Update: I’ve updated the statistics about how many patterns have been sold in the month of Janaury 2018 across all of Ravelry.
Making Things is a new web app that launched on October 30 to the knit and crochet community and has provoked intense online discussion about the cost of pattern, designer compensation, and disclosure of affiliate links. Created by Megan Elizabeth and her partner, Rob Andrew, and based in Melbourne, Australia, Making Things is a monthly subscription service providing access to over 1,000 patterns as well as web-based pattern reading tools including stitch counters, row highlighters, chart grids, and editable notes, plus 24-hour live pattern support.
For $11.99 a month, Making Things subscribers have digital access to the entire pattern library, but patterns can’t be downloaded or printed (and there’s a 30 pattern access limit to prevent fraudulent usage). Making Things is using a “subscriber share” model for figuring designer compensation which means that half of each subscriber’s payment goes to support the platform, while the other half goes directly to the designers whose patterns that subscriber used that month.
This is Elizabeth and Andrew’s second craft business. They formerly ran Wool Days, a small-batch Australian yarn company that had a three-year run. Last fall, according to an interview Elizabeth did with Frankie magazine, the couple decided to build an app together (Andrew “loves tech, especially designing beautiful experiences,” Elizabeth said) and kept coming back to the idea of an app that would allow users to better interact with knitting and crochet patterns on their phones.
Rob Andrew and Megan Elizabeth. Photo via Startmate.
After reading about startups and “the way they think about solutions. The way they just appear & hit the mark – so eloquently define a problem, and solve it,” Elizabeth applied to Startmate, an Australian startup accelerate not unlike to Y Combinator in the US. Startmate offers entrepreneurs a $75,000 AUD investment in exchange for 7.5% equity in their business.
To her surprise, she was accepted to the Sydney 2018 cohort. The 12-week program includes workshops, goal setting sessions, and inspirational lunches and dinners with successful entrepreneurs. Founders are paired with mentors who help fine-tune their business idea and get practice pitching to investors. The cohort also travels together to San Francisco to visit successful startup founders. The culmination is demo day where founders hope to secure investments from venture capitalists to fund their businesses. According to Startmate, the Sydney cohort this year had three teams raise $1 million AUD or close to it while the program was running. Elizabeth says she was one of them.
In her demo day pitch she explains that Making Things has the potential to scale exponentially. She says there are 848 million makers in the world who enjoy crafting as a hobby. Most of them are between the ages of 18-35 and spend 20 hours a week crafting, according to her pitch. “We’re starting with knitting and we’ll be expanding craft by craft to include the two-thirds of all makers who participate in at least two crafts,” she says. “This means we’ll be doubling, and then tripling the lifetime value of our customers.” Making Things closed a seed round from Skip Capital, a venture firm based in Sydney run by Kim Jackson who has made investments in seven startups with female founders in the past year. The company also secured funding from one other investor.
The ability to scale fast is a priority to early-stage venture investors and a large market opportunity is key. Whether that actually exists within craft, and within knitting patterns in particular, is open for debate. Knitting is a time-intensive craft and that means access to thousands of patterns in a single month may not be appealing as it sounds.
“If it takes you 4 months to make that sweater, and a lot of people do only one thing at a time, it is going to cost you $48. And if you are a good knitter and don’t need any help, then that $48 is going to be for the pattern only,” writes Ravelry user rosamaria. “Meanwhile, back at Ravelry the same or similar pattern…might be going for $8, and you have it forever.” 909 of the 1,104 patterns currently on Making Things are also available on Ravelry. Many pattern buyers also purchase patterns and never access them. Of the first 10,000 patterns bought on Ravelry in January 2018, 10 months ago, only 40% have been downloaded, opened or viewed. Although the idea of open access sounds appealing, it may not match up with actual pattern buying behavior.
In addition, other apps already exist that do many of the same things Making Things offers. For example, knitCompanion is a free app that syncs with Ravelry and allows users to mark up patterns with the same sorts of tools available on Making Things. For easily accessing patterns on your phone, LoveKnitting, another venture capital funded craft company, has a mobile app that syncs with a user’s Ravelry’s library.
