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Standing together

by ysoldateague February 06, 2009


Go read this and then come back.
It’s no secret that I like self publishing my designs, admittedly I like having the control that self publishing gives me, but it can also be interesting to collaborate and there’s undoubtedly a thrill in seeing my work beautifully photographed alonside the creations of designers I admire. But, if I’m going to put the work into designing something for a publication it has to be worth it from a business point of view. In other words, the direct compensation for the design + the hopefully increased publicity have to be equal to or greater than what I could make from self publishing the design. I’m trying to make a living as a designer, and it’s actually going really well (thank you so much for all of your support!). It’s pretty clear though that that is directly related to the fact that I’ve forced myself to turn down some pretty appealing opportunities because the ‘omg x wants to publish me’ feeling does not pay the bills.

Of course magazines don’t have bottomless pits from which to pay designers and that’s ok. A flat fee payed to a designer for including a design in a single issue of a magazine will never equal what that design could make being sold as an indivual pattern in the long run. Thing is it doesn’t have to. If the original flat fee only covers the right to publish the design in a single issue of a magazine (a period of exculsivity is of course absolutely reasonable – it’s to everyone’s advantage if the designs are new to the readers) then the difference can be made up over the long run. That could mean that the rights revert to the designer who can then self publish the design. Or it could mean that the magazine pays the designer again fairly whenever the design is re-published – by paying another flat fee if it’s inculded in a best of anthology or paying a fair percentage of individual pattern sales to the designer. Or, of course, both. The key thing is that if designers are going to pay their bills they’re not going to do so by signing away all the rights to their designs for the flat fees magazines can pay.

Things are changing in the knit publishing world. There are magazines that do care about their designers. Last year Interweave showed a wonderful willigness to listen to designers when they changed the royalty paid to designers from individual online pattern sales from 10% to a sliding scale. Yarn Forward’s contracts revert the rights to the designer after an exclusivity period and I belief they’re planning on launching an online pattern store and paying fair royalties for that. I’m not sure of the exact details, but I have heard from the editor of the new British magazine The Knitter that they’re willling to negotiate with designers over these issues. Twist Collective was expressly started with the goal of attracting great designers and their best work by offering them a great deal – designers receive a very fair royalty from indivdual pattern sales and the right to re-publish it themselves after an exculsivity period. My personal experience with Twist Collective is that the whole team are fantastic to work with, as I said above I like the control of self publishing, and their respect for designers means that the designer is involved in the whole process, rather than having no involvement between sending off the pattern and seeing the final issue.

Those magazines didn’t create deals that were good for designers because they had to, but because they wanted to, they recognised that it might eventually even be in their own best interests. It’s only 2 issues old but it was clear to me from Kate Gilbert’s very first email to me explaining what they were attempting to do, that Twist Collective was going to attract some wonderful work. Which makes it great for you even if you’re not a designer. I think it’s starting to happen already, but those publications which don’t offer attractive deals to designers simply won’t be able to fill their pages with the designs that knitters want. I say it’s starting to happen because I’ve noticed a shift, established designers are increasingly self publishing and choosing to publish with magazines that offer them respect. But, of course what’s happening now isn’t that other magazines are empty, but that their editors are increasingly looking for new designers to fill their pages. In many ways that is a good thing, there are lots of talented new designers out there who deserve to have their work recognised. Annie’s right though, if there’s a constant supply of new designers so delighted to get published (and believe me I know how that feels, I fight against it all the time) that they’re willing to give up their rights or put aside their legitimate concerns then nothing’s going to change. And in the long run that’s going to be bad for all designers, and for the magazines we love.

Much as I love self publishing, and it’s getting easier to do, I don’t want to see magazines disappear. I think they’re great, and not just for the patterns, the magazines are an important part of the knitting world. Personally I like self publishing, but not every designer does. Not every designer wants to (or can afford) to buy expensive graphic design software and the hardware to run it well (you do not want to know how much I’ve forked out to Apple and Adobe in the last year). Not every designer wants to put the work into laying out patterns, taking photographs, supporting download issues. Not every designer wants to maintain a blog and website and enough of an online presence to ensure that knitters see her designs. I like doing all those things and even I don’t want to exclusively self publish. Publishing a design with a magazine can be a great experience, and of course for those who do self publish it can be good publicity. But we need to recognise that it is not, and should not be worth doing just for the excitement of getting published.

Annie’s post was very timely for me, personally. A few months ago I put aside my general ‘never sign your rights away’ rule in order to be included in a feature about bloggers in Knit 1. For various reasons I’m not exactly sorry I did that, in that situation I realised it was worth giving up the rights to a design that I liked but didn’t envision being wildly popular in exchange for the exposure of the interview. I still think the publicity was worth it, but it’s easy to get from that reasoning to arguing that it’s always worth it, and I think that that’s a problem. Today I got an email offering me the chance to submit a design to Vogue Knitting. I love Vogue Knitting, getting a design published in there would be a huge deal. But I asked whether they were willing to negotiate the rights issue, and when informed that they weren’t I turned down the offer. That wasn’t easy to do, I still find it easy to convince myself that it would be worth it in some way, but it felt wrong as a matter of principle. And literally minutes later I read Annie’s post and I knew I was going to write about this. It doesn’t matter to SoHo (publisher of Vogue Knitting, Knit 1 and Knit Simple) whether I don’t want to design something for them, although clearly they’d like it. It doesn’t matter because they can find someone else. Things are only going to change when that starts to become a problem. And that’s why I’m writing this. I’d love to see one of my designs in Vogue Knitting, but I’d already decided it wasn’t going to happen unless they were willing to negotiate the terms of their contracts. Consequently, like Annie, I have nothing to lose. If writing this means that eventually they do change but don’t want to work with me, well that’s fine, I’ll still consider it a gain if it means that other designers are fairly paid for their work. But speaking up about this does feel scary, and it may seem to many designers that there is something to lose in doing so. The only way things are going to change for everyone is if we stand together.


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