November 26, 2008

Fair trade knitting teachers, part 2

I am more than a little sad to find that after writing Free range, eco-friendly, fair trade knitting teachers this February, it’s time for another followup. Annie Modesitt has just posted about the new digital pattern contract information sent out by Soho (aka Vogue Knitting, knit.1, Knit Simple etc). Her title says it all: here we go again.

I really do recommend you read Annie’s post in full, because she’s pretty much one of the only people talking about this out loud. (Behind closed doors is another thing altogether — you should hear designers at TNNA or anywhere else we congregate in large numbers).

And I’ll repeat what I said in the comments there. As you all know, I recently took the editor job at UK-based print knitmag Yarn Forward. We are planning digital pattern sales, and we will be paying designers a full 50% when we do, not 10%.

In addition, ANY time Yarn Forward asks a designer’s permission to reuse their pattern (in a collection, book, whatever), he or she gets paid again. A percentage (50%), but it’s something. And on top of that, 6 months after the pattern appears in the magazine, you can start to sell it on your own site, on Ravelry, or whatever. We’re up to 10 issues per year now (from 4), so clearly it’s working as a business model. Any adjustments in terms we may make in future, though, will always be designer-friendly. As a result, magazines such as Yarn Forward who do offer designer-friendly terms will benefit in better designs, better readership, and more. I don’t know if I could live with myself otherwise.

This isn’t 1980 anymore. There’s more than one way to get patterns, and I know many of you are concerned about fair compensation…hence my February post’s title “Free range, eco-friendly, fair trade knitting teachers,” and the comparisons made there. Teaching conditions at the bigger shows continue to deteriorate, yet it’s easier than ever to coordinate a teaching engagement with a “name” designer. You know. The ones who are shying away from those shows because — go figure — it’s hard to pay the mortgage when you aren’t getting compensated fairly.

When I found out Annie was coming to town, we put together class offerings, did a little online publicity and pow! filled her classes rather nicely…all in about 2 weeks’ time, so you can imagine what more lead time would have given us. And yes, it’s true I have access to my own venue, but even if not, there’s any number of places we could have done it for cheap or free.

I don’t know what else I can say. It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow. I am thankful I have a job I love, working with wonderful, creative people all the time. Any amount of frustration is almost immediately fixed by other good stuff happening. But forgetting that designers are the cornerstone of this business seems at best counterproductive, and at worst, a severe lack of respect for what they do. This translates, in my opinion, to a lack of respect for the end user, too. It benefits everyone to have skilled designers submitting to the magazines.

Of course, everyone needs to start somewhere, and I have nothing but respect for the people who have the ideas, but maybe not the technical know-how (that’s where editors come in). If you’re willing to learn, fantastic. But if you want to see more complex knitting and interesting pieces on a regular basis — you’re going to have to have designers with existing skills on board. You can’t hand-hold an entire magazine’s worth of designs, not on these kinds of timetables.

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  • Annie

    You said it well, clearly, and beautifully. Thank you!

    If this wacky economic downturn has taught us anything, it’s that perhaps a scrabble to the bottom isn’t the best business model after all…

    Reply to Annie
  • Daniella

    I’ve been mildly terrified to submit to some of the magazines because I have this funny feeling I’m going to get screwed. I’m tiny, new and never before been published anywhere other than my own blog and the LYS I work for. Thank God for blogs like yours and Annie’s because I would have no idea that 10% was ridiculous. I’m so eager to get published I’d probably take a pat on the back and a ‘thank you’ as compensation. (and then enter the ‘getting screwed’ bit.)

    Keep preachin’, we’re listening.

    Reply to Daniella
  • Lisa

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not a published designer (other than a couple of patterns on my blog), but I did used to write freelance articles for a lot of magazines (non-knitting), both online and print. It was always appalling to me the terms that were often offered to freelancers, the rights that the magazines wanted to assume and the skimpy pay (or, in some cases, NO pay). I knew too many writers who were willing to write for those terms just so they could get published. And yes, there is the whole “paying your dues” thing, but still, there needs to be a bottom line limit to what is fair and what is clearly taking advantage for all of us…writers, designers and anyone who chooses to make a living using their creative talents.

    Reply to Lisa
  • Tonya

    Very well written; thanks for pointing to Annie’s article.

    Reply to Tonya
  • Pingback: Fair trade knitting designers, part III in a sad series — knitgrrl (Edit)

  • Cathy

    It has been almost 8 years has there been any noticeable change in the industry? I teach at several local yarn shops. The agreement I have with them is that I set the per student fee for the class and the shop then keeps 15% to cover, as they put it, their costs for lighting, heat, rent, etc. I prefer to think their 15% covers their costs associated with organizing the class i.e. advertising, registration and correspondence with students. Recently one shop owner has stated that they are charging too small a percentage. They have been told that most shops are keeping 60-70% of the class fee (I was told this information came from one of their yarn reps). I was too dumfounded to ask for more information or how they justified that amount. I can see if you are talking about places like Harrisville Designs or The Mannings where class fees are $300-$500 dollars per student with a required 10-15 students per class. In which case the 30-40% paid to the teacher would equal $1,000-2,500, a fair wage in my opinion.
    But when you are charging $45-$65 per student and the shop just meets the 3 student minimum to teach the class, the payment received after travel, expenses and prep time works out to less than minimum wage. So what exactly is the shop owner doing to earn their 60-70%. And why on earth would they think that they as shop owner are entitled to earn more than the teacher? I believe the yarn reps justification is based on the teacher compensation issues at large venue events. Is this issue beginning to trickle down to the LYS? Or is this just an isolated problem? If the information is being shared through yarn reps, we as teachers could all be in trouble.

    Reply to Cathy

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