There’s been a few articles here and there in the craft sphere about free quilt patterns that I’ve been mulling over. I have my own opinions, but I was curious how my readers felt about the issue. So I decided to ask them! Here’s an excerpt from my most recent newsletter:
I’ve read a few articles about free content on blogs (free downloadable patterns, in particular) and how it is hurting the quilting industry. What say you?
As you know, I have both – a pattern shop and some patterns that are free to download. The latter help me get my name out there (via Pinterest and Facebook sharing) and get people signed up to my email list (where I can nurture a relationship with them). It also offers a risk-free way (for customers) to check out my patterns before buying.
But on the other hand, is it conditioning people to expect patterns for free? Is it encouraging a lack of respect for intellectual property ?
If a business site offers free content, do you accept they have to make money some other way (adverts, sponsored posts, affiliate links)? Or does it kind of offend you?
I spend a lot of timing thinking about these things, but I’m not sure if the average quilter does too? Are you interested in how a quilt blog stays afloat, what costs are involved? I understand if you don’t – there are many things I buy that I don’t feel compelled to know the ‘how” of its creation/business model!
Let me know your thoughts (just reply to this email). I’m keen to hear what consumers think of this issue. The quilting industry needs to serve its customers, but without killing off small businesses.
I received 94 replies and the majority understood that a business has to make money. They were very supportive and advised me to keep doing what I was doing (thank you!).
There were also a few replies that showed not everyone understands what goes into running a craft blog/pattern store, especially the costs incurred by owners. So I thought I’d outline some of the details behind the running of Bonjour Quilts, in an effort to show why pattern designers need to make money somewhere in order to survive. And let’s be honest – it’s better that they thrive, not “just survive”, because just surviving gets tiring very quickly and encourages business abandonment.
So let’s have a look at what it costs me to run my online business. And then I’ll show you how easy it is to support your favourite quilt blogs/quilt pattern designers.
Costs to Run a Quilt Blog – Annual Overheads
Although my blog started on a free blogging platform (blogspot), I now have a website (created for me by Teresa at A Fearless Venture) with a custom pattern shop that uses Sendowl. I worked hard to recoup those set-up costs last year so I’m only listing recurring annual costs here (in $US). But do keep in mind I’ve put several thousand dollars into my website and pattern shop over the past few years.
Website domain (Hover*) – $15
Website hosting (Lightning Base*) – $240
Site backup (VaultPress) – $165
Illustration software (Gliffy) – $95
Photoshop – $120
Email software (ConvertKit*) – $1345
G Suite email address – $60
SendOwl* – $180
Tailwind* – $120
Craft Industry Alliance* – $60
There is no line item for the cost of my time here. I’ll get to that later.
Add it all up and I have at the very minimum costs of $2400. With an average pattern price of $10, I need to sell 240 patterns every year to break even on my overheads.
But Bonjour Quilts doesn’t exist just to be a website – it has to produce patterns. So let’s have a look at those costs too.
PDF Quilt Pattern Production Costs.
Firstly, I can’t vouch for others’ costs, only my own. I know that there are cheaper ways (beware ye the risks!) of doing things, but this is what works for me. It’s important to me to produce a quality pattern that I have sewn myself and that has been technically edited by an industry professional. Do mistakes still occur? Sometimes. But I’m doing my best and learning all the time.
So – here’s an estimate of what it costs me to produce a pattern (all amounts are $US).
Technical editing – $100 – 150 (depending on pattern difficulty/length)
Graphic design – $200 – 300 depending on whether the template has already been set up (first pattern is most expensive).
Sample materials – $200
Please note that this doesn’t take into account the time it takes me to design the quilt, sew the sample, photograph the sample and edit the photographs. It also doesn’t take long-arming into account, as I probably send out only 30% of my quilts.
So the costs that come out of my pocket to create a quilt pattern are $500 – $650 (remembering that this doesn’t cover any of my time). Taking a $10 pattern price again for ease, you can see a pattern has to sell at least 50 – 65 copies to break even.
PDF vs Paper Patterns
Several replies to my newsletter question asked why PDF patterns weren’t cheaper than paper copies. After all, isn’t the main cost of a pattern the paper it’s printed on? I hope the annual overhead and pattern production costs I’ve outlined above show that this isn’t the case. A pattern, whether it’s paper or PDF, needs to cover production and overhead costs, as well as the intellectual work of the author. The couple of dollars it takes to print the pattern are a small portion of this cost.
There’s also another factor that needs to be considered in pattern pricing – selling wholesale.
Wholesale Pattern Sales
I’m a little on the fence with wholesale pattern selling. If you’re a quilt pattern designer having success in this area I’d love to hear from you!
