It would appear now is the time for a lot of big discussions in the knitting world. As with the inclusivity discussion, the one on the cost of knitting patterns is also primarily happening on Instagram stories. I spend a lot of time thinking through this discussion and I always find it hard to wade in, so much to say and so many viewpoints.
This particular discussion is about pattern pricing and designers earnings. As I got started with this blog post these two blog post popped up; Hunter Hammersen here and Robynn Weldon here. Both make some great points, all of which I agree with and are well worth a read.
The basic thinking in this discussion started in one place and ended up in a REALLY different place. It began with a discussion about how knitting pattern pricing is much lower than that for sewing patterns. That historically, knitting patterns were a loss leader that supported yarn sales but sewing patterns were published to stand alone independent of material sales. This leads to calls for the raising of pattern prices and that then turned into a further discussion about poverty and privilege. So as you can see there are many, many layers to unpack here!
As a designer, you can, of course, choose to price a pattern as you wish. As a customer, you make the decision on whether that pattern is worth it or not to you. Or if you can afford it. As a consumer you get to decide; do I have the money for this AND is this item worth the money I will spend on it? If you are financially struggling €5 on a pattern may be more than you have extra that week or month. Pricing your patterns too high means you run the risk of excluding knitters who just can’t afford them. Woolly Wormhead has saved a long series of Instagram stories about this here. So how do you get the balance right? Fortunately, there is a huge range of free patterns available on Ravelry (126,951!), many designers do introductory discounts and newsletter specials on a regular basis.
On a personal basis, I’m very slow to spend my money, and I definitely like a bargain. When I’m pricing patterns I can’t justify going too far up with pricing if I’m not willing to spend it myself. So I sit somewhere mid-range; enough that pattern sales still make financial sense but not so high that it’s cost prohibitive for customers. I’ve had very few price increases over the years and it’s usually due to tax or other issues.
There seems to be a perception that designing is a ‘privilege’. I’m not really sure where that idea came from; perhaps the fact that designing is such a mix of people and situations really muddies the water. There are a lot of designers for whom it is a hobby. They love to design and the sales perhaps just cover their costs (sometimes not even). This is how a lot of us start out until it seems like a possible real ‘job’. Ravelry put some sale information up here about January 2019 sales. If you take a closer look, you will see that while there are a lot of designers out there, how many make a living wage? Less than 100 made over $3,000 in sales a month, and of course, this varies month to month. I really believe that it should be possible for designers to work full time at this and make a living wage. Also, this is just income from a pattern and not profit (all editing, photography, paypal fees and more come out of that total). You can read about the cost of producing a pattern by Woolly Wormhead over here and her follow up post here.
However, I know very, very few designers who exist just on pattern sales. There are definitely a few but it’s difficult. It’s even more difficult to sustain and grow pattern sales over the longer term. Most designers end up adding other strings their bow to grow, including teaching and yarn sales. For me, pattern sales have always been pretty good, but they have stayed fairly constant over several years with very little growth. This has meant that in order to grow my business I’ve needed to add other projects to what I do. Fortunately, I’ve loved everything that has been added but it was the only way I could easily grow my business. We are a 2-income household BUT we have 4 children (second on his way to college this year), 3 pets and family scattered across the world. To be able to meet the increasing costs of life I have to grow.
I’ve got huge admiration for designers that make pattern sales alone work for them. It’s tough to have a single income source. It gets even harder if you want to keep your prices accessible. I really like the concept of Patreon – this is a way for artists/designers to be supported by those that can afford it. If you love what a designer is producing and want to ensure that they can continue to do it this is a way of offering financial help to allow them to continue. It is a way for designers to keep prices low but give customers, who want to offer another level of support, a method to do so. Most importantly as it comes with special access to the designer, it’s not a donation, it’s another product.
I’m impressed if you got to the end of all that rambling! I’d encourage you to follow the links I’ve got in the post. All make slightly different points and this discussion is all about viewpoints. Life is messy, everyone has an opinion….I’m trying my best to keep an open mind, and see how the world around us and our thinking can change if we allow it to.