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May 10, 2019

Pricing patterns has always been one of the hardest parts of designing and I’ve often felt like the “standard” price of knitting patterns is both lower than other similar products (eg. indie sewing patterns) and doesn’t really reflect the amount of work that goes into them. At the same time, it’s totally fair to worry that rising pattern prices will price people out. Of course pattern prices are only one aspect of the many ways knitting can be expensive, and that as a community it can feel exclusive and like you have to spend a lot to fit in. I’d like to find a price that balances valuing the work in a pattern, and being inclusive. Consequently I’m trialing a higher price combined with pay what you can options on couple of patterns, and hope to extend it to more. In this post I’ll break down some of the challenges of pattern pricing, and explain how the new model works.

Some of the challenges in pricing patterns

I’ve been an indie, self publishing designer for almost 14 years. Now I also run an online store, growing dye studio, AND design. We’ve got a team of 8 and there are never enough hours in the day. In that time I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry, and a lot of the same conversations circling back around.

In the early years of designing full time I struggled to be taken seriously as a business owner within the industry: how could you have a business selling only patterns? After all, wasn’t the primary purpose of a pattern to entice someone to buy the yarn. The irony’s not lost on me that I ended up selling yarn.

I often see marketing people, and sometimes yarn brands and shops, divide customers into groups based on the price point of their yarn choices, and argue that a shop should cater to just one of those groups. Of course some knitters need to be very budget conscious, and for others any yarn is an insignificant purchase, but I think the vast majority of knitters shop in a more fluid way — we choose yarns across the price spectrum depending on the project (or our other spending that month!).

Since we began selling yarn it's been a priority for me to offer both more luxurious artisan yarns, carefully chosen so their higher prices are actually a fair reflection of the quality and work involved in their production, alongside affordable choices that are ideal for everyday garments and accessories. I don't ever want anyone to feel like they aren't welcome in my booth at an event, or to share their projects using a cheaper yarn substitute, and I want to make sure that if you do need to be careful of your spending on yarn that I have options that will make the most of your money.

For yarns, stocking a range at different price points is mostly a matter of selection. We choose a variety, do what we can to keep shipping costs affordable, and accept that we’ll never sell the volume to compete with the lowest possible yarn prices out there. Even when we’re importing a yarn the price is a, relatively, straightforward calculation based on the price we paid, import costs and the exchange rate. For digital patterns, there’s no such simple calculation, but I want the values that affect how we choose yarn to permeate every aspect of the business.

The changes in my business have given me a lot of different perspectives on pattern pricing, and, at the same time, intensified my commitment not to devalue the work that all designers put into their patterns. Everyone’s business is different, but pricing a digital product is such a shot in the dark that I am conscious of how my pricing can affect the perceived standard. Choosing a price is always a balancing act: will this price affect how many patterns I sell? Will it make enough of a difference to matter in the end? Will my customers still be able to afford it? Will I sell enough to cover the costs of making the pattern?

Producing a knitting pattern might be more expensive than you’d think, and meeting the upfront production costs can take months or even years. It’s important to me that the people involved in producing my patterns are paid fairly for their work. That includes our in house team, sample knitters, tech editors, photographers and models. For a sweater pattern, especially one like Ravelston with multiple samples the upfront costs can easily be well over £1000.

Some patterns will be popular and sell more than enough copies to cover those fixed production costs. Some won’t. Even if a pattern is popular enough to cover the initial outlay, selling more copies isn’t pure profit: things like payment processing and Ravelry fees apply to each one, and the level of customer support can, at times, increase disproportionately to sales.

Pay what you can pricing

This idea was specifically inspired by recent conversations amongst designers and knitters, about inclusion and sustainability and particularly by Francoise Danoy who has introduced pay what works pricing on her gorgeous new Whakahoahoa Shawl. It is, of course, an idea that’s often used in other fields, the most famous example probably being Radiohead. 

Person wearing a sleeveless purple dress with their back to the camera holding a pink, triangular lace shawl.

I genuinely don’t know if this is the answer to finding balance between communicating the true value of a pattern and including everyone but I thought it was worth trying and welcome your feedback. We discussed it at our team meeting last week, and the major concerns were: that it might foster a race to the bottom, after an initially generous period, where it would be hard for any designer to make more than the lowest “normal” tier; and that it was open to abuse by people who were happy and able to spend lots on more tangible items. Both of those are really valid concerns, and I’m not expecting this to be the right fit for every designer. For the latter: we certainly don’t want to put people in the position of having to ask for a lower price, or prove that they’re deserving. The nature of an honours system and human nature is that often the people who can most afford not to be are the cheapest.

How does it work?

Currently pay what you can pricing is available on Ravelston and Thebe. Just select the price that works for you and checkout as normal.

Is this available on Ravelry?

No, but you will be able to add your pattern to Ravelry after checkout. We’re not offering this via Ravelry because we’d have to do more manual processing of VAT. This may be available in the future.

Are there non-financial ways to support your work?

Yes! It makes a huge difference if you take the time to share your projects, on Ravelry, social media, or face to face. Writing reviews, sharing a post that resonated with you, suggesting stocking my books to your LYS – all of that makes a real difference to whether other people in your circle find both my creative work and online store. It’s always appreciated!

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