A few days ago I got an email from a member of the marketing team at F+W Media, a major publisher of craft books, asking if I’d consider reviewing Kim Kruzich’s new book, Retro Mama Scrap Happy Sewing. I love Kim’s work. She’s a meticulous sewist and a great designer with a focus on softies so I agreed and ordered the book.
Then I thought back to August, the last time I’d reviewed an F+W title, when I’d discovered something that raised questions for me about how craft publishers are handling book content. The August review was of Mariska Vos-Bolman’s book, Sew Cute to Cuddle. I’d discovered at that time that F+W had opened an Etsy shop under the name Stitch Craft Create, one of their publishing imprints. Simultaneous with the release of Mariska’s book F+W had listed the individual patterns as PDFs for sale in this Etsy shop, as well as on their own website.
When I agreed to review Kim’s book last week I checked to see if they were doing the same with her book patterns and the answer was yes. The official release date of Retro Mama Scrap Happy Sewing is April 10, but you can buy the patterns individually now on the Stitch Craft Create ecommerce shop and in their Etsy shop.
For me this raised some important questions: is it best practice for a publisher to take a craft book apart and sell the patterns as digital files? Is it a good idea for this to coincide with the book’s release? And is Etsy the right platform for a publisher like F+W?
I emailed Melanie Falick to get her professional opinion and she helped me to think it through over the phone. “Slicing and dicing book content is something a lot of publishers want to do,” Melanie told me. Breaking up a book “provides another revenue stream for the author and the publisher and can help with discovery. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
In the course of our conversation I became curious about the exact language in the contract that allowed for the publisher to “slice and dice” a book. To find out, I got in contact with the Content Director at F+W, Ame Verso, and asked if she’d share that portion of the author contract with me. Here it is (bold text is my own):
The Author grants to the Publisher for the legal term of copyright the sole and exclusive license to produce, publish and reproduce the Work and furthermore grants to the Publishers the rights themselves to license the production, publication and reproduction of the Work or any adaptation, abridgement or extract of it in all editions, languages, and forms including digital media in existence now or to be developed in the future throughout the world.”
I often find legal terminology hard to understand not because I don’t grasp the meaning of the phrases, but because I don’t have the skills to foresee how those phrases might be applied in real circumstances in the future.
So I showed this phrase to Kate McKean, a literary agent who represents an impressive portfolio of top craft book authors. I asked Kate if it was possible to negotiate this phrase to prevent the publisher from selling a book’s patterns a la carte on Etsy.
“One way to handle it is to only allow the publisher to reproduce the projects verbatim, or all together, and not any ‘adaptation, abridgement or extract of it,'” Kate explained. It’s important to look at the contract as a whole, she warned, because this isn’t a foolproof fix.
As Melanie points out, dividing up book content and selling it in pieces isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Putting content in front of audiences in different formats and on different platforms can lead to more sales. The author earns royalties on every digital sale no matter where it takes place so it could be seen as a win win.
And yet I remain troubled by a few aspects of this situation.
First, I find the publisher’s use of Etsy problematic. There are many reasons designers write craft books, but one of them is to have their work distributed more widely than they could manage on their own. Both Mariska and Kim have thriving Etsy shops for their self-published PDF patterns that pre-existed their books. To have their publisher use that same sales channel is disappointing to me. The books are being distributed to stores and through Amazon, but if a publisher wants to use ecommerce for patterns I feel they should use their own channels and work to build the audience for those channels to the point that they offer a significant advantage to the author.
Second, the separate patterns don’t seem to be positioned to support sales of the book. For example the Etsy listing for Daron the Dragon from Mariska’s book simply says, “Project taken from Sew Cute to Cuddle by Mariska Vos-Bolman.” If this listing is truly intended to help customers discover the whole book, why not add some of the text used to promote the book on Amazon? Something like, “This pattern is just one of 12 cute stuffed animal designs included in Sew Cute to Cuddle, a book by designer Mariska Vos-Bolman that will delight boys and girls alike and includes patterns for a monkey, an owl, a bear, a dragon, a tiger, a cat, a dog, a hippo and more.” The pattern listings could be working harder to help promote the book.
