Saturday 1 June 2019

The Debate About Pattern Pricing - Too High Or Too Low?

Recently on social media the thorny issue of knitting pattern pricing has come to the fore. Some members in the knitting community have pointed out that the cost of buying a pattern from a designer can be off-putting to those on low incomes and may lead to knitting becoming an elitist craft only open to those who can afford it. The counter argument is that a lot of work goes into creating a pattern and that designers deserve to be paid a fair amount for their work.

Designer Ann Kingstone published a blog post pointing out that "very few handknitting designers make a liveable income from selling patterns. With so many free patterns available, and a huge amount of choice in pay-for patterns, hand knit designers face an uphill struggle to attract buyers."

How much cash would you pay for a pattern?
She goes on to argue that lowering prices could prevent designers from earning a living wage: "I want to make design a viable self-employment choice for folk who have creative talent and want to make a living from it. With current industry pattern pricing averages that is not going to happen. So for many years I have deliberately priced my patterns at the top of the range of what other designers charge, feeling able to risk losing sales in order to support a move to more sustainable pattern pricing across the industry. As my patterns are quality products, I have felt justified in doing this, and almost nobody has complained."

Many designers have sales to stimulate interest in their products and also offer free 'taster' patterns, although these are usually from their back catalogue and not their new releases. Kingstone states "I consider it ridiculous to worry that knitting is being 'gentrified' if designers increase their prices".

There's also the issue that if great pattern designers can't earn a living wage from their craft then the profession itself may become a 'hobby job' only open to people who have enough income from elsewhere to live on, which itself would discriminate against talented people without a rich partner or a trust fund.

Elaine Jinks-Turner, owner of internet yarn business Baa Baa Brighouse, said in her blog post that social media can be open to abuse and misuse, when referring "to the ongoing furore regarding pattern pricing ... it's quite heartbreaking to see designers feeling as if they have to justify themselves to customers by detailing all kinds of personal and private events, to show that they are not being 'greedy' nor that being a knitwear designer is a 'choice' or 'privilege'."

Ravelston image courtesy of Kate O'Sullivan
Edinburgh-based designer Ysolda Teague is trailing a 'pay what you can' pricing mode, saying 'I've often felt like that "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 ... 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."

Teague's trial consists of two patterns, Ravelston and Thebe. Both have a higher trial price combined with lower 'pay what you can' options. Kingstone says if this improves overall profitability, whilst making a pattern affordable for those on low budgets, she will use this model herself for her next pattern release.

The 'pay what you can' pricing model itself is, however,  open to interpretation. Is it right for someone to pay more to subsidise a pattern for someone else (for example we all pay the same price for a tin of baked beans depending on where you shop) and how do you police the system so it is not abused? What qualifies as a low income? What about people who earn more than the average salary but feel cash-strapped due to their outgoings? In his book Status Anxiety Alain de Botton explains that how rich or poor you feel can be influenced by how well you are doing compared to your peer group and neighbours - for example a person earning £20,000 a year may feel well off if surrounded by people earning £18,000 but someone on £30,000 can feel poor if their neighbours can afford foreign holidays and a new car and they can't.

There could be an option, rather like Food Banks, where satisfied customers donate money to a designer's fund to give out free patterns to those on low incomes who otherwise couldn't afford to buy them. Yet, like state benefit means testing, it's embarrassing for someone to declare themselves in need of financial support and very intrusive for the designer to police.

Says Jinks-Turner, "there are days when I'd quite like to wander round Brighouse dressed in Chanel but my budget won't allow it and that's fine, there are plenty of alternatives. The same goes for knitwear patterns. There is an abundance of free patterns available on Ravelry."

The result of the 'pay what you can' trial will be closely watched by many designers.

Do you think knitting pattern prices are too high? Would you be prepared to pay the highest price in the 'pay what you can' model? Have your say in the comments box below or on A Woolly Yarn's Facebook page.

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