Wednesday, February 20, 2008

V I C T O R Y

So, remember the whole Interweave Knits thing where they wanted designers to sign an agreement assigning them electronic rights so they'd be allowed to sell (or give) our patterns at their online store for a pretty low percentage (10%?)

And remember that I wrote about it - respectfully, I hope - and said that I really love IWK because traditionally they've been one of the more designer-oriented entities out there, supporting new designers and in some cases bending over backwards to make things work well for the designers they use?

Well, after a few very good-willed emails back and forth, an impromptu meeting at TNNA and input from many other designers (I'm not alone here!) I received a new contract from IWK last week to peruse

It's so much more fair that I almost cried.

The main change is that the designers retain a sense of choice:
  • We CHOOSE whether we want our designs sold (or given away) at the IWK website
  • We CHOOSE whether IWK will be the exclusive distributor of our online patterns (aside from distribution from the designers' own site)
  • We CHOOSE whether we'll affiliate with IWK (and thus earn a higher percentage on our pattern sales.)
The shorthand is that the percentage we can earn from our patterns has gone from 10% to 20-50%, and 50% was the figure that always seemed most fair to me. I'm glowing about this - I'm so happy that IWK responded in such a positive and sensitive manner. Thank you, IWK!

So - it's one step - but it's a step in the right direction! And it gives us a precedent when other entities want to use our for-print designs online. So if you've let your IK subscription lapse, why not pick it up again now?

The Next Step
For me, that involves teaching.

As most of you probably know, I consider myself a triple threat; I design, I write and I teach. Most of my writings these days are on my blog - but that's good because it keeps my mind working and allows me to stay 'in touch' with the world while I'm working in a very lonely occupation (designing)

My designing has taken a back seat to Gerry's illness, but I'm getting more and more done - and now that IWK has a new contract I'll DEFINITELY be submitting to them this time around because I'm just SO thrilled that I'll have more control over the final disposition of my patterns.

I'm also joining with some other designers who are starting a Stitch Cooperative, a place where indie designers can offer patterns online (as pdfs) and also to yarn shops (as printed versions.)

This is something I've shied away from because the whole printing thing is just so hard for me (being selectively lazy, and all that...) So I'm hoping that will get the design juices flowing, too.

And, of course, the buzz at Ravelry is that they'll be offering an online pattern sale function, which is VERY exciting, and I'll probably be a part of that, too!

It's a wonderful thing when small businesses are able to band together to create an atmosphere of healthy exchange. I've long believed that small businesses are much better for our economy than just a few monolithic giants - it feels good to be able to put my money (and my skills) where my mouth is. I'm very lucky.

Oh, yeah, the TEACHING...
But the teaching is the place where many of us are still feeling a bit jerked around. There, I've said it...

I'm entirely aware that in this next paragraph I may be cutting my throat regarding future teaching engagements at larger venues. However, as it stands I'm facing the lingering illness of poor pay and not-great conditions, so I'd better speak up now.

When I teach at a small yarn shop, I try to bundle a few venues into one trip. This means more work for me (all that scheduling - all that hand holding to convince a new shop that yes, if all goes well they WILL make money on my visit...) but it's very satisfying because I get to see the engine that keeps our industry pumping along - the knitters & crocheters.

For this reason I don't do exclusives. I've found that when I teach at several venue in a town, the buzz from one shop carries over into another. We're facing fearful times, so it's understandable that any shop would look for as much advantage as they can get - but financially, though, I just can't do an exclusive.

My terms and fees are up online for yarn shops and venues to visit - I'm very transparent about it, and do my utmost to keep costs down for shops (I find cheap flights, inexpensive car rentals and stay at discount hotels.) But after traveling and teaching for 4 years now, there are things I will not do without:
  1. A private room in a smoke free hotel with wifi or high speed internet
    If I'm teaching 6 hours (which, let's be honest, is more like 8 hours after the pre and post class chatting and book signing) then I need, deserve, require, and cannot function well without a full nights rest in a PRIVATE room.

