Pricing Transparency: Three Thoughts on Pricing my Patterns

As I'm gearing up for the launch of my very first sock pattern, I've spent quite a bit of time in conversations about knitting pattern pricing and in the depths of a spreadsheet to figure out how much I would want to charge for my patterns.

The discussions around pricing in this part of our industry are plentiful and, so I've been told, resurface every few years, seemingly without triggering a change in how much is charged for patterns. If you're curious and would like to read more on this, Beatrice's recent blog post is a great start. 

When I personally started thinking about pattern pricing, three things became clear very quickly:

1. I don't want to worsen the problem of underpricing by charging an unsustainable pattern price. 

2. I don't want to contribute to other sales and marketing practices that make knitwear design even more unsustainable. 

3. I still want people who might not be able to afford my patterns to have access to them.

Let's talk a little bit about each of them.

I don't want to worsen the problem of underpricing by charging an unsustainable pattern price. 

There are a lot of people out there trying to make a living with designing and selling knitting patterns. There are very few who actually do. The majority of knitwear designers I know substitute their income with other jobs or a partner that can jump in every once in while. I deeply believe that it should be possible for more people to make a living in this industry if a few parameters (like pricing) changed.

A big part of the problem is underpricing. What do I mean by that? For me, it means that the price that is charged for a pattern is so low that an unrealistically high number of patterns needs to be sold in order to make up for the expenses (incl. time) spent on creating the pattern.

A quick note on the "unrealistically high": During my research, it was really hard to find a good proxy for what would be a realistic amount of copies sold per pattern. Judging from the conversations I had, only a fraction of the people who buy a pattern actually put up a Ravelry project page for it and link it to the pattern. This means that the number of Ravelry projects for a design is not a good indicator of how many copies have been sold.

This is why I did a quick Instagram poll to see how many designers sold more or less than 100 copies of a sock pattern. The poll was answered by around 20 people - 79% of which said that they sold less than 100 copies per sock pattern.

What does that mean for pattern pricing? In my view, you need to look at everything that went into the creation of a pattern, tally up all the expenses incl. labor cost for yourself, and then set the price so that with a realistic amount of patterns sold you recover everything you directly and indirectly spent while creating the pattern. Any other pattern price is unsustainable.

Now, it would be quite easy for me to "beautify" these calculations as I have other business lines that can subsidize the knitwear design - and, more importantly, I've started designing as a creative outlet and NOT with the intent of making money. BUT. If I did that, I jeopardized everyone else who is trying to make a full-time job out of knitwear design by setting benchmark prices that are too low and not sustainable.

I don't want to contribute to other sales and marketing practices that make knitwear design even more unsustainable. 

Besides the regular pattern price there are quite a few sales and marketing tactics that have woven their way into our industry over the past years that, in my opinion, make knitwear design even more unsustainable financially.

Two particularly prominent examples are introductory discounts and birthday discounts. I've spoken at length about my opinion on birthday discounts (here's a recent Instagram post about it), so I want to focus on introductory discounts for a second:

What's the appeal of introductory discounts? Simply put, the reduced pattern price entices knitters to buy the pattern immediately which gets you up on Hot Right Now on Ravelry, in their queues and favorites, which in turn makes your pattern more visible on Ravelry, which in turn means more sales.

Now, there are a couple of problems I see with this practice:

1. You need to sell even more patterns to recover your cost.

If you're offering, say, a 20% discount on the regular pattern price, do you know how many more patterns you need to sell in order to recover the discount? 

Let's do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation with a few assumptions: You spent €1000 on creating the pattern. Your normal pattern price is €5. You offer a 20% introductory discount.

Without the discount, you would have had to sell 200 copies of the pattern to recover your costs. With the discount, you need to sell 250 copies, 25% more. This is simplified in the assumption that you would sell all these copies during the time the discount is running, but you get the idea, right?

Yes, you can (and should) price the discount into your pattern pricing when you're doing your calculations. But what does that mean in practice? Your standard pattern price needs to increase in order to cover the introductory discount, meaning knitters who buy your pattern later get "punished" - instead of offering a sustainable, stable price during the entire time you sell the pattern. And all of that in order to get into the cycle I described up above. That just doesn't feel fair to me.

2. The discount devalues your work.

There's a lot - A LOT - of work that's gone into the pattern. You deserve to be fairly compensated for that. In my opinion, whenever I see an introductory discount, it is not so much a thank you to the knitting community, but either a marketing instrument (see above) or a lack of confidence to say "This is my work. It's worth X." You spent so much time on creating a pattern, why should you shy way from charging what it's worth now? 

Worse, even - what does it say about the value you yourself put on your work if you discount it, even literally, because this has become common practice? There are countless studies underlining how prone we women are to underprice our work - mostly subconsciously - and I do think that some of these mechanisms are what we see at play here.

Now - I'm not blaming anyone who's trying to make a living selling knitting patterns for being tempted by introductory discounts. I get it, I really do. If you can use the rules in a system to your advantage, why shouldn't you? But I do urge you to start looking at the rules and see why they're there and whether we should not think about changing them. 

I still want people who might not be able to afford my patterns to have access to them.

The two previous points lead to a very obvious conclusion: Sustainable pattern pricing without discounts is where it's at. That is indeed the route I'm going, but this also means that my patterns will be priced higher than the average sock pattern costs on Ravelry right now.

I don't feel bad about that. Here's the thing, though: As much as I want to build a financially viable, sustainable business with HLH Designs, I also want to acknowledge that there are knitters out there with a very, very limited budget and I wouldn't want them to feel left out because I want to change something that they can't really do anything about.

Discounts are one way to help make patterns more affordable, but - as discussed above - I think there are fundamental problems with that. There are, in my opinion, better ways to ensure accessibility of patterns.

For now, I'm going to offer pattern donations to knitters who couldn't afford my patterns otherwise. (A big hat tip goes to Sylvia McFadden on whose Ravelry pages I first discovered this idea!)

I've heard of other ideas on how to handle that - price ranges, for example - which are intriguing, but sadly not yet implementable because of technology (both on Ravelry and my own website), so for now, I hope that that is going to at least address that issue a little bit.

Last, but not least:

I'm in a very privileged position. I can talk about these things without needing to worry about what that does to my revenue (even though I'm a tiny bit scared about the reactions I might get to this piece) and I am free and happy to discuss them online. But privilege comes with obligations. Those of us who are in a position to kick-start changes that the majority in the industry would benefit from are obliged to do so, in my view. It wouldn't feel true to myself and my label to not address this openly and honestly, and I hope that I'm not alone in wanting to not only discuss these issues, but do something about them.