And finally, it feels sneaky to me. Neither Kim nor Mariska knew that F+W was selling their book patterns on Etsy. “This Etsy shop is news to me,” Kim wrote in an email after I shared the link with her. Even though it’s perfectly legal, it doesn’t feel like a partnership. I’d much rather see publishers and authors work together to give a book its best chance at success.
Writing a book remains an exciting and prestigious endeavor for a designer. Working with a publisher means having access to fantastic resources including editors, photographers, book designers, and marketing professionals. It’s a tremendous learning experience as well. And a book is still a sort of calling card or badge of legitimacy; things we crave in a profession that had no official certification system.
However you feel about breaking up book content, for me the biggest takeaway here is that book contracts are negotiable. The responsibility rests with the creator to read the contract, have it reviewed by a lawyer or agent who has experience with this type of contract and the publishing industry, and have the confidence to negotiate. As Melanie emphasized to me, “An author asking questions about a contract has never made me want to cancel the project.’”
The world of print publishing is shifting beneath our feet and this kind of vigilance and self-advocacy will only become increasingly important.
*Update April 9, 2015: F+W Media in the UK (where Stitch Craft Create is based) was furious at me for publishing this post which they interpreted as an attack on their business practices. They have removed me from their book review list.
As someone who often can’t afford a book or only wants to make one or two things out of a book and usually ends up not buying it just for those things, I think that breaking up the patterns is a great idea, they will be making money from me that they wouldn’t have otherwise and I get to make what I want without it costing me a ton. In fact I’m quite excited by the idea and hoping that it catches on and some of the things I’ve wanted from the past few years will appear as individual patterns sometime soon!
However, I don’t think Etsy is the right platform for a publishing company to use, in fact if I saw that something came from a book on there I’d wonder whether it was breaking copyright and probably wouldn’t buy it. There are many places you can buy digital patterns online, I mean even Craftsy would seem more geared for publishers to sell on than Etsy. And I agree that not marketing the entire book is remiss of the publisher and very shot sighted, a link to a page where I could see the other projects and be directed somewhere to purchase the entire book if I want isn’t really too much to ask for.
If I read this correctly, this all raises another important question, Abby and that is:
Does *Etsy* know the patterns sold in this shop are not their own work, but that of other artists?
I suppose they could get away with it under the guise of selling supplies, but what they are in fact doing is selling the work of other artists. Whether they have the rights to them may not make a difference as they are precariously straddling Etsy TOUs.
I just read their About page and they describe themselves as a ‘community’ however are not listing any members of that ‘community’ as is required by yet another Etsy TOU.
All I can say about that is that Etsy is kind of a mess.
They own the copyright to the work. I think Etsy would say that’s proof enough.
Well, I can’t argue with the fact that Etsy is a bit of a mess in many areas, brought on mostly by themselves. I’ve always thought it a shame for the genuine makers and artisans that there’s never been any real, viable competition to Etsy. It would be good for the marketplace as a whole.
If they’ve obtained copyright from the original designers, then as I mentioned, they can get around the TOU as selling supplies. However, I still believe once a shop self-describes as a “community”, implying there is more than a single hand at involved, then they are required to list all members of the shop.
This was so interesting, and I so appreciate your honesty and insight into the business of creative publishing!! I really enjoy your blog and your podcast. I’m interested to see how this plays out. I know publishers are looking for ways to diversify and increase their audience but it seems to me that the author should have the upper hand in how her ideas are sold. Etsy’s current model of business is troublesome indeed.
Interestingly, the Etsy shop listing do not say that they have permission to sell the individual patterns from the book and they do not identify themselves as an arm of the publisher. And I am wondering why you are sure that the author of the book is making any money from this version of the pattern sales – I expect that is not always the case, especially if they did not even know it was to occur.
Thank you for sharing this.
