Friday, March 6, 2015

Fair value

I hadn't really planned to talk about this, but after a Twitter exchange yesterday I felt I had to write down my thoughts on the matter.

All photos (c) Caro Sheridan ( )
This should really be two separate blog posts. One about my latest eBook purchase, Aurora Borealis Mittens by Shannon Okey. And a second about what I consider to be fair pricing for patterns or eBooks. But the two topics got tangled up on Twitter, so I'm going to talk about both here.

I bought Shannon Okey's book of mitten patterns yesterday on a bit of an impulse. Overwhelmed by the euphoria of successfully completing my Fiddlehead mittens, I immediately wanted more gorgeous color work mittens. The finished objects mind, not necessarily knitting them.

I'll admit I debated whether I should buy the eBook or not. I've only recently begun enjoying stranded knitting. But a few things persuaded me: I like having options, I have lots of stash to use up, I have money in my PayPal account, and frankly, I like supporting indie designers and small presses like Cooperative Press. I briefly met Shannon last year at MDSW, via a mutual friend and she seems like a good person doing good things. So I wanted to support that.

I also didn't want to blog about the book, because I've just recently reviewed the Spring 2015 Sockupied magazine and I don't want people to think that all I do is review products (with or without compensation). If I mention stuff it's because I've found it useful/helpful/interesting in some way to my own knitting life. I have no illusions that my sporadic blog posting is in any way influential!

But the Twitter conversation I mentioned earlier compels me to mention the book. I read the book cover to cover after buying it. I don't plan on knitting more mittens right now. I'm just casting on for a Catherine sweater by Glenna C, a fellow Canadian designer I met the other week. But I was curious about the contents.

About Aurora Borealis Mittens, the book

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading Shannon's Aurora Borealis Mittens. My expectations weren't that high going in, given my past with stranded knitting and the quality of some pattern books I've bought in the past. But Shannon hit all the sweet spots for me. She has a unique voice that comes through clearly and which is very engaging. She's conversational yet informative, almost like you're talking with someone from your knit night circle who just happens to be an expert about stranded mittens and Norse history.

Her section on techniques and tips hits all the main points. She covers gauge, needle types, yarn types,  the importance of finding what works for you given the materials you're using. Then she gives practical advice for how to hold the yarn (yarn dominance) and how that affects the end product. She acknowledges that you might want to share skeins of yarn with a knitting pal since stranded mitts don't usually use full skeins. There's solid descriptions of casting on/off techniques, cuffs, felting, and so on.


For each pattern Shannon offers a short introduction with bits of Norse mythology or personal anecdotes thrown in. (Bonus reference section at the end of book, pointing to more resources for Norse Mythology!) For me, this really creates a more meaningful connection to the pattern and to Shannon herself. You can tell she really knows what she's talking about. And this is reinforced throughout the patterns as she drops in bits of timely and real world suggestions. She doesn't just tell you do something. She tells you WHY you want to do it. A lot of writers forget this part. And in my opinion, it's the why that is important. Knowing the why creates an educated knitter who can deviate from the pattern to suit their own needs, resulting in a more successful finished object.

Eydis (An example of a pattern that I
would have chosen different colors for.)
To be balanced, and to avoid sounding like an infomercial for the book, there are a few "off" things about the book. But I don't like mentioning these because frankly they're not a big deal, mostly my personal opinion and/or completely normal for any book. Not all the color combinations impressed me. Which is entirely subjective and not a reflection on the actual patterns. I looked beyond the colors and focused on the charts, which are lovely. Except for 2 of the thumb chart patterns which are teeny tiny. I've exported graphics into patterns and I know what a pain in the but sizing graphics is. And I've dealt with tech editor revisions and test knitter revisions, so I know how easy it is to overlook something or inadvertently introduce an error. Especially when multiple people are touching the file: the writer, the tech editor, perhaps a graphic designer, etc. And in fact, Shannon is aware of the graphics issue, which means it will likely be rectified shortly. (Another great thing about eBooks; they can be updated more easily than print.)

