Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Economics of Knitting - The High Cost of Rock Star Knitters

Recently my guild, the DKC ran a focus group  to find out from members what they want from the guild and how to attract more members. In the report from our newsletter I found the points I've listed below, especially interesting.

• More high-profile speakers. While everyone wanted more high profile speakers, the cost is high since it includes travel, maintenance and fees. Sometimes the DKC is fortunate enough to engage a speaker who lives locally or is in Toronto for another purpose, thereby avoiding travel and hotel costs. Suggestions to defray costs were the use of Skype technology and leveraging DKC member “connections” with potential speakers.
• Knitting workshops with high-profile instructors. The group wondered if the DKC should consider organizing an event similar to the Knit East, three days of workshop classes with a marketplace, held in St. Andrews NB in the fall of 2011. There were many high-profile instructors such as Cat Bordhi, Jane Thornley, Lucy Neatby, Veronik Avery and the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. There seemed to be an appetite among knitters to attend expensive courses as most were sold out. Since this type of event requires considerable planning and financial commitment, it also would require careful consideration.

I realized reading this, just how differently I view the situation from my perspective now that I'm working in the industry as opposed to when I was just a fanatical knitter. I can see the tight spot the guild is in. In the case of speakers the meeting is about 2 hours long and speakers usually get about an hour for their presentation. The guild report did mention the high cost of travel and accommodation expenses to them to bring in a high profile speaker. The other factor to consider from the speaker's perspective is that they also have to take their traveling time into account. It means that a one hour event may take the better part of two days away from their working time.The problem with this is that guilds typically run on a shoe string budget. Speakers are paid a nominal fee that doesn't equal the time actually spent by the speaker. I'm not even accounting for the prep time required to prepare the material for the presentation. I checked with a unnamed insider in an unrelated "not for profit" industry and was told that a speaker at their industry events are paid any where from $3,000 up to $25,000 for a high profile speaker. Occasionally they get a deal on high profile speakers who are promoting a book and the fee goes down to $10,000. I think we all know this is totally out of the guilds ability but I'm giving you the details as a point of comparison.

The knitting workshops are also an interesting topic. Our events, as like most other guild lectures and workshops are below the international knitting events like Vogue Live, but above the local yarn store level in terms of compensation. Working professionals obviously need to carefully review compensation before committing to an event. Some designers will only make appearances at smaller events if they are the sole focus of the event. I know some big name knitters who have that spelled out in their contracts. That means you may see them at the large shows with other designers and teachers but otherwise they are the center of retreats and workshops that they appear at. We currently do not have any single focus workshop events. That means that many of these instructors will never appear at our events.

The DKC pays teachers based on the number of class hours and the number of students attending. This can work out to the advantage or disadvantage of the instructor. Most big name knitters have a flat fee so they are unlikely to commit to the payment format of the guild. The guild wants to be fair and consistent with their payment so it would be difficult for them to change their format for one teacher only.

High profile knitters are also very busy and need to be booked way in advance. Our guild has an amazing and dedicated executive, however they are volunteers with heavy demands being placed on them. I doubt that they have the time to be working on these events so far into the future in the way that international events with full time staff can. The whole industry has issues around the topic of fair compensation. It's difficult to make a living in this business. That means there aren't very many really big name knitters as most need another source of income to follow this path. That means costs are high (in knitting industry terms), on those few established industry leaders. However if you compare to any other industry for speakers and workshops, we are still paying knitters at the very low end of the scale.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robin - great post. I have also tagged you in a blog tag. Here are the instructions -

    It's fun.