When I reviewed Mariska’s book in August Ame Verso, the Content Director at F+W, left a comment indicating that Mariska was receiving royalties from the digital sales on Etsy. Here’s an excerpt of the comment: “…our digital royalty structure is much more beneficial to the author than you have suggested – our margin is higher on digital and we pass that benefit on to our authors and content creators.” She seemed to indicate to me that the digital royalty was somewhere in the range of 25% of list price.
I’m of two minds on this.
As a consumer, I’ve decided against buying a book because I really just wanted one or two patterns/projects inside. The option to buy the individual patterns is one that I chose more often. This is something that’s very common in the knitting and crochet world.
On the other hand, I don’t like that the authors aren’t getting a cut of the single pattern sales and I really don’t like that they weren’t “informed” about it. However, they did sign the contract and part of me says, “well what are you going to do about it?” Vote with my dollars, I suppose. Then again, just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right, fair or not icky.
The bigger lesson I’m taking away from this is to very carefully read a contract before signing. (Full disclosure: I’m a huge nerd who enjoys reading contracts. Husband and I like to debate on the terms listed sometimes. We have no life.)
Hmm this is interesting. It seems like a development from printing book extracts in magazines, but without the obvious advertising link that this offers… I wonder if other publishers do this too, or are considering doing it.
I think this speaks to something I lawyer I knew once told me, “Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right. Just because something is illegal, doesn’t make it wrong.”
Publishers have, I think, an ethical obligation to inform a creator as to how their content is going to be marketed and sold. The fact that the publisher didn’t inform the creators that their content would be marketed in this manner is, for lack of a better term, disturbing. If I were one of these artists, I would be annoyed, to say the least, that my publisher was competing with me for pattern sales.
Never the less, it is the creators obligation to read and understand a contract before signing. I would be very concerned with any contract that gave up the both licensing and all copyright to my own work, as the language cited above appears to do. I’d be curious how common this sort of language is in pattern book publishing. Is this something that shows up in all pattern book contracts?
All very good points, RLC.
Whilst I all for designers getting every last cent they can out of a deal and for customers having the flexibility to purchase as much or as little of a book that suits their needs, I’m in agreement that Etsy seems the wrong platform for the publishers.
Etsy seems to have completely strayed from it’s original incarnation of a marketplace for individual craftspeople and designers to sell their wares. It saddens me that corporate business is encroaching on this space.
Nicole Twena says
The F+W approach here feels really dodgy to me too. I don’t think that it’s appropriate for them to have a shop on Etsy, particularly as they misleadingly suggest in their ‘About’ page that they are a ‘crafting community’ and have ‘a friendly little shop’, when it’s actually a massive commercial organisation with a warehouse!
Joanne Comstock says
I find this whole discussion very interesting. I am a book lover and a crafter and as such, I will always purchase a book from my favorite designers/sewists if available. I find there is so much more to glean from a book as opposed to a single PDF pattern. There is always more detail, author suggestion, sources, and wonderful tidbits in a book that I find very helpful, especially when trying to learn a new technique. Having said that , I do purchase PDF’s occasionally if the author does not have a publication available. I try and be very careful when doing so on Etsy as I find their new approach to “community” selling disturbing. If I’m not sure the seller is truly independent , then I don’t buy. I also agree with those that have suggested that Etsy should at the very least, provide a link to a makers book. That just seems more ethical to me.
Well, it wouldn’t be up to Etsy to provide that link, but the seller of the patterns as they are the ones who list the items in the shop.
Joanne Comstock says
Yes, I did mean to say the seller!
Kathy Howard says
This is interesting. I think the publishing company needs to be more upfront and tell the authors how and where they are selling their products. The publishing company probably isn’t listing a web site, because Etsy doesn’t want shop owners posting links to other places that sell the same items. Though I have seen plenty of people do it anyway. It sounds like the publishing company needs to be more transparent on Etsy or sell somewhere else. Craftsy is a great place for patterns.
