08 Nov Hot New Topic: Making Things
In the last few weeks, the knitting world has been abuzz with a new website, Making Things. Advertised as “Netflix for knitters,” the site is currently a web-based application that houses knitting patterns and a variety of tools for designers and knitters. The platform provides digital-only versions of patterns and tutorials, and subscribers have “unlimited” access to all the patterns and tutorials on the site for a monthly fee of $11.99. There has been quite a bit of hubbub, both positive and negative, so we decided to take a closer look.
Recently Frenchie, also known as Aroha Knits, conducted an informative interview with the creator of Making Things, Megan. Megan conceived of Making Things as a bridge between designers and knitters, all of whom are what she calls makers. Megan describes how, in her former life as a yarn company owner, she fielded many requests from creators on how to better connect with other makers in today’s digital world. As a result of these conversations, she decided to build a website to bridge that gap.
Megan’s interview primarily focuses on all the ways Making Things can help designers get back to the thing they do best – creating innovative, inspiring designs. When a designer partners with Making Things, the service offers them many additional services beyond just hosting the pattern. These services include photography, technical editing, and advertising. Since the site is digital only, Making Things also has a template that designers can use to layout their patterns. This means that a designer doesn’t have to spend time on any of these tasks, nor incur the costs of hiring service providers where they previously may have had to. Making Things hopes to provide an additional library of tutorials and pattern support, taking that pressure off the designers as well.
Megan also stresses the importance of compensating designers fairly. She notes that the company worked with several pattern designers during the creation and beta testing of the site and compensated them all for their time; now that the site is launched, there are several ways a designer can earn income. Of the $11.99 monthly subscription fee, 50% of each subscriber’s fee is distributed among the designers whose patterns are accessed each month. Further, if designers choose to use affiliate links and encourage people to sign up for the service, they receive the first three months of any converted subscribers’ fees, less transaction fees (this is advertised as the designers receive $10 per month for up to 3 months, so long as the subscriber remains with the service, with the remaining $1.99 going to cover transaction fees). The site boasts 1000+ patterns, with more coming online every day. If you’d like to read more from the designer’s perspective, several designers have posted publicly about their involvement in Making Things: Tanis Gray (Tanis Fiber Arts), Marie Greene (Olive Knits) and Hunter Hammersen (Pantsville Press). (Please note that many of these posts include affiliate links to the Making Things site).
So now let’s move on to the customer perspective. Up until now there has been one main creative space for knitters and crocheters, and to some extent weavers and spinners: Ravelry. Ravelry provides databases of yarn and patterns, forums for knowledge to be shared, advertising opportunities, and a shopping cart system where designers can sell their patterns in PDF format. One of the points Frenchie makes in her podcast is that Making Things is a major disrupter in the industry with its digital-only format.
To use Making Things, crafters must subscribe to the platform for $11.99 a month. While many knitters spend far more than that a month on knitting patterns and tutorials, there are many who do not. In contrast, Ravelry, YouTube and many magazine publishers (Interweave and Knitty to name two) make their websites, including content and tutorials, available for free to the public. Economically speaking, many patterns can be purchased on Ravelry for between $5-7, meaning that a knitter must purchase more than 2 patterns a month to make the subscription fee comparable. For knitters focused on small projects or who can devote quite a bit of time to crafting, the subscription model is a better deal. But for knitters who focus on larger projects that may take months to complete, this means they could be paying multiple times what the pattern would cost elsewhere.
Currently, Making Things is only available as web-based application, though they have announced that a mobile app could be available as soon as January of 2019. Patterns are in digital format only and cannot be printed, but are optimized for mobile format. You must have an internet connection to use Making Things as there is currently no support for offline usage. This means that users must be tethered to an internet connection or make use of their mobile device data.
While subscribers are promised “unlimited” access to all of the patterns on Making Things, the Terms of Service do mention that a subscriber accessing more than 30 patterns in a given month will be flagged for potentially suspicious activity. The Making Things team has stated that they have implemented that limit to try and prevent fraud (people capturing patterns through screenshots or other methods). But if you’re a crafter looking for just the right pattern, we can easily see you hitting that limit of 30 patterns fairly quickly.
Let’s also talk about ownership. While you are a subscriber to Making Things, you have access to all the patterns available on the service, but when you suspend your membership you lose access to those patterns. Making Things does state that, much like Audible, if you choose to resume your membership, your profile and any projects you create or material you access will still be available to you. But you don’t own anything, you are merely renting it. This is in contrast to Ravelry or other sources (like magazines and designer sites) where you purchase a pdf of the pattern and it is yours to keep.
There is also another part of the Terms of Service that brings ownership issues to the forefront. The terms state that any modifications that you make to any patterns while using the service belong to the designer of the pattern. How many crafters have made alterations to a pattern so that it fits or suits them, or have created mash-ups of patterns to craft their own unique garment? This is a pretty thorny issue when you get right down to it.
As a potential consumer, we’ve been watching Making Things through its launch window, which has been in the past few weeks. While Megan of Making Things joined Ravelry to recruit for her beta testers, and started a group for crafters to convene, she has recently deleted her account there. This has removed all of her previous posts, left the group she created without a moderator and left a lot of Ravelry members with questions. Further research into the Making Things media presence reveals a Twitter account with no posts and an Instagram account with many inspiring images and a few Instagram Stories, but very little concrete information. One of the most puzzling things is that there were technical issues during the first few days of the launch, but there were no status updates or communications from Making Things regarding what was happening. The website does have a chat feature, and email contact information, but those are the only options for learning what is happening. We feel that this is a huge opportunity missed in marketing and communications with so many potential customers.
Finally, we have learned that if you have subscribed, but wish to cancel, you must email the Making Things team in order to cancel your account. There is no other way for you to suspend your membership.
While the benefits to the designers seem plenty, the benefits to customers seem more mixed. Making Things has offered quite a bit to designers but is this feasible or sustainable without considerable subscriber income? And if subscribers are wary of disruptive technologies, put off by some of the terms and conditions of membership, or unable to obtain basic information or answers to their questions, will they support the application at the level necessary to make a go of it? Only time will tell.