Still, for some early adopters, Making Things is very appealing. Kim Miller joined up right away and, according to her comment on the Stitchcraft Marketing blog, is very happy with the app. “I also am a pattern hoarder so it’s worth it for me,” she says. Elise Blaha Cripe, founder of the Get to Work Book, is intrigued, too. “I like that it seems so clean and un-clunky,” she says. “I’m excited for anything that makes it easier for makers to make.”
Making Things has started with funding right out of the gate. Elizabeth says it was important to her to be able to compensate her team for their skills and creativity from the start. “Now we could bring on amazingly talented people onto our team and pay them fairly,” she said in an interview last week, “So they don’t have to say I could go get a high paying job somewhere or be valued for my creativity and passion for the industry. They can do both.”
In contrast, knitting and crochet pattern community and marketplace Ravelry has chosen to remain independent of outside investors. “It seems like all downside to me,” says co-founder Casey Forbes. “I’m very curious about this because to me, bringing in investors for $1,000,000 AUD seems worse than not having money at all…A small sum like this seems like a free sample of drugs. ‘Here you go – this won’t last, see you when it’s gone and you come back for more.’”
Forbes, his partner Jess, and the Ravelry team have managed to engender tremendous trust among the knitting and crochet community over the 10+ years the platform has been in business, perhaps in part because they’ve been responsive solely to the community of users. (1,017,00 people used Ravelry in the past month.)
Ravelry user Rachel Newin pointed out on Twitter that the platform is “run by ethical wonderful people who focus on the community rather than the bottom line.” Still, the discussion about Making Things, and its sleek user experience, has prompted Forbes to post an ad for a user experience designer to improve Ravelry’s interface.
While developing Making Things Elizabeth joined Ravelry to recruit approximately 40 designers and several hundred knitters and crocheters to become beta. The app was in beta for eight months, from the beginning of February through the beginning of October, and it was then that the concept evolved from a pattern reader to what’s now being described as “the Netflix for knitting patterns.” Once Making Things launched the beta testers group was deleted from Ravelry, as was Elizabeth’s Ravelry profile and all of her posts.
Making Things has a very generous referral program. Designers who refer a new subscriber to site receive $30 for each new signup during the month of November, and $20 for each signup thereafter. At launch, many designers who had been involved in the beta test wrote glowing reviews of the app on their social media accounts and email newsletters, but some failed to disclose that they would earn money from Making Things for each new subscriber who signed up through their link.
According to Elizabeth, “these are referral links and not affiliate links because only one designer can get one thing from one person” and “as it stands you can have a referral link that doesn’t have to be disclosed as a referral link.” She went on to say, “there’s no secrecy around that, but its because it’s a new way there’s a lot of questions about it.” The Federal Trade Commission does not differentiate between affiliate and referral links and requires disclosure of both whenever compensation is involved.
In the days after Making Things launched, many knitters and crocheters began to raise questions about the affiliate disclosures, as well as about how the app would affect consumer understanding of the monetary value of a single pattern. (If you get access to over 1,000 patterns for $11.99, how much is a single pattern really worth?) Several well-known designers who had been involved in the beta version publicly withdrew their patterns from the site.
Still, Elizabeth says Making Things is off to a promising start. “Personally I’m deeply satisfied and inspired by how this launch has gone. Our designer waitlist has grown to over 400 designers in the last week,” she says. “The biggest thing that I think everyone has noticed is that we’ve started a conversation. We’ve said out loud what so many people are thinking. Can we do better? It’s so important to have those open, honest conversations about how we support designers, how we support creativity, how we pay people, how we access things, how we are going to support ourselves not only now but in five or ten years time, and what do we want to do today to change that.”
The most fascinating part of this for me is that Ravelry had more than a million users this month and designers only sold 550 ish patterns? Maybe I don’t understand Ravelry’s model, which I believe is community based, but that seems to not bode well for Making Things.
I read the discussion on ravelry and that was referring to the sales figures for a single designer, not across the entire platform.