  2. Full airfare & travel costs
    I usually cover my meals, I don't eat much on the road, but I do ask for one meal for every 6 hours of teaching at a venue so I don't have to go out looking for lunch. If I get a rental car, I bundle that into the airfare costs and it's usually a savings because I'm able to teach at more venues and thus reduce each venue's portion of the travel expenses.

  3. Non-exclusivity - ie, the right to teach at more than one venue in an area
    Once again, this way I can earn more with each venue being responsible for their percentage of my actual teaching hours on a trip. More shops = less expense for each shop.
After applying to a certain large knitting convention (let's call it "S") several years ago (and, to be honest, after being rejected by them) I discovered a dirty little secret: folks who teach at S quite often, barely break even. Forget about paying the mortgage.

But, I figured, I can live without teaching at S. When folks would ask, "Are you at S this year?" I'd say, "Nope - can't afford it!"

Imagine my deep, deep sorrow when I see a race to the bottom among other large needlework conventions in terms of their compensation for teachers. Looking at a contract I just received in the mail, I was stunned to see that they only want to cover:
  • Half of my hotel room so I'd be required to share a room
    I'd be teaching 6-hours a day,
    I like to set my thermostat at 60
    AND I need to sleep from dinner through to breakfast
    in short - I'm a terrible roommate!

  • $350 in Travel & Meals
    Airfare alone to this venue is $470
    forget about taxis or any meals...
    there's at least $250 in uncovered travel & meal expenses...

  • Exclusivity Clause
    Preventing me from teaching the same classes within 250 miles of this convention for 2 months both before AND after the date of convention -
    that's 1/3 of the year that I couldn't teach in this LARGE town!

This is a marked change from the last time I taught at this venue (let's call them "T"), and I will admit that I didn't notice the change in the "terms of agreement" - my bad. I glanced at it, but never dreamed that T would be changing their compensation structure so dramatically.

I was stunned, though, that in a response the coordinator of the event referenced the fact that only pays $100 in travel expenses, concluding that T was actually being generous. Actually, they said they were being "very generous..."

I don't agree - generous would be paying for all travel expenses (within reason - but AIRFARE, c'mon!) and paying for a private room (or offering a stipend so the teacher can find a cheaper private room elsewhere if that's important to them - as it is to me - I'm happy at a Motel 6, but I need to be alone...)

When I sat down and did the math, I became even more irritated. I'm scheduled to teach 4 classes with a class limit of 28. That's fine - I regularly teach over 30 students per class at larger venues. In 2006, T charged each student $70 per 3-hour class, I'm not sure if that's going up this year.

My classes habitually sell out. Recently in Pittsburgh (which was a LOVELY place to teach, and I was treated beautifully by the Knit & Crochet Show there!) I had one low attendance class, but I chalk that up to the time (Sunday morning at 9:00) and the topic (embellishments - not my most popular class) but I averaged 18 students per class. It's much more common for me to sell out than not.

So, let's say I have 26 folks in each class, at $70/head, that would be a gross profit of $7,280 for venue T.

The amount of compensation they're offering equals $1,565 (21.5% of the gross)
The amount of compensation I'm seeking is $1,930 (26.5% of the gross)

It breaks down to an additional $350 to offset airfare, taxis & to help cover an upgrade to a single room (at a different, cheaper hotel) If they paid me what I want them to, they would STILL earn $5,350 on my classes (as opposed to $5,715.)

I understand that they have operating expenses, but 73.5% seems MORE than fair compensation for venue T.

In a follow up email they did offer to pay me an additional $10 per hour = $120 more for the weekend. It's a step in the right direction, but it's too little (and EVERY teacher should be treated with respect - not just those who make a noise, or have a certain visibility...)

I hate that it's just EXPECTED and ACCEPTED that teachers are treated so disrespectfully. I, for one, can't accept it.

So I'm doing this mostly for me - but also for the teachers who feel they have no room to dissent, to complain or to withdraw an application to teach if the terms are so unfavorable.

