Why I won't list free patterns any more.

by Hanna Gough

Imagine that you had an Etsy store and you received a message from a potential customer wanting to know about the price of the handmade project bags in your store. Exciting! Oh wait. You are stunned to see a reply along the lines of "Oh, I expected the bags to be free."

What? Why? 

That's crazy! Why would you give away your intellectual property for free? 

I'm sure you wouldn't. You work hard on your business and everything has value. Perhaps you have bills to pay. Perhaps you need to earn a living. Even if you don't need the money, as Kristen Jancuk so perfectly put it; 

I believe there is work to do to make this community inclusive, diverse and accessible. I don’t believe the solution is demanding additional free* labor from women who by and large don’t earn a living wage (or in many, many cases (hi!), even minimum wage).

And it honestly doesn’t matter if they have “day” jobs, or a working spouse, or don’t really “need” the money or any of those excuses—because they still deserve to earn a fair wage for their time and effort doing this work.

 

It will never, ever be acceptable to demand that a creator gives you their intellectual property for free. It will never be acceptable to blackmail them, guilt-trip them, give them a sob story or pressure them into giving hefty discounts either. 

It doesn't matter whether we have other sources of income from a day job, teaching, dying, tech editing. It really doesn't.

My day job is my business. It's my night job too and doesn't give me much time off at weekends, but this is irrelevant as no matter what I do, I deserve to earn a living like everyone else does. 

Talking about pricing and what should or shouldn't be free is always a tense subject. I am not here to tell anybody off but I do feel it needs talking about. 

Here's what I want to know:

Why on earth are indie patterns not in the same category as other handmade products? Why is there an expectation for them to be free or low priced? 

1. Nobody needs a free pattern and you are not a charity. There are thousands of free patterns out there. Why do you need to add to the pile? I believe that a pattern is an 'extra' as we use disposable income on our hobbies. Nobody truly needs a pattern.  There are many greater needs in Maslow's hierarchy before we get to patterns. 

2. Everything has a price. There is no such thing as a free lunch. 

Many small independent designers list at least one pattern on their online platform or website that does not have a price attached to it. I did it myself until now. I had a free blanket pattern listed. My justification for it being free went along the lines of "It's quite a simple, straightforward design." or "it is a way of introducing myself to potential customers. They will take a free pattern and come back for more" 

There are several things wrong with my rationale here:

a. The vast majority of those people have never posted (to my knowledge) about using that pattern, so my idea of it providing some exposure was flawed. No feedback, no projects linked anywhere. No recognition. I think it wouldn't matter if the pattern had been there or not. It is just sitting in hundreds of drop box folders somewhere and may never be used. That wasn't what I had hoped would happen to my work. 

b. It's a crochet blanket and it is quite different to my other designs. The likelihood of them coming back and wanting to make something from a different, paid pattern of mine is low. They might not even remember where they got it, as they didn't subscribe to the newsletter. 

c. It may have been a straightforward, simple design for me but that doesn't mean that it is worth nothing. Everything is easy if you know how. The person downloading that pattern may not have ever attempted a crochet blanket before. They may not even know how to crochet yet. That pattern has true worth and I just made it worthless. 

I have had my fair share of free patterns

In the past, I have come across many free patterns and downloaded them without further thought. How many of the free patterns have I used? I could probably count on one hand if I'm honest. They're just collected. I used more free patterns as a beginner because if you are just trying something out, it is understandable that you may not want to overspend for a taster. 

My theory

If there were no free patterns in my store, there would be no competition for my patterns and people who actually want the pattern will buy one anyway. I no longer list free patterns anywhere. I no longer compete with myself by offering free patterns. I have sold patterns on all of my online platforms. I do not need to offer them for free too. 

I have had more downloads of free patterns than I have of paid patterns, but this doesn't mean that my paid patterns aren't worth paying for. I have had much greater interaction from knitters and crocheters who have purchased patterns. I like to connect with them over their projects. I do not get this from free pattern downloaders. I have no relationship with them. They collected their pattern and have still never used it. As a designer, it is important for me to build rapport with crafters. They will know that if they have paid for a pattern, that pattern has been tech edited, tested and proof read. I promise a certain level of quality with paid patterns. You get what you pay for. 

I wonder if it sounds like I'm being precious over my work. I suppose I am. In no other capacity would you be expected to give away your work for free. My hope is that other independent designers will reconsider how they value their work, the time that has been put into it and the financial outlay required to have it tested and edited. I want my job to pay. It's not too much to ask.