Thank you. I was quoting that number incorrectly. I’ve updated it now.
Oh! Thanks for clarifying. I could not wrap my head around that!
My mistake. I had that number wrong. I’ve updated it now.
I’m so happy that you’re covering this – excellent work, as always. I was part of that intense discussion on the Big 6 Board on Ravelry about Making Things, and it was fascinating and a total whirlwind; I learned a lot and gained some new favorite designers. MT doesn’t work for the way I like to use patterns (I prefer to directly support designers by buying their patterns through Ravelry, whether I then go on to make the pattern or not), and I don’t like the way they have handled their launch. But there is a niche for this type of crafter, and perhaps MT will be the company that fills it. I don’t mind as long as the designers who sign up know what they’re getting into – and perhaps the compensation will work out to be fairer than it appears to be currently. Regardless, well done, Abby; I’m so thankful that the crafting community HAS A JOURNALIST. Yeah!
I agree with many who think this concept is very expensive. I would rather pay for a pattern once on Ravelry. I then have the choice of using it electronically or printing it… I often enjoy unplugging and working from a paper copy.
I am happy to hear Rav is looking to improve the interface. It is dated, but I think generally it works.
I enjoy listening to your podcast!
The “based in Melbourne Australia” bit is a bit misleading as yes, as an Australian I thought wow this is great BUT the $11.99 per month is actually in US dollars, so then add a foreign transaction fee on top of that too and it’s more likely $17 dollars Australian dollars per month. Eek, as a customer/subscriber what do I get to keep at the end of the month/subscription? Nothing. Yes, I may have made something but I won’t actually get to own anything digitally.
I was a beta tester for the app, I originally thought this would be great but the non-disclosure of commissions to the designers (for new subscriptions) and the ongoing monthly cost is a big fat no from me.
Yes, I should have clarified that the subscription price of $11.99 is in US dollars. Thank you.
It is interesting to me that $11.99 per months grants me access to the sweater pattern, second from the left, on the top row. (The white with colorwork yoke. ) That sweater would take me a couple of months to make, so would have cost me $23.98 in subscription fees.
Fortunately, I purchased the book it was included in on KnitPicks website, so I can take my time. (Encircled) And when I’m done, I can work on one of the other NINE patterns also in that book. It costs $23.99 now, but I got lucky and bought it in sale for $14.99.
The problem with MT is cost. I can binge watch Downton Abbey on Netflix, and save literally hundreds of dollars over the cost of Blu-Ray, but knitting takes time, frequently more than a month.
You raise a good point about books. A book that costs, say, $20 and includes nine patterns is a good value as long as the patterns are well-tested and the author had the time and the know-how to develop a really good series.
Subscriptions for anything tends not to work for me. I heard about this app from a knitting designer who had a pattern I was interested in. I was dismayed that the pattern would be on the new app only, and not as usual on ravelry. Very expensive for users, for reasons which are covered in the article. Designers of all kinds are not currently pricing themselves appropriately for me and are no longer in my market. Prices are frequently double from a year ago. Very happy to support said designer but not enough to use this platform.
This new app is just another example of losing sight of having a marketable and affordable product that you can sell to the man/woman on the street. In the scheme of things I tend to shrug off this new elitism that has priced me out of most of the market places. I have skills which can be utilised to produce my own designs in my crafting, (affordable patterns encourage my own laziness and non creativity but too expensive does the opposite), plus there are books, well and fairly priced patterns still around if you look, (which I think still give designers good returns, as more sold and just as good quality), free patterns and magazines both past and present. I don’t think I will go short of knitting patterns.
I used to buy patterns of all kinds routinely and affordably without thinking much about it and now I just don’t, as they represent poor value for money and are not necessarily a case of getting what you pay for. In many instances I used to buy three patterns a couple of years ago for the price of one now. Unless I really love pattern that I know I am going to make ‘now’ I no longer buy at all. Regular daily sprinklings of four dollars for the designer of a simple pair of mittens has to be a better thing than holding out for ten dollars and selling 2 pairs in a month? Surely better for both bank balance and for being ‘seen’. I can purchase a book of mittens for twelve dollars from a respected and known source, so why wouldn’t I do that instead? And it’s all mine for keeps!
