Friday, September 7, 2012

The Economics of Knitting - Free Patterns

Many designers publish free patterns. They see this as a way of getting their name out to the pattern buying public. At this point in my career I have no plans to release any free patterns. I get asked why I'm not doing free patterns often and we've discussed it at our Pro-knitters group frequently. The opinions of our members vary widely on this topic.

Some of the concerns of those who do not release free patterns include the undervaluing of the work of designers. They often feel that knitters need to be realistic about the actual costs involved in producing patterns which include yarn, sample knitting costs, photography and tech editing and layout. The thought is that we are educating the knitter to expect that patterns should have a minimal cost.

One of our members shared details of the graphic arts industry and how, to her way of thinking, freelancers destroyed the marketplace by undervaluing their work to such an extent that people could not make a living wage. 

Many feel that the knitter who wants free patterns may never pay to buy a pattern so perhaps they are not our target market and the effort is a wasted one.

Pattern support comes up as an issue because no one wants to have these patterns tech edited. Pattern support is a reality in this industry. Some long time traditional publishers do not have an online presence specifically because they do not want to do pattern support. Interestingly some designers see it as a major benefit because it allows them to improve their writing skills.

A member of an unrelated industry tells me that a lot of time is wasted listening to pitches for work by vendors that are completely under priced. He can't use the vendor as history has proven they either go out of business quickly or they can not maintain the low rate of the initial quotes. The price skyrockets on subsequent projects to make up for the loss on the original quote. His internal clients are constantly questioning why existing vendors are so expensive since "ABC company" quoted a much lower price?

I think that originally free patterns were distributed by yarn companies as a way of selling yarn and in that context they do make sense as the overall business is profitable. Some are designed by full time staff and many companies commission designers to create patterns for their yarn. That means the pattern is free to the customer but the designer has been compensated. 

Some bloggers issue free patterns as they see it as a thank you to their readers. Others admit that they are just bending to the pressure of the marketplace as many designers do release freebies. For these reasons, free patterns are usually super simple, small projects.  

I'm more interested in expanding our craft and I don't want to spend time producing patterns that are already out there in a similar form. My biggest concern is that I build a sustainable business model. I just can't see how free patterns play into that goal. What do you think?


  1. A very interesting post. I agree many budding designers (including me) give out free patterns because we are not confident our patterns work and also don't feel we deserve to be paid as we are just starting out. Once I got out of the I-am-not-good-enough mentality, I give out free patterns because I need publicity. I get lot of traffic to my site from other sites which list free patterns, so it is probably increasing my potential customers.
    One reason which is not listed here is the pattern might not be anything new or unique. It could just be a simple lace stitch pattern being knit as a large stole which is just so straight forward that as a designer of more complex patterns, you might feel like giving out for free.

  2. My only free pattern is one in the Classic Elite webzine. No intention to offer others.

  3. I agree, and this is one of the reasons why I took down most of my free patterns. They no longer represent my current level of skill or the overall look of my "for sale" patterns and I was afraid that knitters working from the older patterns would think that my newer work was the same. As I have updated old patterns (very very slowly, lol), I reintroduced them as "free for a limited time" to ease the transition from 'free' to 'fee'. That seems to be working out alright.

  4. This is so timely for me. I've just started publishing patterns for sale and am working on a cabled scarf pattern that I had the intention of publishing for free. But after all the work knitting the scarf and charting the design and writing the pattern, I'm reconsidering the free part. I wouldn't do anything else I'm skilled at for free, so I don't think I'll be offering a pattern for free.

  5. I'm a knitter. If I didn't use free patterns first I would have never bought any patterns. For me the free patterns were a gateway to more challenging patterns which I could get only if I bought them.

  6. Very timely for me as well, I was looking at releasing a free pattern shortly, but its not a dead simple pattern, and I was totally considering it because I thought I 'should' offer a freebie. Actually I've had a free one in Petite Purls and am happy to do similar again, might leave it there for now and charge for my work!

  7. From a consumers point of view. I look at all the patterns out there. Then quite honestly I will see if I can find what I'm looking for or something close for free, because I NEVER make the pattern exactly as written. I always make modifications and if I'm doing that anyway I don't see the point of paying for something that I don't really want. Also if I buy the pattern I feel like I MUST make the object even if later I don't like the yarn I bought for it or it really was a poor decision, and I'd never wear it and don't really know anyone that would. Now I don't think twice about buying a book of patterns, even if there is only one in the whole book I'd ever make. Now I have purchased single patterns because they had excellently written instructions or a detail that I can't figure out myself. But I'm much more likely to purchase a selection of patterns.

    I really want that Plus Size Patterns book though, then again it is a book so, not so surprising.