Fair Value

Nordic Stars
This brings me to the "fair value" portion of my post. Someone on Twitter commented that the book seemed a bit pricey, and expected to pay more along the lines of $1/pattern for a hardcover book and 50 cents/pattern if the book is paperback.

 I couldn't let this pass by. Aurora Borealis Mittens is $16.95 US for the eBook and $26.95 for the print and eBook version. The book itself provides 16 patterns, plus the techniques section and the bonus Norse mythology info/resources, in a total of 108 pages.

Individual patterns tend to sell for an average of $5-6 US. Maybe less for accessories, maybe more for a sweater or complex lace shawl.

When you run the numbers, the eBook gives you 16 patterns for about $1.06 each. The print book, that's $1.58/pattern. And that doesn't take into account the pages of advice on technique and clear explanation Shannon also provides, along with links to further tutorials and resources. How do you put a price to that? I think those 6 pages of the book are worth more that $1.06. That's knowledge and power right there that you can use and apply to future projects.

Sure, $26.95 is pricey. That's why I love having the option to buy the eBook for $16.95. eBooks are my preferred method of buying books these days, since I find it easier to mark up PDFs as I knit. And if I need to print a chart for reference, then I have the option of just printing the page(s) I need instead of lugging a book around (woe, I don't have a tablet!).

In the Twitter conversation I've referenced, Shannon mentioned that prints costs are almost $5 per copy, plus tech editing and photography costs of around $2,000 for the overall book. So right away, take $5 off the price of the print book. That's $22. Hard costs like tech editing, photography and marketing and advertising have to be paid out of that. Plus a fair profit to Cooperative Press and a fair wage to the author. Plus a bunch of other costs I can't imagine because I'm not in publishing. For the PDF version, there's Ravelry fees and other expenses I imagine.

And that's for books bought direct from the publisher. If the books are sold wholesale, the publisher automatically loses 50-60% of the book price. So that $27 book costs the wholesale $10-14 (which goes to the publisher). From that $10-14, subtract the $5 printing cost, and another $1 for shipping the book to the wholesale purchaser. The publisher is now left with a max of $4-8/book to pay for tech editing, photography, marketing, pay themselves and pay the author.

Just by ball-parking the numbers like that, it's easy to see that Cooperative Press is setting reasonable prices for its books. They deliver quality content in smaller quantities. They're not selling thousands of copies of each book. They are a small press working with authors to pay them a fair wage for their intellectual property. They provide niche content that larger publishers would reject because it doesn't sell 10,000 copies.

And look at it from the author's point of view: they probably spend a good 6 months (or 12-18 months) working on a book and its patterns. Say they make a generous $1-3/copy sold. Again, I'm making up numbers on the generous side. And say 1,000 copies of a book are sold. That's $1-3,000 for 6 months to a year of their time. Time that they spent and didn't earn other money. These people aren't getting rich off these books! Sure, they may sell more copies over the years, but not 10's of thousands of copies.

Would I love to pay $5 for a PDF or $10 for a hard copy book of patterns? Sure, who wouldn't? Money is tight for everyone. But look at the people behind the product and you'll see that those kinds of prices aren't sustainable. They don't allow the authors or Cooperative Press to earn a living wage. The people writing these books, editing these books, photographing these patterns, and printing these books need to pay their mortgages/rent, their utilities, buy their groceries, clothe their kids and take their pets to the vet.

You can't do that if your profit per book is $1-5 and you're only selling 500 or even 1,000 books. (Note - I have no idea what the actual numbers are, but I'm making some guesses and assumptions. Maybe they do sell 5,000 copies of each book, but I doubt it.) And as Shannon Okey tweeted, "A lot of work/money goes into making books & you never know if you'll earn it back. It's nervewracking."

