My blog post yesterday received an overwhelming response, and has started conversations all over the net! I don't deal with the limelight very well and have a tendency to  scurry off and hide, but what I really want to do is to follow up and respond to some of the questions and points that have been made either in the comments, in private messages or around the web (everyone Googles themselves, yes?) Regardless of your stance on the cost of patterns and the free pattern debate, I think we can all agree that it's an interesting and valuable discussion.

I would be interested to know if you feel releasing patterns in magazines is important. Is it beneficial financially or more for awareness and marketing, so therefore attracting new customers.

Hmm, I can't say for certain that being published in magazines is a great marketing tool, but I think it does depend on the magazine. My experience with print magazines is that customers of print magazines will buy print magazines, and I'm not so sure there's much crossover in the markets; I find that print magazines are closer aligned to the yarn company market, although other designers' experience will vary. Online magazines such as Knitty are a different story with different customers! When I've asked in my Ravelry group about how knitters have found me, the number who have found me through my free patterns far outweighs the number who find me through print magazines.

That said, I continue working with the print magazines as it's a different experience and offers a different perspective. I've enjoyed working with the magazines that I have worked with.

But I have to say that I don't find working with magazines (print or online) all that beneficial financially - based on the average fee paid for a Hat pattern I'd have to have in excess of 350 patterns published annually to match the same turnover from self publishing, which is nuts! Admittedly a chunk of the costs incurred in self publishing would be irrelevant (though I'd still need the computer, yarn, etc) but I would have to pay sample knitters as it'd be physically impossible to knit that many, and editors as you bet there'd be way more errors when working at that rate, and the costs would balance out to about the same.

I just wonder if there mightn't be more money made if the patterns on Ravelry were a bit cheaper. I have seen patterns costing £6 or £7 pounds, where only a handful of people have actually knit the garment and posted the project details. I feel sure if they weren't so expensive they would sell more of them and perhaps make the same amount of profit in the end, or even more. Do you know if anyone has done studies on this?

I haven't personally, and I don't know that anyone in this industry could research it thoroughly as it'd be impossible to run a true test. That said, I'm told that yes, it's been proven that a higher price implies a higher value, and people (customers) will respect a product more than if it were cheap. This is something that comes up frequently in designer discussions, and those who have put their prices up have all commented that they've actually sold physically more copies; no-one has commented the same when they've lowered the price.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about pricing, and am reluctant to charge on the higher end; I want to remain accessible to a wider market, but it's a hard balance to find. I'm having to put my prices up in the next few months, as the cost of everything has increased; I can't afford to swallow those increases anymore and I can't afford to run the risk of keeping prices low and hoping that folks will still continue to buy.

My thinking is that it's up to us, indie/artisan designers, to decide what we think our work is worth. The market plays a part, but at the same time a decent chunk of the market thinks we should work for free and that's just not an option, as I've tried to explain. In turn, I think it's up to us to add value to our work. Whether it be a wider range of sizes or more thorough testing or better photography or more interesting design or unusual construction methods or more indepth explanations or all of these things - whatever it is, we need to set ourselves apart and let the knitter know why our patterns have value, and why they cost what they do. If knitters don't want to buy our patterns then they don't have to, but for those that do, they know what they're getting.

I feel like the "free" nature of the Internet (i.e. the glut of media we all consume without having to pay for it upfront) has changed people's attitudes about what they "should" have to pay for, and this seems to be part of that.

Very possibly, yes. The internet is an amazing thing and it's bought with it a revolution as to how information is shared, and that's constantly changing. Publishing, as well as the music industry, is still trying to find it's feet in this new era. You only have to look at something like Wikipedia, which always claimed that it would free, now asking relentlessly for donations to cover running costs.

Nothing is really free. Free isn't sustainable, as much as many would like it to be. Unless we return to a culture where skills, time or goods are the currency and direct trade of these is the norm, everyone needs money on some level to survive.

Coupled with that, we're dealing with a concept that was originally seeded by yarn companies - patterns would be given away free, or for next to nothing, to encourage yarn sales. The patterns were never really free as the costs would be hidden in the yarn price, and the costs of producing those patterns wouldn't be a far cry from the costs I laid out yesterday - they still require designers to design, and editors and models and photographers and so on. It's encouraging to see yarn companies, particularly indies, charging a realistic price for their patterns - costs are becoming more transparent and I believe that can only help us all in appreciating, and raising, their value.

A large amount of these costs have less to do with pattern writing and more to do with being a self-published author. Self-publishing print books is really expensive and this hasn't been covered.