I'm in a unique situation that - for the present - I can fill just about any weekend I want by teaching at smaller yarn shops around the country. We all make money, but neither of us walks away with 73% of the gross receipts.

I'll be writing back to venue T and bowing out. I don't expect to be teaching at T again, which makes me sad because I like teaching for T (heck, I'm a dues paying MEMBER of this group!)

But I cannot put myself in a position where I'm LOSING money to teach somewhere. I know that there's an argument to be made that it's worth it for the visibility, but that still does not make treating teachers unfairly easier to swallow.

For those of you who like to visit the large needlework conventions and take classes, stop and ask yourself "Are they treating their teachers fairly?"

Political Rant
I don't shop at WalMart because I disagree with their policies toward their employees and their use of cheap, imported labor. I feel I have to make this stand in my own industry - I cannot be a party to my own hanging!

If a small yarn shop in middle America can afford to bring me out, pay my airfare and a hotel room and MAKE MONEY, then there is something dramatically wrong with the business model of the larger venue. It's a false economy to make money by shorting the folks who are bringing in the customers.

Evidently There Was A Bar Fight, Too...
There must have been, because I feel like my stomach's been kicked repeatedly by a pair of biker boots. Perhaps the boots from my post 3 days ago about the MOA Knit Out?

At any rate, I'm definitely on the mend. Thanks so much for your good wishes - being sick is NO fun.
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posted by Annie at

34 Comments:

Blogger Chrispy said...

So glad to hear about the changes to the Interweave contract. That is a big blessing.

Good information about teaching. I have not gotten that far in my thoughts but it is helpful to understand these elements.

February 20, 2008 2:27 PM  
Blogger OfTroy said...

Thank you for being a leader in this.

There is absolutely no reason for this treating teachers like fungible bodies that can just be plugged into to a schedule.

Fair and reasonable comp should be a perq, it should be the standard.

You can be sure the organizers are getting 100% of their air fare paid, and 100% of their rooms..

Teaching a 6 hour class requires 6 hours behind the scene to plan the class, write, edit, and print up hand outs, make up 'samples"
(one completed, one at point X, one at point Y, one at point Z (and these take time and yarn!)

and yes, part of a class it being there before, (and signing books) and being there after, (and signing more books) and being "ON" --its hard work.

I know it, you know it, and anyone who has ever taught a class or performed in public knows it.

Good luck getting organizers to recognize it!

February 20, 2008 2:54 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Hear! Hear!

I second everything you say! I say its time for a bill of rights, don't you think?

February 20, 2008 3:11 PM  
Blogger Gill said...

Annie, I second everything you say. If I'm teaching/working in a similar situation, I too insist on a private room overnight and refuse to share. My view is that the most tiring part of manning a booth at a show or teaching a class all day is being NICE to everyone the whole time, being smiley and good humoured regardless of how they might behave towards me. (Most are perfectly lovely but sadly, not all!) After 12 - 15 hours of that, I need to close the door and be alone. I am no use to anyone!

One large craft store chain over here in the UK pays their tutors very badly indeed and yet people still offer their services to them. Why?

February 20, 2008 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...there's an argument to be made that it's worth it for the visibility...."

Well, maybe. This IS the internet age; people no longer HAVE to visit a bookstore, a clothing store, a yarn shop OR go to a knit convention.

The "organizers" might well recognize this.

February 20, 2008 6:03 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

That's very sad that you won't be at "T" this year, as I wasn't able to get into your class last year.

But I have to applaud you for standing up, or in this case, bowing out.

February 20, 2008 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Annie,
I am so glad you are better. I just hate that disease and with 5 kids, have had many bouts.
What would happen if a group of us got together and paid you your regular fee and had you come out to our city? Would something like that be possible? I have talked to several people about doing just that. Having designers that teach class come and teach a group of us. We would pay all of the expenses and then your fee. Is this too difficult or are there liability issues? What would be the downside to this? I wondered if you would make more or less money this way. But if we were 5 bad knitters I guess you would be stuck with us. Just a thought.
Terese

February 20, 2008 6:39 PM  
Blogger no-blog-rachel said...

