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Some good/bad news ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:52 AM, March 27, 2012 [Permalink]

If you have been browsing my blogs for some time - this Mokuhankan Conversations, and the Woodblock Roundtable - you may remember a series of extended posts I did about a year and a half ago outlining a 'vision' for the future of my Mokuhankan venture.

In the first episode of that series, I was talking with an (imaginary) reporter, and explained to him the policy on the Trainee Premium - an option that could be 'added on' to an invoice whenever somebody made a print purchase.

Well, I have good news and I have 'bad' news, and they are both the same thing. Beginning this spring - active now, actually - the Trainee Premium is a reality. Anybody making a purchase through the Mokuhankan shopping cart will be faced with this, during the checkout procedure:

Trainee Premium (optional 'add-on'): As described on this FAQ page, Mokuhankan has a fund through which we support the training of our printers who are not yet able to support themselves through their work. If you agree - by checking this box - a 'Trainee Premium' of 5% of the amount of your order will be added to the invoice total, and that amount will be saved in our fund. A full accounting of the trainee funds is always publicly available for inspection.

This is followed by the checkbox that is mentioned, and of course, it works as described. If you are purchasing a print for $30. the invoice total will actually be $31.50

Rather than re-write the explanation here, it will perhaps be easiest if I simply quote from that FAQ page:

Revenue from this (completely optional) surcharge will be added to the fund that Mokuhankan uses to support trainees in their earliest stages, before they are capable of producing work that can be sold.

Back in the old days, the woodblock printmaking technique was used all over society for all kinds of work, not just 'art' products. In addition to the complex printing jobs done by the experienced men, there was always a lot of very simple work to do as well: decorative wrapping papers, fancy envelopes, etc.. Jobs like that were perfect for the beginners, and provided them both with training, and with income. But these days all that kind of work is done by mechanical means (printing presses) so the whole structure of the master/apprentice system has had the underpinnings kicked out. With no work available for beginners, there is now no way that they can support themselves during the time that it takes to get good enough to do 'real' work.

We 'bite the bullet' and pay them even though they can't actually earn that payment, but the burden is very high, and we are coming to you 'cap in hand' to ask you to help us with this problem. Your money is used for no other purpose than paying the trainees, and as we want to be as transparent as possible with this, we maintain a web page showing an accounting of these funds.

We thank you very much for your understanding of this situation, and hope that you will consider checking the box for at least some of your purchases with us!

So ... I suppose in a way this is 'bad' news for our friends/collectors/customers, because they may feel that this is an extra burden that I am asking them to help carry, but from the point of view of the two new trainees who will be starting here next week, anything that might help Dave push this thing forward a bit is certainly going to be taken as 'good' news!




Added by: Serge on March 27, 2012 5:10 AM

Hello Dave,
I fully subscribe to your "vision" and find it wonderful of looking long term, by the time you may not be able to carve by yourself and beyond to the legacy. 5% is very reasonnable and I will gladly contribute upon my next purchases...

All the best.....Serge

Added by: Ken Morgan on March 27, 2012 11:32 PM

I will also be happy to support this training.
The only way to continue is to train and it puts the cost where it means the most-the consumer. We chose to enjoy this art form and 5% is a small contribution for the quality work that becomes available.

Added by: Margaret on March 28, 2012 3:44 PM

Will the option to add the trainee fee be available only on Mokuhankan prints? I rarely buy Mokuhankan prints, but as a subscriber, I'd love the option to help support the trainees with my subscription purchases. After all, these same trainees are the ones who are helping make the cases and packaging the prints that are sent my way, even though the prints themselves are solely your work.

Added by: Dave on March 29, 2012 12:50 AM

I'd love the option to help support the trainees with my subscription purchases ...

When I was doing the programming on the Mokuhankan shopping cart to set this up, I myself was wondering the same thing - should I make this same option available on the page where people see their subscription invoices?

After giving it some thought, I decided to leave it off. I really want to avoid giving the impression that I am 'strong-arming' people into this sort of thing. Many (most?) of the collectors are indeed ready to support my project(s), and would certainly click the button if it were there. But the next invoice will be for print + case + extra shipping, and will come to $80. To ask people to pay still more on top of this would - I think - be kind of asking too much.

