In October, Australian designers who have contributed projects to Homespun and Quilter’s Companion magazines received an email from the publisher, Universal Magazines, about the company’s new ecommerce effort. Called Cosy Project, the new site would be selling digital versions of the full library of previously published projects. The announcement took many designers by surprise.
“As publishers we have seen the importance of translating magazine brands into digital products and felt the best way for the Homespun and Quilters Companion content and mastheads to go online was in this way rather than create a blog or website and post it freely…we felt this would devalue the content as well as the mastheads,” an email to designers from editor Emma Perera read. We reached out to Universal Magazines for comment for this story but after more than a week they haven’t gotten back to us.
The email went on to say that Cosy Project would serve as a new way for Australian designers to be discovered. “In fact, all designers on the site are invited to create profile pages and promote their own e-commerce shops, blogs, social accounts, Etsy stores, etc. to help our users connect directly with you.” Designers receive 10 percent of the sales price of each pattern.
Cosy Project was scheduled to go live before Christmas, but actually launched in mid-January.
Universal Magazines is, as far as we can tell, within their rights to digitally republish and sell the patterns from the magazines. Designers signed contracts that included the a clause granting these right. It reads, “It is agreed that copyright in THE WORK will vest with Universal Magazines including electronic publication rights.”
According to the contract, designers can also sell PDF or print copies of their patterns two months after publication in Homespun or Quilters Companion and many designers do.
Patterns on Cosy Project are priced between $10–15. Perera explained the revenue share in an email to a designer: “There has been a considerable investment made into building and resourcing Cosy Project as well as a high cost associated with repurposing all the patterns from the magazine. For that reason, 10 percent was the highest viable amount we could share with designers until further notice. And we will revisit and look at this periodically and change the revenue share if and when possible.” Some designers have asked Perera to raise the prices on their patterns and those requests have been honored.
Designers were asked to provide their bank account details for direct deposit and to fill out their Cosy Project online profiles, but were not given the ability to opt out from inclusion in the site.
Despite having signed a contract granting the publisher digital rights, many designers were taken by aback by the announcement, and some were angered and dismayed.
Pattern listings on The Cosy Project website include the designer’s name in a small font size and don’t link up to the designer’s profile page where contact information is listed.
“I felt like I had been blindsided,” recalls one designer who asked to remain anonymous. “[PDFs are] how I sell most of my patterns, and even then I don’t have a thriving business. Homespun was telling me that they were going to take a least a dozen of my designs and sell them for a price that I would not be consulted about, on a platform I couldn’t access statistics for, and pay me 10 percent of the purchase price on an instantly deliverable file?”
Designer profile pages list the contact information at the bottom of questions the designer answers. Often the contact information is below the fold and not immediately visible.
This same designer went on to say, “Just because you can do something, should you?”
Another said, “Perhaps naively I have just signed in the past and probably skimmed over the bit about digital rights as there was no place they would use them…. It is a good lesson to me to check things properly; I have been someone that just has floated along in the past assuming no one was trying to be underhanded.”
For some designers being part of Cosy Project is a welcome addition to their online presence. One designer who contributes to magazines but doesn’t sell digital patterns herself said, “I am coming around to this. I am not sure they actually have to pay us anything and it is not costing me anything to host the site, promote it, or maintain it.” Another said, “While there are definitely some things I’m still a little unsure about, I’m going to go with it. I don’t believe they are trying to do us any harm, which for me is the most important thing. Hopefully that continues to be the case.”
Others have expressed frustration at not receiving any financial statements in the months since launch. “Cosy Project can send out all the bells-and-whistles emails to subscribers saying that they’ve added 100+ new designs to the site, but they can’t communicate once with the designers in over three months?” one asked.
Of the six designers I spoke with for this article, many have contacted Universal Magazines by email and phone with questions about inclusion in Cosy Project and not heard back. None have received payment yet.
“Have I sold a pattern? Or 10? Or none at all?” one designer asked. “How do I know? I have to trust them when all trust has been broken. I feel pretty disposable, but not my intellectual property. That’s worth something to them.”
Some designers simply feel resigned about the situation. “I know there’s nothing I can do to stop them,” one said. “I know nothing I can do will change the course this thing is on. I’ve read what other designers have said along the lines of they won’t ever submit to them again, but other new designers will step in and take the place of the old and see the publication as their big break,” she said, “They can chew designers up, get their work, and discard them because there will never be a void. It makes me feel a bit ill, actually.”
Universal Magazines isn’t the only craft media company to sell PDFs of previously published magazine projects. For F+W Media this is standard practice.