Wow Annie, I'm not a designer so I just learned a lot. I'm happy for you that IWK has taken a great step in closing the gap. And as I'll be at S this weekend I'm sorry I won't see you there! I might not have met you even if you were because I can't afford the classes, but I'm sorry the situation is what it is. Everyone deserves to be paid an honest and reasonable wage. I hope what you've been doing lately helps to bring about some positive change!

February 20, 2008 7:04 PM  
Blogger Alyson said...

Glad to hear about the improvements in the Interweave contract. I totally agree with you about the large events that offer so very little in compensation. Some of those classes are pretty durn pricey for me to take (regardless of how much I want to take the class). Knowing that an expert is not being paid appropriately for their time and knowledge doesn't do anything for my motivation to take their.

February 20, 2008 7:33 PM  
Blogger Carina said...

Yes, yes, yes!

I'm a no-name teacher. I don't travel to teach, just offer classes through the Art Center. I have taught in a yarn shop, out of my house, and a knitting retreat run by another group. I've even put on two of my own knitting retreats. I'm not famous or special, just a run-of-the-mill knitting teacher.

I want a union. Our pay has stagnated, just like designers' compensation. Now you're saying that the big venues are paying less? No way! I lose money teaching, really. When I add up my gas, any advertising I do in addition to the Art Center's marketing, yarn for samples, copying costs, etc., I lose money. I'm really lucky that I don't have to depend on the checks, but shouldn't I be making money?

Also, I have applied to one of the bigger venues only to be shot down. Unless you have a publisher to help with marketing or have a few books out or are a big name, even the venues that say they're for everyone don't care. They don't care that I'm a Level II certified knitting teacher. They don't care that I have taught for years and have many happy students. They don't care that my idea is good. All they care about is whether I'm nationally known or not. But, as a teacher, how do I get nationally known if a big venue won't take a chance on me? Aren't the venues about teaching? Why not hire the teachers?

Is there room in that designers' union for someone like me? I know a few other knitting teachers on Ravelry who are interested, too.

February 20, 2008 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy said...

THANK YOU for taking a stand.

What if Susan B Anthony hadn't? What if Elizabeth Cady Stanton hadn't? What if Rosa Parks hadn't?

One person makes a difference. Q. E. D.

Thanks!

February 20, 2008 8:25 PM  
Blogger evie said...

Annie,

Thank you once again for being the voice for all those who teach. I have often wondered what these big conferences pay teachers and if it was fair. I'm seeing more and more that the big companies are taking more than a reasonable share of the profit. I think they will damage their businesses if they continue to treat designers poorly. Eventually it will affect the caliber of the designs, knitters will look elsewhere and we'll have few options for patterns.

I've attended Stitches every year for several years although I have never taken a class. I was kind of disappointed in the list of classes and teachers this year. There were very few that were of interest to me and they were being held on the weekday when I knew I would be stuck at work.

I kept hoping to see you on the list. Now I'll have to hope you come back to the Bay Area sometime soon.

Hope you get rid of the stomach bug soon.

I'm off to renew my Interweave Knits subscription.

February 20, 2008 9:04 PM  
Blogger dragon knitter said...

the thing is, a lot of "service" oriented positions are well-underpaid. i used to work in foodservice, and part of the reason why i got out was because the pay and hours stunk. even in important situations like hospitals and nursing homes (they're actually the worst! i got paid more at a frou-frou restaurant!) people still tend to undervalue these services, and i think it stinks.

if you ever make it to omaha, i'll make sure i take one of your classes! but i doubt i'll be making it to any of the big shows, they're all too far away for me :(

February 20, 2008 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for standing up; women are often treated poorly because they don't stand up for themselves. They think it's "not nice." "Nice" doesn't pay the rent. I'm glad you know the value of your knowledge, time, etc., and are willing to put a stop to being taken advantage of. You are not at all selfish about it. I appreciate that you are doing it for the betterment of all who teach and design.) I do disagree with the person who lumped in teachers with other "service" workers. I'm old enough to remember when teachers were respected. I truly respect and admire you for being the strong role model you are. Thank you.