Selling wholesale directly is quite simple. A quilt shop contacts you and purchases the patterns at half price. They then sell the patterns in their shop at the recommended retail price. This is why it’s important for a pattern designer to sell their patterns, both paper and PDF, at the same price. No quilt shop will want to carry your patterns if they know you’re offering the PDF version at a cheaper price (and rightly so!). The quilt shops would then have a whole bunch of patterns they can’t sell, or have to sell at close to cost price. So this is one reason why PDF and paper need to be priced the same – so it remains attractive to quilt shops to carry your patterns.
Selling wholesale through a distributor is another option. The distributor takes another cut of the pattern price, but the upside is they’ve a huge number of quilt shops on their books and can expose them to your patterns. The downside is they’ve a huge number of pattern designers on their books and your patterns won’t receive any special sales treatment. Distributors offer a service and have their own costs – it’s up to each quilt pattern designer to decide if that works for their business.
Here’s an indicative outline of the cost breakdown when selling wholesale through a distributor.
Paper pattern sells at $10 on designer’s website (pattern designer receives $10 per sale).
Paper Pattern sells at $5 wholesale to a quilt shop (pattern designer receives $5 per sale, quilt shop gets $5).
Paper pattern sells at $5 wholesale through a distributor (pattern designer receives $3.5 per sale, quilt shop gets $5, distributor gets $1.5)
The important thing to remember is that the quilt pattern designer PAYS FOR THE PATTERN PRINTING AND “PRINTER TO DISTRIBUTOR” POSTAGE.
Printing costs depend on how long your pattern is (more pages = more $) and how many you order. (Larger print runs are cheaper $ per pattern, but if your pattern doesn’t sell well then you’re stuck with a lot of money tied up in stock you can’t sell). Pattern printing costs can therefore vary greatly, but mine run in the $1.50 – $2 range per pattern. As you can see, there’s not much money left over from the $3.5 that goes to the designer in a wholesale distribution model.
When a distributor places a bulk order, the cost to send those patterns to the distributor is around $10-$20. It’s actually possible (if you have a paper hungry pattern or the distributor order isn’t very big) to LOSE MONEY when you sell paper patterns! This is why it’s really important to minimise the number of pages in a pattern. This is naturally at odds with a designer’s desire to give you as much instruction as possible. It’s quite conflicting!
So to recap – pattern costs are those directly related to producing the pattern and the overheads of the business.
To sell paper patterns, the designer has to be able to cover the printing and the pattern/overhead costs with the profits within a wholesale distributor model. Patterns sold for less than $10 make this very, very difficult.
To ensure quilt shops continue to stock paper patterns, the PDF patterns have to remain at the same price as paper. This ensures quilt shops aren’t undercut and helps offset the very narrow profit margins for the designer in the wholesale distributor model.
I hope this helps to show why designers can’t offer the patterns any cheaper than we currently do.
There are other costs that aren’t captured above. One of these are fees. Paypal, Stripe (credit card payment provider) and bank transfers bleed small amounts of money away from each sale amount. 3% here, 2% there, bank exchange rates for those that don’t live in the US. They all add up to eat into profit margins. Once I change my shop over to Shopify, they will start taking a cut of my sales too. I’m not mad about it – it’s a cost of doing business.
What else? Quilting tools, fabric, rotary cutter blades, long arm quilting, thread, sewing machine repairs and servicing, electricity. Taxes – can’t forget those. Or the accountant. If you have a booth at Market, that’s a big expense (especially if travelling from Australia) Oh, and bar codes. If you sell paper patterns, you have to pay for bar codes. You get the drift – businesses have lots of costs.
Education is another expense that is really important for small business owners. Unless you’ve come across from a comparable employment category, you’ll be learning how to run a small business as you go. It’s important to me to take courses through the year to try and improve how I do things. I’m a member of an online business community and I’ve also taken several “one off” online courses to target particular topics – Sticky Search Engine Optimisation ($149), Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers Master Cse* ($297), Pinterest Traffic Avalanche* ($197). It’s a continuous process of learning and making myself a better business owner, and it’s a process I really enjoy, actually!
Here’s the big one – the additional cost that is really important. As you saw above, none of the costs listed so far cover my work, or the hours of time that I spend in the business.
I Need to Pay Myself a Wage
The average wage in Australia is AUD$85,000 (this is US$60,000). I’d need to sell 6,000 patterns (at $10) a year to make a US$60,000 wage.
The median wage in the US is $45,000. (Given the cost of living in Australia is higher, the two are roughly comparable.) I’d need to sell 4,500 patterns a year to earn that wage.
And I’d have to sell them directly myself, as PDFs, not as paper patterns through a distributor. That’s a tall order!
(Funnily enough, I have 13,000 people on my email list. If everyone on my list bought just one $10 pattern every 2 years, I’d be supported!)