Since I've been knitting, and even more so since I started designing and selling knitting patterns, I've become more aware of the disparity between what things actually cost to produce and what people are willing to pay for them. The debates are all over the internet and assorted Ravelry forums. Everyone has their opinion. This is mine and I'm not guaranteeing that I'm presenting a cogent or comprehensive argument here.

We're used to buying cheap goods made overseas for pennies. Goods that are poorly made and that we are expected to throw away and replace seasonally (for clothes) or every few years when those items break or new upgrades are released.

Nordic Stars Tam
Me, I'm making the conscious decision to support designers whose work I appreciate and respect. I'd rather put my dollars into purchases which support organizations that offer living wages to their contributors. I'd rather spend my money on independent designers or yarn dyers than big box products. Sure I still buy certain things from big box stores.

But when I have a choice and when I can afford it, I'm happy to pay fair value for quality workmanship. I want those designers/dyers to be able to afford to stay in business. Because if they don't, our choices of patterns, yarns, fibers, etc will become severely restricted.

I don't want to work for $3.15 per hour, nor do I expect that anyone else should. Yet, if an author only earns $3,000 for a book they spent 6 months (24 wks, 960 hrs) working on, that's what they're earning hourly.

And because I'm Canadian, there's a little bit of "who am I to say that these artists should be forced to work for pennies just for my benefit?" Why should I think I am entitled to cheap patterns/yarn so I can get a good deal? How am I entitled to devalue someone else's artistic endeavors for the sake of a few dollars?

There are a few designers I choose not to purchase from for personal reasons. But that's my choice. And it's their choice about how they run their business. But before we talk about what's fair, I think we need to look at both sides of the coin and figure out what's fair for both sides, instead of just taking into account the face value of the side we're on.

$15-20 for knowledge and patterns I can use for the next 30 years and which will give me hundreds of hours of knitting pleasure? That's fair value in my book.

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way by Cooperative Press or Shannon Okey for writing this. I asked permission from Shannon to use the photos and to quote her tweets. She also gave me some of the numbers I used re: wholesale costs. But I wrote this because I feel strongly about putting my money where my mouth is when it comes to supporting indie designers and small presses like CP.


  1. <3 This is beautiful and so spot on!

  2. Well said! Some people are just never going to pay- or pay much- for patterns or supplies (and funny how free patterns generate the most demanding and time intensive support requests).

    I happily pay for patterns- sometimes quite a bit. The cost is so low in terms of entertainment value- a $5 pattern may take me 10 hours to knit (so say .50 a hour). Even with the cost of yarn, that is cheap entertainment!

    1. Exactly, not to mention not having to do the math! I'll happily pay $ to avoid having to fiddle with charts and math. :)

  3. So well said. Thank you for expressing what I always think. We need to value the work that has gone into the design, the fiber, and the time we devote to our work. When I do buy something, I try very hard to make the choice to use my dollars to support small business. Too many of us live as though buying cheap and throwing away or discarding what we so recently acquired to make room for more and more.

  4. Very well said. It distresses me as a designer when I see someone remark that a pattern or book is too expensive. I have gotten royalty checks for 3-6 month periods for $7.00! When I see logical posts like yours, it gives me new hope that knitters do appreciate what I do and are willing to support it.

  5. Excellent article! Skillfully and gracefully stated. I will be reposting on facebook & twitter in just a moment. I couldn't agree more. Isn't it interesting how many of us will spend $5 - $10 at our neighborhood coffee shop for a hot drink and treat without thinking twice about it, yet hesitate to spend that same money on well-written patterns. By all means support your local coffee shop - they deserve to make a living and provide what you love. Designers (editors, printers, IT folks, publishers, etc. etc.) also work hard to provide what you love and are also trying to make a living. Many blessings to you!


    Bonnie Barker

  6. I am sooo not averse to getting a bargain, but YES. Yes to all of this.

  7. I must echo what others have said. I think good patterns are worth every penny and more that is requested. I have to budget and appreciate sales, but the patterns available aren't over priced. Thank you for this review and your comments. You've led me to a wonderful new rabbit hole.