February 20, 2008 11:06 PM  
Blogger Skeincocaine said...

I can't imagine why any designer would teach at these large convention venues when most LYSs would love a visit. Hum. How do those conventions get any designers? Wow!

February 21, 2008 6:56 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

Well stated and defended.

February 21, 2008 8:45 AM  
Blogger Holly said...

Annie, thank you so much for being a voice of reason. You are voicing very legitimate (and serious) concerns that eventually could affect all of us who knit in the future (can you find a teacher willing to teach who isn't busy with a day job to make money). Also, it seems to clear that you are doing so not because you are just stubborn, but because you really want to have a (serious) dialog with the other side of the industry. You have shown that you aren't just taking a stand and saying "I want it perfect right now", but you are willing to compromise in a reasonable way. There are things you won't compromise on, but this is how you are supporting your family - you can't operate at a loss! Given that, you are willing to stick to your guns and ask for respect without stomping your foot in a tantrum. Thank you for such a Mature (OK, that doesn't mean you're old or a grown up, just mentally healthy!!) example of what more of us should try to accomplish in many areas of our lives.

OK, enough seriousness, now go kick some knitting butt!

February 21, 2008 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well yea for IWK! THe teaching thing doesn't suprize me at all. My husband is self-employed and it's amazing how often various organizations will "invite" him to give a guest lecture at a conference without any compensation except a room to sleep in. No travel, no food and no payment for the hours that he puts into preparing the presentation. I've worked hard to get him to JUST SAY NO.

February 21, 2008 8:55 AM  
Blogger Carol said...

Very glad to see IK fixed it! Sad to hear others don't quite get the realities of business. Do't get discouraged. Stand up for what you believe is right!

February 21, 2008 10:09 AM  
Blogger Teri said...

I'm very happy for you that Interweave has adjusted to the times. I hope that the rest of the publishers as well as the large conferences do the same!

Thanks for all you do!

February 21, 2008 10:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting us know that IWK was responsive. I was thinking of being a lapsed subscriber but I will continue now...and I will go tell them so.

As for S and the teaching, I had heard things and added those to my reasons for dropping attendance. Apparently they also require teachers to attend the evening banquets, increasing the hours worked, effectively decreasing the compensation.

I teach and travel for work. The first thing two of us "older" women did was say NO to shared rooms for staff when higher ups had private ones.

February 21, 2008 10:41 AM  
Blogger infinityexplorer said...

WHOA! Talk about of interesting information.

A big THANK YOU!

I just want to say you are extraordinary for taking on the big guy not just for yourself but for fellow designers/teachers and newbies that are trying to break in.

I also will not give my money to Walmart for the same reasons.

February 21, 2008 12:15 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

Your thoughts about compensation and treatment of knitting teachers are so true! I teach in a large urban public school. Our staff is mostly women and we are constantly expected to do extra work without compensation and do more "for the good of the children". People see jobs where the workers are mostly women as almost hobbies. Can you think of a work situation where the workers are mostly men being treated in the same way? Teachers in my school are being asked to attend an week long intensive workshop during summer vacation without pay or compensation for travel expenses. When we argeed but asked for private rooms, we were called selfish. When my son travels for work he always has a private room! I've taken classes at these large conventions and always assumed the teachers were paid very well considering the size of the classes and the cost to each participant!

February 21, 2008 2:28 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

If working for below minimum wage when you sell your designs to a magazine is worth it for the visibility. And losing money when teaching is worth it for the visibility. And designers who write books also work for less than minimum wage because it is worth it for the publicity.

Then how are you supposed to earn a living?

You go girl. You are asking the right questions.

Also, unless you are a total extreme "people person", you need alone time to recharge after teaching all day.

February 21, 2008 6:12 PM  
Blogger Marti Knits in SF said...