I do feel the publisher should be more upfront with a new product launch. It should be exciting news for the author to know the various outlets. At the least, they would be able to talk intelligently about the launch rather than be surprised about what they didn’t know. I think you’re right also that, as a publisher, they should have more outlets than just Etsy and their own store. But it seems that Kim signed way her rights and she will see where this particular venture leads her.
I do like the idea of selling the patterns separately from the book. However, I think that if this is done too far before the book launch, who will buy the book? We already know the author and can do a search to find the patterns. So who needs the book? I do like the PDF digital downloads. I am so inundated with paper, that I have been scanning many things into my computer just to get rid of the paper. I like the PDF books too, but I don’t necessarily want to be tied to a specific reader like the Kindle or Nook.
I think you are right about how the marketing is done. The patterns should correlate back to the book to entice the book sales and to the other patterns. The publisher should be good at this. Maybe they will read your suggestion and ramp up their marketing in general. This isn’t unique to Kim.
Perhaps the underlying question is: Was F+W the correct publishing choice for Kim?
You raise a good point. Often if one publisher is interested in your idea, another publisher will be also. Despite what many say, it’s okay to shop your book around to more than one place. Ask questions about how books are marketed and promoted, about ebooks and digital royalties.
Very interesting (and surprising, frankly). F+W has their own digital marketplace, which would seem the appropriate place to sell individual versions of patterns in a book they publish. I am increasingly disappointed (and disillusioned) in all things Etsy. At the very least it seems unethical to sell a designer’s patterns without her knowledge on a selling platform that is supposed to be made up of individuals.
In regards to the timing, this would seem to be cannibalizing sales of the book before it’s even published. Generally there is a set amount of time during which the book only is available, and after that individual patterns can be sold, usually by the author/designer – at least that’s my understanding of things from the knitwear design world (where I have not yet published a book but believe most designers try to retain their copyright). The vague “adaptations forever” language is really worrisome.
I do find your penultimate paragraph particularly interesting and something creatives should keep in mind. So many of us (particularly women) fear that things will be taken away from us if we ask for any changes. It’s helpful to remember that editors want to work with us and, within reason, want us to be happy because if we don’t make stuff, they have nothing to edit. Or sell.
I think that statement from Melanie is perhaps the most important part of this whole picture. It’s entirely okay to negotiate. Be reasonable, be polite and professional, but negotiate on your own behalf (or hire someone to help you or do it for you). That’s what people entering into business relationships do. It’s expected and it’s not rude or wrong.
In my experience with book publishing the rights to the patterns do not revert back to the author until the book is out of print.
Do these authors have the option to also sell the individual PDFs, as they do for the books? I think that would make a huge difference in this. But at the least you would think the publisher would let the authors know so they could help promote sales, whatever they look like!
As for contract negotiation, it’s intimidating. But I had a lawyer look at mine, and he spotted a few potentially problematic issues. I decided that only one really worried me, and I got it changed. Same thing with magazine contracts. They’re usually prepared to work with you, and it’s worth trying.
Great question, Mollie. I asked Ame about this and here is what she told me:
“The issue of course is in the reporting and the fact that on any sale, the author receives a % royalty. If an author wants to sell their own physical book they purchase stock from the publisher at a discount and then when they sell this they make their mark up (difference between the wholesale price and the RRP) and also their royalty on the sale too.”
“With a digital product, this is much less clear cut. If we were to supply the author with the files, they would have to pay us for any sales they make, retaining the royalty % themselves. If they are able to report this well and make payments on a regular schedule mutually agreed by contract then I don’t see in theory why not – we encourage our authors to sell their own books so technically that would also apply in the digital age.”
“However, we do not yet have a test case where this is in action – but as a few of our authors have started to ask the question, I think it is something that we will get to pinning down in the coming weeks.”
I had a lawyer look over my book contracts as well and negotiated the points that needed tweaking. It was well worth paying a professional to be in my court. The issues happen, I think, when a designer is picked out of the crowd by an editor at a big publishing house and asked to write a book. The feelings of being so grateful, and so flattered, are really strong, and the concern that you’ll lose it if you push is also very real. That’s when potential authors are most vulnerable.