exchanging price information = price fixing when firms that are supposed to be competitors get together in ostensibly legitimate groups, like trade associations

HTML Writers Guild is a trade association. Some random question on Ask Mefi? Not a trade association. We're fine.

We're not a professional organization for specific workers.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:09 PM on April 3, 2007


Okay, thanks for explaining. I just wanted to make sure we freelancers/consultants who take part in these discussions weren't going to get into hot water. I don't live in the US, so I don't know how these vague laws are applied.

However, FWIW:
This is silly, I have read many books and articles on freelancing which recommended exactly what the poster said... "don't start at less than $30 per hour".
The distinction is that printed books and articles are not discussions.
posted by acoutu at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2007


The fix is in motherfuckers.
posted by Falconetti at 10:45 PM on April 3, 2007


Hey languagehat, let's pool our resources, undercut OmieWise until we force him out of the game, then jack the rates up to six cents a word.
posted by flabdablet at 10:52 PM on April 3, 2007


You guys are so square. Money is for suckers. I'm still getting a hooker a paragraph and a gram a word.
posted by loquacious at 11:41 PM on April 3, 2007


Wouldn't you need enough to clout to actually affect prices in the market before you need to get worried? Whomever the HTML Writers Guild is, I'm guessing they'd have a hell of a time enforcing a price floor for HTML development, given the elasticity of the good. And the fact those twerps can't break a leg worth shit. They need two RFCs and a flowchart in Visio to even threaten someone.
posted by yerfatma at 5:40 AM on April 4, 2007


I will pay you 6 cents a word to refrain from commenting.
posted by Roger Dodger at 6:28 AM on April 4, 2007


I will comment on your thread for $.0001. How do I plan on making money, volume!

And by outsourcing my commenting to 10-year-old sweat shop typists.
posted by drezdn at 7:11 AM on April 4, 2007


Let's talk, Roger Dodger... I had been thinking of testing the new character limits on comments, though, so it won't be cheap. I'm calling it Treaty of Westphalia II, but I could be persuaded....
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:12 AM on April 4, 2007


A shop full of typists with 10 year-old sweat? Ew!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2007


I can't believe this sparked 41 comments. Does no one have cable TV?
posted by acoutu at 10:37 PM on May 2, 2007


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