Thanks for sharin' your thoughts and some actual numbers with us m'dear. I for one only attended a big "Q" show in Tampa a last year because YOU were going to be there. If more designers/teachers start to bow out of these things its going to make less of an incentive to attend all together. I'd rather spend my time and money and willing to travel a few hours to a LYS to attend another one of your classes and be able to chit chat. Not toooo stalkerish I hope! LOL

February 21, 2008 8:35 PM  
Blogger Kim-n-Cocoa said...

I have to say as a "regular" teacher. Welcome to our world. :-) The minute you attach the title "Teacher" to a person, it becomes acceptable to pay them a low wage. Sad but true. Salaries for all kinds of teachers is going up. But no where near where it should be. Perhaps you should see if Teachers Unions would represent y'all!

I so understand what you mean by the long days teaching. You deserve a private room and space.

Get feeling better!

February 21, 2008 10:13 PM  
Blogger Claudia said...

Annie--I read your blog all the time and I just want to tell you how awesome it is to see you stand up and fight and ask for more and then get it! Way to go! It is really inspiring.

Good luck and I'm going to get a subscription to IWK now that they have a much better way of compensating the designers.

February 23, 2008 10:27 AM  
Blogger Having a Knit Fitt said...

After reading this entry yesterday I went right over to the IK site and subscribed for two years. Then I sent them an email and told them it was because you told me to.

Hope Gerry and the rest of you are recovering from the flu.

Cate

February 23, 2008 6:51 PM  
Blogger Farm Groupie said...

I hope that you're all feeling better, too.

It's sad that teachers are beign gouged again and again. It's also too bad that it's so hard for the public to find out about how the big groups are treating their teachers.

Keep on sticking up for yourself and for those who will follow. It's really important!

February 29, 2008 9:07 AM  
Blogger Romi said...

Thank you for this. :)

March 01, 2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

I had just heard about how low the compensation is for teaching at the large events -- I was shocked! Keep up the good work on this. I've loved taking classes at these events, but I will be asking q's before I sign up the next time for one.

PS -- I made sure to buy the corset pattern from your website -- hurray for great designers!

March 03, 2008 2:05 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm *way* late commenting on this, but I'm behind. What can I say?

I want to thank you, you and the other designers who balked, for standing up for your rights to IK, for not signing an unfair contract, for doing it professionally, for getting them to see what they were doing wrong, for getting them to change what they were doing for the betterment of the designers, and because of that for the betterment of their subscribers, and therefore of their own bottom line.

March 12, 2008 2:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

P.S. When I do the math, especially for teachers of sold-out classes at places like Stitches West (where the classes were $70 each, where I was lucky enough to be able to go last month, but not lucky enough to get into any of the classes I wanted), I see a lot of money coming in. As a consumer I have always assumed that the teachers were making good money off the classes. After all, if it weren't for them... I know that running a convention is expensive business. I also know that there's a lot of money in it, or the conventions wouldn't happen year after year. I think the teachers deserve a much larger percentage of the intake than what the industry seems willing to give them.

March 12, 2008 2:11 PM  
Blogger kalany said...

I realize this is an old post, and maybe things have gotten better.

It's like this for a LOT of teaching. I am a graduate student at a large state university. My first year here, I was supported by being a teaching assistant. I was paid for 20 hours a week of teaching---and we aren't talking about simple stuff; we're talking about university-level calculus and statistics. The sort of thing you need to have an undergraduate degree in to understand at a level sufficient to teach other undergrads (and get it right, at least). I was the first and last contact for the students, the one who did all the grading, who proctored the exams... I prepped lesson plans every week, paid out of pocket for supplies like paper and red pens....

Wanna know what my monthly paycheck is?

$1,692.64.

Before taxes, payroll, et cetera. I live in a studio apartment with 97 useable square feet of floor (I'm not counting, say, the shower) and I pay $950/month in rent. That's about average for my area (I pay a little more because electricity/gas/water is included, but total, I end up getting it cheaper!).

This whole system needs to change.

October 21, 2009 2:51 AM  

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