I now question the quality and qualifications of designers in ways I previously did not, because I need to know I am not wasting my money. ‘Everyone’ now puts their pattern up for sale and not ‘everyone’ should. New designers with little experience charging as much if not more than experienced and multi skilled ones. I need to know the designer is not going to waste my time with errors, poor construction and poor technical ability. I have gone back to looking at patterns produced by reputable yarn companies. I have been surprised by lack of basic knitting knowledge by some designers whose podcasts I have seen and who sell patterns and I am no expert knitter just a fairly capable one. I am tired of the ‘celebrities’ the online community has produced whose products get elevated to prices that cannot be justified by ability or range. There are trained people quietly doing their work and putting out books or magazine patterns whose faces I have never seen but who I know I can better rely upon. I don’t need an expensive app to bring me yet more stuff that has no verifiable credentials.
What with magazine subscriptions, subscriptions to Blueprint and Creative bug, where is the time to give to actually crafting to make this continual accessibility such a good deal? It’s a non starter for me. There are also many knitters who have not heard of ravelry and still use traditional means of finding patterns. I am tipping back in that direction in an effort to find some individuality.
Thanks for the excellent summary of the start of Making Things. It will be interesting to see if this model will be beneficial to designers. Ravelry takes 3.5% of the price of a pattern as their cut, and MT is taking 50%. The remaining $6 is split among all the designers whose patterns were accessed. This means a designer could be making as little as 20 cents if the customer accessed 30 patterns.
Also, does the $11.99 a month fee further devalue the perceived value of a pattern with consumers? While sewers routinely put out $15 or more for one pattern, some knitters balk at the average price of $7.
However, what with the popularity of Instagram, I believe there will be a market for a subscription-based model.
I’m wondering what it is about Instagram that leads people to think Instagram users would be interested in a monthly paid subscription model?
I’m a keen instagram user and although it does make me buy things that I see shown there by people that I identify with, a subscription to something will never be one of them. I know little about business but for all the reasons that were hashed out in the various threads on ravelry, I cannot see this succeeding. Clearly, venture capitalists don’t knit or they would have seen the wild inaccuracies in all the figures put to them. Don’t even get me started on that claim that exponential growth is possible….
Thanks that was a great article. I think the Making Things launch was handled poorly and in an unprofessional manner. It was promoted as being this great app for interactive knitting and crochet patterns with a curated library and was heavily promoted by Australians in Australia. It launched October 30 NY time so all the Australians waiting for the launch had to wait another day to find out it was in USD. Then it turned out the app is actually a website, the patterns are not truly interactive as you can’t filter for your size and you can’t highlight your size on the pattern AND the team failed to answer genuine questions about the lack of diversity in the curated pattern library. Megan Elizabeth says in the Yarn Alchemist Podcast that she can’t wait for their first millionaire MT designer so we’ll have to wait and see how it goes. You can tell alot about people when they talk about life in terms of becoming a millionaire from crafters.
Maybe this app isn’t for the Ravelry/craft blog/intense crafter audience. I could see it having a market among causal crafters who don’t care about owning patterns, who want to be able to read a pattern without having to buy to (to see if it meets their needs), who find sites like Ravelry overwhelming. I am not in that audience and would never buy a subscription to this service but I know a lot of people who are.
I am skeptical about the no printing thing — I am technically savvy and have found a way around that in every single app that has tried to disable printing. At a bare minimum you can take a screenshot and print that though usually third party printing apps allow for a workaround. Pattern designers publishing in this service should assume that their patterns will be printed when they make their decision whether to be involved.
The inability to print is one of the main reasons I’m not interested in MT. I want to be able to make notes on my pattern, track the number of rows or repeats I’ve done, circle or highlight the size I’m knitting, etc. Yes, I could figure out a way to print, but I don’t want to have to do that every time I want to knit something.