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 a
t 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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