Mark Montano uses Americana Tube Acrylics for some of his DIY tutorials and projects on his website. such as this stencil art project.

Photo courtesy of Mark Montano

In the race to gain blog readers and newsletter subscribers, the craft industry has adopted the motto of “free.” They hope offering free patterns as lead magnets will lead to future sales.

Sam Hunter isn’t buying it.

“I’ve been told categorically by some people that I should do more free things,” says the Portland, Oregon quilt designer behind Hunter’s Design Studio. “My experience is that I don’t get anything out of it.”

Last year, Hunter experimented by listing PDF patterns on her site at a suggested price that visitors could roll up or down as they wished. “I was slowly moving away from having all this free stuff. In January of this year, every single person who came to my site and took the free pattern, rolled it down to zero, and didn’t subscribe to my newsletter.” Instead of enticing readers with a free pattern, Hunter suggests offering a different kind of content, such as a Top 10 list, or advice for keeping your studio clean. She advocates for creators to raise their prices and put out quality patterns, so as not to train readers to expect free craft media.

“I personally know several designers now who’ve pulled back from making a free pattern to go with their fabric line in their contract,” Hunter says. Speaking with fabric distributor Clothworks, Hunter learned that fabric shops are tired of all the free projects. Why? They are no longer leading to fabric sales as intended, and they are training customers not to purchase patterns in shops.

This brings up another problem in the industry, which Hunter says is modeled by big box craft stores where everything is eventually on sale or you get a coupon. “We’ve turned a significant portion of our customers into people who expect the prices to be low,” she says. “They expect to get things for free. They are terribly verbal about it. They are combative about it. And they don’t want to invest in us [as makers].”

Hunter believes the industry as a whole has educated customers to be cheapskates. “I think we’ve taught them that they can be, and that with their ‘cheapskatery’ there’s still an ample amount of this industry that they can engage with without investing in it. And I’m not on board for that.”

The Case for Free

Is there a case for offering free patterns and other craft content? Craft designer, TV host, and best-selling author Mark Montano says yes. As a Creative Consultant for DecoArt and a Creative Director for Eclectic Products, makers of E-6000, Montano regularly uses his blog to share free tutorials for creative home decor and crafts that represent the brands he works with.

Sam Hunter and Lisa Congon with their “Show Up” quilt.

Photo courtesy of Sam Hunter

Mark Montano’s annual Artist Trading Cards Swap hands uses DecoArt paints and a Gel Press.

Photo courtesy of Mark Montano

Most companies or makers who offer a free pattern or printable are looking to increase traffic and attract new fans to their online venues, Montano explains. “I only offer free content to drive brand awareness to the products I use. I believe wholeheartedly if I stay authentic and consistently represent only the highest-quality products in my projects, that eventually people will be drawn to the brands I use when they’re shopping.”

And it’s working. Most brands that have worked with Montano have noticed up to a 20 percent increase in sales after he repeatedly uses their products in free online tutorials. That said, Montano does not share the concern that providing too much free craft content leads consumers to get used to “free,” and he doesn’t fear that they will stop buying patterns or products.

Supplies used in Mark Montano’s Stencil Art DIY project.

Photo courtesy of Mark Montano

“To be clear, even if I did not work with certain brands, I would still offer free content to my followers,” he says. “My personal mission is to share my creativity as a way of giving back. I hope to inspire people to be creative and ultimately lead more satisfying and healthy lives. That said, I think free content is important for most businesses. It’s like offering a free dessert with an entree. They may not see the results immediately, but slowly they will build brand awareness and hopefully loyalty.”

Industry veteran Lia Griffith agrees that free content can be valuable, but craft bloggers and businesses need to think about their reasoning behind it.

“Our aim has always been to help others reconnect with their creativity,” says Griffith, Founder and Creative Director of Lia Griffith Media out of Portland, Oregon. It takes hours and hours to design simple DIY projects, patterns, and tutorials, she explains. “We are teachers as well as designers and so we really need to put the work in to provide great tips, tricks, and tutorials. We wish we could provide our patterns and tutorials for free, but we cannot survive on free.”

When Griffith’s business launched in 2013, all of the content was free and she got by on ad revenue. But commission on ad clicks dropped dramatically in 2015 so she had to look at introducing a subscription model to make things work. “Fortunately it was very well received.”

 

For a number of reasons, Griffith and her creative team offers a couple of free DIY projects every month. One reason is to allow people to try before they pay to subscribe. The free patterns are also provided to print and online media, to increase brand awareness. “It allows us to share those patterns with our top online referrers who will only feature free patterns,” she says. “We also like to treat our non-members because many of them are incredibly loyal as well.”

There is no doubt that the rise in DIY blogs has created an assumption that tutorials and patterns should be freely available, Griffith says. “We need to change that story. No one out there can work for nothing. We must value ourselves and our work as creatives. It’s hard, and it took us a long time to become comfortable with charging our members. But fortunately, they see the value, they see the hours of work that goes into the projects we create for them, and they are happy to support that.”

Establishing Value as a Creative

What am I worth?

What is my value?

How am I going to charge for this?

For someone who is just starting out in the craft industry, these questions can seem impossible to answer. That’s why Hunter is passionate about keeping the conversation going. She participates in numerous forums and Facebook groups where creatives discuss raising the value of their work.

Hunter believes that structures of power and payment in the craft industry have been set up to send creators a mixed message. “We’ve built an industry on ‘nice women being nice.’ It’s been offered to us like we should be damn grateful for the crumbs. Why are we the only industry that doesn’t get a raise?”

“There’s definitely some work that we have to do with our self-confidence to stand up for what we should have in this industry,” Hunter says. “Every time I stand up for it, a lot of people write me privately [with support]. And I tell them that the only thing that’s going to make a change is if you stand up publicly. But no one wants to stick their neck out. I’m not going to stay quiet on this. I just can’t.”

More resources:

Crafty Planner podcast with Karen McTavish on increasing your prices

Quilt Pattern Designers Facebook group

Stop Working for Free Facebook group

Working as an Independent Quilt Entrepreneur by Steph Skardal

Lia Griffith in her studio.

Photo courtesy of Lia Griffith

Ethical Dilemmas in Providing Free Content
Lindsay Conner

Lindsay Conner

contributor

Lindsay is a modern quilter, writer, and editor. A multi-book author with C&T Publishing, her latest project was designing sampler quilts for FreeSpirit Block Party (Stash Books, September 2018). She also works with Craftsy and Baby Lock sewing machines, and is an editor for Frommer's Travel Guides. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, son, and two cats, who were the inspiration for her adult coloring book and Kickstarter "Project of the Day" Lazy-Ass Cats. www.lindsaysews.com, www.lazyasscats.com

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