Making Things ... or not

If you’ve been on Ravelry, Instagram or Facebook during the last week, you’ve probably heard a lot about the new Making Things app. It’s being marketed as Netflix for knitters—pay a monthly subscription fee and have access to thousands of patterns from popular designers! It sounds absolutely fantastic.

But I’m afraid to say, I’m not on board yet—and don’t know if I’ll ever be—so you won’t find MediaPeruana Designs’ patterns over there any time soon.

When I first heard about the Making Things app, something in my brain said “no,” but I wasn’t sure what about it bothered me. All of the designers involved are marveling about how fair the compensation is for designers and how supportive the team is, so I just wasn’t sure what was giving me pause. I decided to keep reading and pondering.

A few days later, I do have some specific concerns about the platform, but my real issue is with the overall concept: regardless of the compensation, I think it devalues knitting patterns and pattern designers’ work.

For starters, it has immediately devalued the patterns’ of designers who aren’t participating—why would anyone buy 1 pattern from me for $7 when they can get a few thousand from a whole bunch of designers for $12?

But more broadly and long term, it has implications for all designers. It has taken us years to reach the point where most knitters value patterns and the work that goes into them, to raise awareness of the complexities of creating patterns and gain widespread acceptance of a fair (although concerns remain) price for digital patterns.

When you gather thousands of patterns together and provide access to them for less than the current price of 2 single patterns, I believe that takes us a step backward. It cheapens patterns, minimizes knitters’ investment in them, and encourages a cavalier approach to designers’ work—try a pattern, give up, move on to another one, no need to be picky, they’re all here and they’re practically free!

Free? Well, no silly—it’s $12/month. That’s $144/year, which is most certainly not free!
Not technically, no. But how much do you think about the cost of your Netflix or Hulu account? The money is taken out of your checking account every month, and you barely even notice it. Your wallet knows you’re paying for it every month, but your brain says “look at all the thousands of TV shows I can watch on demand anytime for free!”

Am I alone in this thinking? Perhaps. But knitting patterns aren’t television. They’re not made for mass consumption and mindless entertainment, and I don’t think a model that treats them the way TV shows are currently treated is ultimately going to be in the best interest of designers, particularly small-scale designers who stand to lose the most under this subscription model. A very popular designer’s patterns are much more likely to be accessed often enough to make the compensation s/he receives roughly equivalent to what might be made through actual sales, whereas that math doesn’t favor smaller-scale designers—who, ironically, may feel the most pressure to try out this new model in order to stay ahead of the game and increase their exposure.

I have some other concerns about the platform as well, that may or may not ultimately be addressed as the site develops:

What if a designer decides to leave the platform, or the entire site shuts down? Subscribers will have put $12/month into the developers’ and designers’ pockets to essentially rent patterns—you cannot print or download them—which will disappear, leaving them with nothing, except perhaps a bunch of half-done projects that they then won’t be able to finish without spending more money to buy the patterns.

An entirely digital platform sounds great—until the power goes out, there’s no wifi connection nearby, or their server fails, all of which are a) beyond your control and b) mean you can’t access patterns you were using.

Pattern support is apparently provided by an in-house team, but I am not comfortable with someone I don’t know providing support for my patterns. As delightful as it would be to have a team of people helping me in my business, I want to be the one choosing that team, not have them chosen for me.

Compensation for designers is said to be based on how much knitters “use” their patterns, but that seems like a pretty vague concept to me (although presumably if you actually sign up, it’s made clearer?). If person A knits my pattern in a week and person B knits it in 2 weeks, I earn less money from person A for the same amount of work? And what’s to stop someone from jotting down the relevant parts of a pattern for their size and then quit “using” it in the app?

This is a brand new platform; there will undoubtedly be hiccups and bumps along the way, some of my concerns will likely ultimately be addressed, but I have doubts that this broader issue can be resolved: turning patterns into something knitters rent rather than buy makes them disposable and diminishes their value. In my opinion, it doesn’t actively contribute to the growth and sustainability of the fiber arts industry, and in the long run seems likely to negatively impact a key player in the industry: designers.