Looking at that post, the first two sections, i.e. the actual production costs, occur for each pattern and are direct costs of pattern writing. But so are many of the indirect costs - without a computer I (we) wouldn't be able to write and publish a pattern. Without a camera I wouldn't be able to take photographs for publishing, and would need to hire a photographer which pushes the costs up even higher. Without some level of skill in knitting, designing wouldn't happen in the first place.

Photography costs and publishing costs, i.e. managing the layout etc, would still occur regardless of whether it's an item being self published or published by a big company. Generally, they'd be on the higher side as they've bigger budgets for that sort of thing. Costs for advertising and going to shows are less obvious, but they still have to be covered by pattern sales - if we didn't make an effort to market ourselves somehow we wouldn't sell anything - it's a misconception that quality alone sells and that customers come knocking on your door ;)

Information on the costs for publishing print books isn't included because I don't work with print - printed books are incredibly expensive, require a huge monetary investment upfront, and that's one of the (many) reasons why I don't! I do though use POD (print on demand) which doesn't have anywhere near the same costs and preparation (it's not just the cost of the print run itself that incurs) and essentially doesn't cost much more than producing a PDF or eBook. 

Why are you trying to justify charging for your patterns? Surely knitters/crocheters accept the fact that some patterns cost money; if they don’t want to pay, they can just use free patterns. 

Oh boy, you would not believe how many times we get told we are charging too much! You only have to look at the forums regularly to see how often knitters complain about prices, and see how we're considered greedy or rip-off merchants and so on. Ironically, you'll also then read how knitters expect patterns to be consistently spotless and error free - you can't realistically expect both.

I'm not trying to justify anything, I'm simply outlining that yes, exactly, this is a business and there are costs involved. And I totally agree - if folks don't want to pay then there is a plethora of free patterns out there. But I do think we have a problem in this industry that folks don't necessarily see the business side of things - that might be because of marketing trends set by yarn companies, or it might just be that to many this is a hobby, and bringing money into it muddies the waters. It could also be due to the flood of cheap imports, which in turn has led to folk appreciating the value of things less in general. Or it might simply be because not enough people are talking about it.

If designers and publishers go through all these levels of testing and editing, why do errors still occur? 

Not everyone does go through these levels of testing and editing. I do because I'm paranoid and beat myself up something daft when errors are found. And yeah, despite all the testing and editing, errors can still occur - everyone is only human. At least though, they're not a common occurrence with my patterns and I like to think that's because of all the work we put in. And I know that as a consumer, I'd feel happier knowing that the maker has gone to the effort of getting the item tested/edited.

Magazines and publishers are a whole other ball game and work to a very different schedule - deadlines are a big issue there, as is budget, and testing in particular takes time - imagine a magazine asking that a jumper be test knit in at least 3 different sizes - it would never get to print! Hats are at least small and manageable and aren't as heavy on the budget, but even then, magazines cover the costs on that front, and magazines do tech edit. Budgets also tend to favour the graphics and photography side of things... I can't speak for editors and tech editors, but unfortunately designers are generally at the bottom end of the food chain in publishing.

What are your views on free patterns? Are they damaging the industry?

That's a bit of a loaded statement! And I don't think there's a short or straight forward answer.

No, I don't think all free patterns are bad - I myself have 27 available on this website, and numerous more sprinkled around the web, with 3 published with Knitty (although Knitty do pay a small remuneration). One thing we should do is differentiate when we're referring to free patterns - there are thousands upon thousands of free patterns for basic items available, and I honestly do not see how they are undermining any of us. Most of my free patterns of are this variety, and I think most folk appreciate why that is - the costs all round are much lower, and I personally wouldn't feel right in charging for those. It takes me an afternoon to knit and publish a pattern for a basic beanie Hat and I would rather give that back to the community. Not everything is valued in a monetary sense - many of my regular customers came to me through my free patterns.

Patterns for more complex items that are free are more problematic, and there are strong opinions on either side of that one. And I think that's a blog post in itself! Choice and reasoning is critical, and at the end of the day the decision belongs to the copyright holder (regardless of what you think of that law, respect is important). There's a trend at the moment for designers to publish a usually paid-for (and tested and edited) pattern for free for a short period of time to garner interest, and I do think that's more damaging in the long run than permanently for-free patterns. It's an interesting debate, but also an exhausting one.

Right now I need to stop worrying about what others are charging for their patterns, or not, and spend my energy on increasing the value of my patterns. Folks will always publish free patterns, and I'm not so sure they're the enemy. This is a debate that can go on forever, and likely will! However if we want to grow our businesses and keep the food on the table, then I think that's the best thing to focus on. If folks don't want to pay, we can't make them, and neither should we try. But we can do our best to make something of value that folks are willing to pay for. And that, I think, is better for our industry in the long run.

AuthorWoolly Wormhead
CategoriesIndie Biz