This is why those in the quilting industry have to work hard at developing multiple sources of income – books, courses, workshops, fabric design, offering advertising, using affiliate links, accepting sponsorship deals to try and earn a living wage. They really have to hustle!
You can probably guess I’m not making a living wage from Bonjour Quilts. I am in the black (not in the red), but it will be a while before I can build up the income streams and newsletter list that can support me in that manner. I’ve another job, one that pays me a wage and my superannuation (401K for US readers) so I’m able to contribute to my family while building Bonjour on the sidelines. It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it.
How You Can Support Your Favourite Quilt Pattern Designer
So you’ve seen the bad news – how about some good news? The good news is that it’s really, really easy to support your favourite quilt pattern designers. You can support them with money, or with actions, or with both.
Support with Money
+Hands down the best thing you can do is purchase a PDF pattern directly from the quilt pattern designer. That puts the most money into their pocket. And the great thing is that it’s an environmentally friendly way to support someone. There’s no trees being chopped down or ink being used. If you don’t get around to making the pattern you can be happy you’ve supported someone with none of the guilt that unused physical products generate.
+If you can’t buy a pattern (PDF or paper) from the designer, the next best thing is to buy their pattern from a quilt store. The quilt pattern designer, quilt store and the distributor’s families will thank you for the support.
+If your favourite designer has a book, a special ruler or designs fabric, purchasing directly from them (rather than through a middle man or Amazon) will pass on the most profit to them.
+If you can, purchase through the affiliate links on your favourite designer’s website. (Only things you were planning to buy anyway – I don’t like the idea of people buying things they don’t really need just to help someone with a commission.) That said, the commissions via affiliate links are very small. But they can add up over time and contribute a small bump of income to a blogger, at absolutely no cost to you the buyer. Amazon is going to pay someone a commission, so it might as well be your favourite designer, right?
Support with Action
I have many newsletter readers who have never purchased a pattern from me. The majority of non-purchasers are people on fixed incomes who say they would like to support me with a purchase, but unfortunately can’t. Luckily, there’s plenty of other things they can do to help.
Even if these readers can’t afford my patterns, they can help to get my work in front of others who can. There are millions of quilters out there, and some of them would love to purchase from me – if only they knew my patterns existed! This is where you can help your favourite quilt pattern designer. Get their name out in front of new readers so they’ve a chance to connect with new customers.
+Pin their photographs to Pinterest. Pinterest is a fantastic traffic generator for blogs and such a great place for people to find new things.
+Post their blog posts and new pattern listings to your Facebook feed, or share it in quilting Facebook Groups (if it’s within the rules). A recommendation is a powerful thing.
+Like their posts on Facebook and Instagram – this encourages both programs to show the photos to other similar users.
+If you’ve quilting friends who you think would enjoy a quilt designer’s newsletter, forward the email on to them with a recommendation. It would be great if you could help recruit new readers for them.
+If you see someone online in a quilting forum or a Facebook Group (or in real life at a guild or quilting circle) trying to source a free copy of a paid pattern, please speak up and defend that quilt pattern designer’s copyright. The more people that speak up against pattern theft, the closer we’ll come to stamping it out.
Back to the Free Patterns…
There is a place for freebies. They attract new people to quilting. I believe being able to download a free beginners pattern and give quilting a try opens the craft up to more people. And once we have them hooked, we have a quilter for life! Quilters, for the most part, who’ll go on to improve their skills and buy patterns.
Freebies are also a useful marketing tool. I have a few simple patterns that I use to get people onto my newsletter list. (So it’s really not a freebie – it’s a swap; an email address for a pattern.) On my list they can get to know me and my designs better and decide if they’d like to purchase a pattern. They may also decide they don’t like my style of quilting and unsubscribe. No biggie. This type of try-before-you-buy marketing is not new – think of test driving cars or trying the cheese samples in the deli.
Some other points to ponder on free:
The mass dropping of free patterns by companies when a fabric line debuts to encourage fabric sales. Even if a designer is paid a fee to produce the pattern by the fabric company, is it likely to replace the revenue that the pattern would generate over the entirely of its life? (Anecdotally it would seem quilt shops don’t like these free patterns either – they’d rather sell a pattern to a shopper.)
Are all free patterns technically edited and of good quality?
How much time is needed to support those free patterns? I’ve had people email and ask me to resize my free patterns for them – without paying me for that work. Of course, I politely decline, but why do people expect that I would want to do this work for them for free? No doubt because they think if I’ve worked for free before (free pattern), I’d be happy to work for free again.
Lots to read and lots to consider. If you’ve made it this far, you’re a legend and obviously care about quilting and the industry. Thank you for your support.
You can read more thoughts on this matter in these places:
I’d love to hear your comments on the issue. Please let me know your thoughts below.
Thank you – and happy creating!