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Creative Leisure News
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The industry as seen by top designers.

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Low Pay for Designers ...

... drives them out of the industry and is unfair.

by Joan Green and Judith Brossart (March 3, 2008)

(Note: Joan is President of Joan Green Designs, and is one of the top needlework designers particularly in high-end plastic canvas projects in the industry. Joan is reacting to the previous column, "Designers in the Ghetto." To read that column, click on the title in the right-hand column.)

I read with interest the article about the ongoing plight of designers in our industry. Everything she said is right-on. Of course, those of us who have been in the business a long time (30 + years for me!) have been saying the very same thing all these many years. The Society of Craft Designers labored tirelessly over the years to implement the very things she is suggesting, and we made a few advances (especially in the area of professionalism for the designer), but in the long run failed to make any progress with regard to design fees. (And I think she is absolutely right with regard to fees staying the same or actually decreasing!)

One thing this article didn't mention was the issue of buying all rights to designs (without paying adequate fees). This was what ultimately forced me to abandon free-lance design and return to my roots of operating my own design and manufacturing business where I retained all rights to my work.

This also allowed me the freedom to design the things I knew, from years of experience and personal marketing research, that my customers wanted which was not the case when I worked for other companies!

Perhaps the issue of buying all rights no longer applies, but many of the most professional and respected designers (myself included) battled this for years and tried to negotiate other terms (with very limited success). Most of these excellent designers are no longer in the business because they couldn't justify working for pauper's wages and then giving up all rights to their work on top of it! There were only so many places to sell our work, and the key buyers absolutely would not negotiate and insisted on all rights (or they wouldn't buy from us). If we wanted to keep working in an industry we loved we basically had no options.

One example of this: I designed an award winning pattern leaflet for a company. Ten years later (after it was long out of print), the company reprinted the exact same book (only change was putting the word NEW on the cover!) and then sold tens of thousands to Wal Mart. Obviously since I had been forced to sell all rights, I didn't receive a dime. This was ultimately the straw that broke the camel's back for me with regard to free-lance designing. I still worry that some day I will see some of my motifs licensed to companies in other industries for use on a myriad of gift and household items, not to mention Christmas decorations.

In a nutshell, I couldn't agree more with the writer, but I do not see anything changing. There will always be artistic and creative souls who want to design crafts and needlework and who will accept whatever terms are offered in order to work in a field they love.

(Note: To contact Joan, visit www.joangreendesigns.com; email designsjg@aol.com; call 513-523-0437; or fax 513-523-1520.)

Time for 21st Century Pay

by Judith Brossart

Have your basic, monthly household expenses increased in the last ten years? Has your base salary increased during the same time period? The answer for probably 99% of us in a resounding YES!

Therefore, it was both surprising and unsurprising that fees for designers in the creative industries have not changed in the 10 years since I was the Editor of a highly-respected general crafts how-to magazine.

Unsurprising because the fees of $50 to $600 quoted by Dora Ohrenstein in her article "Designers in the Ghetto " in the February 25, 2008 issue of Creative Leisure News, are in the same general range they were during my 15-year tenure as an Editor. The high fee during those years was $500 and I don't remember ever paying a designer as little as $50. In fact, a fee of only $100 was rare.

Surprising because it's very hard to believe that an industry that has grown in popularity, quantity and quality of product, distribution, share of audience, and uses of finished projects from simple refrigerator magnets (exaggeration ) to sophisticated home decor items has not grown in its recognition of the importance of paying qualified designers a fee equal to their importance in helping to sell products. Shame on you!

Even though Dora confined her examples to the requirements for selling a design to the yarn industry, her observation and comments are appropriate to the arts and crafts industry in general.

For years I have disagreed with one required element to sell a design. That element is the expectation that designers have to write instructions to fit the buyer's manuscript template. Designers have strong creative skills that are not necessarily paired with equally strong detail skills. You know, the right brain, left brain thing. A designer should be able to communicate what products she used, the amounts and the process used to create the final item. The publisher, whether magazine, book publisher, web site, or the manufacturer of the product should be responsible for the final presentation of instructions in its favored style.

The arts and crafts industry is not unique in this problem. One of my daughters works for the world's largest food service company. Her chef is highly respected for his culinary skills. But, when required to write recipes for other chefs and/or cooks to follow, he needs style, grammar, and spelling help. He is not paid less because his writing skills are not equal to his creative food skills. In the same vein, designers should not be penalized because their writing and illustrations skills do not match their creativity.

Even though I am no longer actively involved in the industry, I am still very interested in its workings. Thanks for allowing me to voice my opinions.

(Note: Judith is too modest. Judith became Editor of Crafts magazine when it was in its relative infancy and guided the magazine until it was by far the largest-circulation consumer craft magazine. The magazine's publisher, PJS Publications, has been sold three times and a few years ago it was changed to Paper Crafts. Judith's email is jbc82@worldnet.att.net. To read previous Designing Perspectives columns, click on the titles in the right-hand column. To comment on this or any industry issue, sent your thoughts to CLN at mike@clnonline.com.)



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