Sunday, January 27, 2008

A letter to Brenda Dayne

Dear Brenda;

I would like to start by saying that I am a huge fan of your Podcast. Until tonight, I haven’t really felt the need to write to you, but the Annie Modesitt interview brought up some serious issues that exist in the knitting industry. Annie’s perspective is that of a designer, which is totally valid; the side that lacked representation was that of the knitting magazines. I’ve seen both sides, to a limited extent.

I published my first pattern at 19 years old. I was paid a total of $150 dollars for the design. When I was a Junior in college, I wrangled an internship at XRX, Inc. It was the most enlightening eleven weeks of my life. I don’t speak for XRX, but I can speak what I observed firsthand while I was there.

Long work days are the norm there. They have a small staff and it was clear from the beginning that nobody was living as high on the hog as the average Knitter’s subscriber would believe. Several of the staff members worked second jobs to make ends meet. The cost of living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is low in comparison to Silicon Valley (where I live), but there still are costs.

Submissions are reviewed and accepted or rejected- but that is only the beginning of the process. Even the most meticulous designers need copyediting, proofreading, and test knitting. Even Annie, a veteran knitwear designer, has a page on her website of corrections to her patterns. All the people that the magazines employ need to be paid- and where the designers can opt not to design a piece here and there- the employees at the magazines are there Monday through Friday, and more when publication dates near.

As with any sort of artistic profession, one must be inventive in order to get paid a living wage to indulge their passion. I was fortunate to have been raised with an artistic spirit and a firm grasp on reality- I have a job that pays my bills and fulfills me artistically. I feel that it is easy to say, “We should be paid a living wage,” without a thought as to how this can be accomplished realistically. Annie wants knitwear designers to unionize, but her idea is flawed in how she mused on implementing it. While I sympathize with her sentiment, it’s unrealistic.

Every business has unforeseen costs and setbacks. These costs are absorbed into the company- salaries are not affected, the cost of the magazine doe not rise, designers are paid the same, and the end consumer (We The Knitters) are not expected to recoup the costs of the losses. While produce, oil, and milk costs are on the rise, our knitting publications charge the same prices that they did five years ago. The publishers are absorbing those extra costs.

While I was working at XRX I realized the We The Knitters are part of the problem with paying designers what they’re worth- be it a living wage or otherwise. All knitters are guilty of swapping copywritten patterns. Whether they knowingly violate copyright or not, every knitter has photocopied a pattern- at least once- for a friend. Some people thrill in buying one pattern and passing it around. It’s a hot topic in knitting- mention it on the Knitlist and flame wars ensue. Some designers prosecute, and they’re labeled with ugly names for defending their intellectual property. On an individual basis, it’s petty theft; on a national (and global) level, it’s staggering.

People don’t want to pay for things like knitting patterns- sites like Knitty and MagKnits promote the idea that access for all equals free. The perception has become that if the webzines can afford to give patterns away, the magazines and individual pattern producers appear greedy by comparison. I could make the strongest argument for why people should not photocopy patterns and steal from designers, but those arguments are lost on dead ears. It’s a sense of entitlement that deafens.

As a culture, We The Knitters are very generous. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Tricoteuses Sans Frontieres movement has raised close to half a million dollars. These are the same giving people who don’t understand the larger implications of Intellectual Property theft. It is, after all, only knitting. Annie has experienced the generosity of We The Knitters firsthand; her husband was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma last year, and she designed a piece specifically to help recoup some of the costs of her husband’s recovery. According to her website, they reached their financial goal.

I don’t design for a living; I work a more standard job for a large company. Regardless of the company’s performance on the whole, my salary does not change. Those who wish to recoup the financial benefits of the company buy stock in those companies. Those who do not take the larger financial risks are not entitled to the larger financial rewards.

Unions charge dues and set pricing on labor. If companies are forced by unions to pay more for designs, there will be less available. This loss will hurt knitters, designers, and publishers in the long run. Instead of unionizing, knitwear designers should buy stock (or invest) in those publishing companies. Get into the infrastructure and make a change- that’s what they taught us in college, right?

I understand that designers should be paid a living wage. Everyone deserves to make a living wage- but this is why actors work as waiters. Because they understand that their passion doesn’t necessarily mean a regular paycheck. Just because we deserve something doesn’t necessarily mean that we get it.

Thank you, as always, for putting out a Podcast that inspires and provokes. I look forward to meeting you on Sea Socks.

Best regards,

Jasmin

3 comments:

  1. Well said Jasmin!

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  2. Wow, great post on the topic. I've been thinking about this issue too -- I read Annie's blog so some food for thought on this issue comes for the same source -- and I concluded, like you, that railing against magazines or knitters was not going to be productive. I think you've hit the nail on the head on knitters being generous, particularly with their time. Now that the floodgates of free knitting patterns on the Internet has opened, no calls for fair wage or protecting intellectual property are going to stem the tide.

    I can speak as a knitter who has posted a couple designs publicly and free, just for the joy of sharing them. One reason was to see if other people liked my designs enough to knit them, to validate my ideas. Another was to give back to a community that has given me much fun. Amateurs like me bear the same relationship to Annie that bloggers bear to journalists: we may or may not threaten the professionals' livelihoods, but we aren't going away even if we do.

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