One of the things one notices, reading about publishing, is how trouble just seems to follow certain people around. An imprint they own will fail in some horrendous and spectacular fashion. So they start another, and it all goes wrong again. They create a new parent company, and its properties also go south in regular and predictable ways. Word gets out that authors aren’t being paid (or paid on time, or the right amounts). Excuses and promises are made. Holding companies fall and rise again under new names. Lather, rinse, and repeat with new authors.
The fiction world is used to this kind of thing. There are resources like Writer Beware and the Absolute Write Water Cooler where these stories get told for the edification of the community. We’ve even done our small part here on Making Light.
As I’ve been discovering over the past few months, the craft world has its own trouble-magnets, vendors whose yarn never seems to arrive with the people who order it and publishers whose magazines change names and holding companies when the going gets tough. But there’s no investigative subculture that I’m aware of; the main online hangout for the fiber arts community, Ravelry, is not externally indexed and is limited to registered members. It also actively discourages the sorts of discussions that make up AW’s Bewares, Recommendations and Background Checks board. (I don’t blame the owners of Ravelry. It would get messy, and not every community is run by a Mac Stone.)
So when one of my friends mentioned that a British magazine had failed to pay his wife, a knitting designer, and that this magazine was known in the community for that kind of behavior, I could investigate the matter a little. But all of the useful sources were behind the Ravelry password, and few of them were as blunt and clear as your average fiction publishing trainwreck narrative. I found it fascinating—but unbloggable.
Well, the murder’s out on the wider internet now. Eight days ago, Ruth Garcia-Alcantud of Rock and Purl wrote an open letter to the publisher in question, not naming them. It got picked up and retweeted within the community, and she followed it up with a more specific entry. Other designers and bloggers, such as Anniken Annis, Joy Gerhardt and Alex Tinsley have also described their experiences. I won’t repeat the stories here; you should click through and read them in full. The short version is that designers talk about seeing their work in knitting magazines, but not getting what their contracts say they should receive in return.
It’s worth, when reading these accounts, understanding a little bit about the process of selling knitting patterns to magazines. It’s interestingly similar and dissimilar to selling fiction to paying markets. I’ll let my friend explain the typical lifecycle of a pattern sale:
[F]or the vast majority of patterns, the process starts with a publisher announcing a call for submissions, generally including a theme, sometimes including a “mood board” or image collage, and including expected milestone dates (submission deadline, finished pattern deadline, sample deadline, anticipated publication date). A designer will submit materials called for in the call for submissions, generally including at least some of a written description, a sketch, and a swatch showing stitches that will appear in the finished work, done in an appropriate needle gauge and an appropriately sized yarn, but usually not in a yarn of any specific make or color. The publisher chooses on the basis of such submissions. Note that these submissions do not include complete patterns or complete finished objects.
When the publisher chooses a pattern, they reply with a proposed written contract. Designer and publisher negotiate as necessary, and sign contract. (Negotiation is usually quite brief.) Designer and publisher correspond regarding what yarn would be good for the pattern and approximately how much is needed. Publisher sources the yarn and sends it to designer free of charge; this is called “yarn support”. Designer writes the pattern and knits one object in the pattern, of size requested by publisher, for purposes of photography and other publicity; this object is the “sample”. Designer sends pattern and sample to publisher. This fulfills designer’s obligations under the contract. Depending on the contract, publisher’s obligation to pay may be triggered on receipt and acceptance of pattern and sample, or may not trigger until actual publication.
Contracts may vary, but generally, ownership of the sample remains with the designer, and ownership of resulting photographs remain with publisher. Copyright of the pattern remains with the designer; publisher receives distribution rights for a few years, generally exclusive, but not always. Publisher receives and retains samples for photography and promotion purposes, but does not own samples, and is generally obligated under contract to exercise reasonable care with samples and to return them within some set period (generally matching the term of exclusive distribution rights) after publication.
From my further reading, I gather that the designer may sometimes supply the yarn for the sample rather than the publisher so doing, and that some contracts leave ownership of the sample with the publisher rather than the designer. But the important aspects of the transaction are: supply of yarn to the designer, ownership and treatment of the sample, timing of payment, and distribution rights. Only the first of those seems to have gone well, perhaps because without the sample the design can’t be published.
I’ve done some searches on the people and entities described in those blog entries, just to verify the details. Sometime before 2005, Kerrie Allman started an online knitting magazine, MagKnits. She took over a yarn supplier, HipKnits, in 2005. In 2008, she and Louise Butt founded a company called KAL Media. It ran a series of craft magazines, both online and in print, including MagKnits (which was closed abruptly in an internet firestorm in 2008), Yarn Forward (which closed in 2011), Knit (started in 2011, but continuing YF issue numbering and publishing at least one pattern contracted to YF), Inside Crochet, Sew Hip, Handmade Living, and Simply Beautiful. KAL Media closed in 2011, and has just been liquidated. The last-surviving iteration of magazines is now published by All Craft Media, whose sole remaining director is Wayne Allman. The group is also launching a new magazine, Modern Quilting, on the 28th of this month.
Now, it appears that the internet has just fallen on Allman and ACM over the past few days, probably as a result of the blog posts. She’s been getting the same kind of edge-case crap that people who catch the Net’s roving eye always do (having got some of it myself, I sympathize), but she’s also got some genuine opprobrium coming her way. Damage control has started: yesterday, ACM announced that Kerrie Allman “will…move into a new role”, and [another name]* will take over as publisher.
Unfortunately, those details seem to have included payment of designers (including my friend’s wife), the return of samples, the tracking of rights on patterns, and the supply of promised yarns to sock and amigurumi clubs. Farrell, the Allmans, and everyone associated with those presses, has a lot of work ahead of them to make things right with the crafting community. I suspect that, having broken silence, the people affected are unlikely to keep quiet if this doesn’t happen. I’ll certainly be watching with interest.
Also, and more broadly, I’m interested to see what mechanisms the crafting community develops to police itself. Having seen the particular ways that Ravelry has grown over time, I suspect that said mechanisms will be fascinating.
ETA: There is now an Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations & Background Checks thread on All Craft Media. If you’re not familiar with Absolute Write, this room there is a place for people thinking of submitting to a given publisher to discuss their experiences. It’s a good clearinghouse for stories of non-payment and other issues, as well as for positive experiences and general knowledge-sharing.
* Name redacted by request—Abi