... these same trainees are the ones who are helping make the cases and packaging the prints that are sent my way, even though the prints themselves are solely your work.

Yes it's all one pocket in the end; I'm calling it a 'fund', but in actuality it's simply a bookkeeping entry. From the tax agency's point of view, all these ventures are David's own personal income - these Trainee Premiums included - until such time as we incorporate Mokuhankan as a legal entity in its own right.

I've now got the 'Trainee Accounting' page up ... here. I've worked backwards to include the amounts I paid to Tsushima-san since the day she started last summer. The 'Trainee Premiums' received so far are, of course, nil ...

Added by: Margaret Maloney on March 29, 2012 2:51 AM

But the next invoice will be for print + case + extra shipping, and will come to $80. To ask people to pay still more on top of this would - I think - be kind of asking too much.

I thought about that, and I understand why you chose not to add it.

Though the idea is moot at this point, I hope you won't mind my sharing a possibility I thought of after posting my comment above:

One way to make it possible for collectors like myself to contribute at invoice time that wouldn't seem burdensome or like strongarming might be this: a pay what you want option, with a maximum possible contribution of 5% of the invoice. (I have no idea how such a thing would be programmed; I only assume it is possible.) It could even be placed in a box to the side of the invoice page, such that a collector would not even see a line item placeholder for the premium unless they had already indicated an amount they'd like to give.

This would achieve the following things:

  • It would make it possible for collectors like myself who rarely buy Mokuhankan prints but would like to support the Mokuhankan venture to do so
  • It would prevent premiums that are problematically large (as this is a business venture, not a charity, and problems could arise if an unlimited amount were allowed)
  • It would be more complicated than just ticking a box (as with the Mokuhankan checkout premium) and that hurdle, and the attendant need for a collector to evaluate exactly how much they'd like to contribute would mean that it couldn't feel like strongarming, since it's not just yes or no, but an assessment of several possible values
  • It could be displayed in such a way that collectors could complete the usual invoice process without paying it any mind unless they wanted to

As I said before, I understand why you've chosen not to do it—if I'm so dead set on supporting the project I suppose I'll just have to go buy some Mokuhankan prints! :)

Added by: Dave on March 29, 2012 8:58 AM

Margaret, thanks for the extended thoughts on this! It's encouraging to hear that there are people who are so willing to get behind this idea.

Perhaps it's time to share some of the thoughts we have about how we are going to 'handle' these donation/payments. The idea is that at the end of every month (or other sensible time period), the trainees will each assemble some 'thank you packs', and send one off to each person who has clicked this 5% button. Just what will be inside each of these packs isn't really set yet, but it will presumably include some of the sample prints they have made, along with other items from their practice sessions. (Perhaps items such as the ones Tsushima-san used for practice on this page.) And who knows, in the case of more substantial donations, perhaps even a little something from the workshop master ...

Why don't I mention this on the page where people click the 5% button? It sounds silly, but it's because of tax reasons. Here in Japan we have a Consumption tax (a kind of VAT) on all sales. When I checked with my tax accountant on how to handle these 5% donations, he told me to make it clear that I wasn't selling anything, as if that were the case, I would have to pay VAT on these amounts.

So we're trying to make it clear they are not 'purchases'. You give us a small donation - a couple of weeks later, our trainees (might) send you 'a little something'.

I said 'might' because we won't be able to send something to everybody who adds the 5%. Somebody yesterday browsed the shopping cart, selected one of my eBooks, and click the 5% button, adding 38 yen to their invoice. That's appreciated, as 'every little bit helps', but I don't think we could reasonably be expected to send a little gift pack for that kind of amount.

We're going to play it by ear for a while, and see how things go ...

Added by: Margaret Maloney on March 30, 2012 10:01 AM

Ah, that's all very interesting!

Perhaps it might be a good idea to have the packaging for "thank you packs" prepared, and then, rather than stopping work to put all the packs together at once, they can be filled as things that could be fodder for the packs are produced. A test print has served its purpose and is dry and otherwise ready to go? Just pick up an envelope that's waiting with its thank you note already installed, pop the prints (or whatever) in, and seal it up to put in the "packs ready to go" pile. Then the only monthly (or bimonthly, or quarterly) task is labeling and sending the things, rather than scrounging around for test prints, etc.


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