Saturday, December 06, 2008

Knitting magazines.

(This is partly cross-posted from a board on Ravelry. If you've already seen it, my apologies.)


The only reason magazines exist is to make money. Let’s be honest among ourselves. And I’ve no problem with that. The way they make money is advertising revenue. And the way they make advertising revenue is directly based on their circulation numbers, or how many magazines they sell. Subscriptions and sales to the consumer barely cover the cost of printing, if they’re lucky. (I used to work at a newspaper. Same deal.) So to bottom-line it further, they need the consumer (us) to stay in business and make a profit. More, they need us to buy a lotta magazines.

To do that in knitting magazines specifically, what they need to do is publish patterns that are reasonably flattering on a decent percentage of the population. That’s not a matter of my own personal tastes or anyone else’s, individually. It’s economics. When I do my reviews, I am in fact looking for those patterns - the ones that are flattering on a good portion of the population - not what I LIKE. I don’t LIKE 99% of commercial knitting patterns. It’s why I so rarely knit them, and so often design my own stuff.

That said, I poked around on the Ravelry database (I freaking LOVE Ravelry) and came up with some interesting numbers. Here in the US, the three major knit mags are Interweave, Vogue Knitting (VK), and Knitter’s. I also threw in Knitty for comparison, though it’s kind of unfair to compare a free on-line, international web site to sometimes locally distributed magazine. But it gives an idea of how popular a pattern can get for comparison.

Of the fifty most popular patterns on Ravelry, Interweave had three, VK and Knitter’s had none. Knitty had fifteen. That sounds about right for me, because Interweave is the magazine that consistently delivers the most wearable, reasonably flattering patterns (not what I LIKE; what is wearable and knittable). And I believe of the three in-print mags, they have the highest circulation numbers. Not a coincidence.

Then I found the top five most popular patterns from each magazine, and added up how many people had knit each of those patterns. Again, it underlines the issue. Interweave had 17,178 projects, VK had 1,232, and Knitter’s had 1,204. Interweave had about fifteen THOUSAND more projects cast on than either of the other two magazines. (To round it out, Knitty had 34,388.)

So when I’m reviewing, it’s not about what I like. It’s about technical skill and what’s wearable. Because truly, to stay in business, these magazines NEED the wearable patterns, no matter what they claim about high fashion or cutting-edge. (The recent shakeup at Knit1 is a fine example. They changed their slant because they realized they wouldn’t stay in business trying to sell patterns that only teenagers could or would wear.) We can’t get the information, but I will bet you if we could add up the profit margins of each of those three magazines, the statistics would be nearly identical to the popularity figures I just gathered.

It’s not all about me with the patterns. But I do wonder how VK plans to stay in business when the majority of their patterns are unwearable. Rumor has it they’re in financial trouble off and on, regularly. Go figure.


A few other thoughts:

-Knitty is run by a plus-sized woman and produces a lot of wearable patterns in a wide spectrum of sizes. Coincidence? I doubt it.

-Many of these magazines are run by non-knitters, who don't understand that for most knitters, if we're going to invest forty or sixty hours in a project, we want to be able to wear it for more than one season. The magazine with the most real knitters on staff ('real' meaning people who knit their own clothes or accessories) is Interweave, and they're the ones who offer the most classic, un-dated styles. Coincidence? I doubt it.

-The vast majority of knitting designers that KNITTERS love, knit themselves. Make their own clothes (Meg Swansen), or accessories, or knit some of their own samples (Annie Modiset, Nicky Epstein), or whatever. I can't think, offhand, of one 'real fashion designer' who does the usual drawing and then hands it off to an assistant to actually construct the garment, who is truly beloved by knitters. Coincidence? I doubt it.

11 comments:

Mandy said...

Interweave also does some other things to help knitters alter patterns to make them more wearable - I'm thinking specifically of their galleries, where several members of the staff try on the sample pieces and the editor critiques the fit and says what alterations she would make to make the item fit better/be more flattering. Once you see a sweater on a real person who is built somewhat like you are, you have a much better idea how it will look on you and whether it is worth your time and money to make it.

Also, their website/newsletter gives a lot of info about technical issues, such as how to calculate stitch counts for adding darts.

It's no surprise to me that they are the most popular of the three print mags - They're not perfect, but they are certainly the most useful, and I personally like more of their patterns than either of the others! Knitty, of course, is in a class by itself!

Amy Lane said...

Very interesting. You know, the one magazine I get is Creative Knitting--it's got a lot of simple stuff, made with acrylic yarn (which I would probably substitute w/wool or a wool blend) but, like you said, the stuff is wearable, simple, and classic. Next to Interweave (which is SOOOO pretty on top of wearable and classic) it's my favorite mag. You make some AWESOME points--and some points that Vogue should probably pay attention too.

One of the first things I noticed, with my very first VK, was that it was a summer issue and the yarns they were using weren't washable--period. Rubberized viscose yarn has a VERY short shelf-life. Who is going to spend $100 and 60 hours to wear something they can wear once or twice before the BO just starts knocking people off their asses.

And I agree with Mandy--the galleries and the fact that the production team of the Interweave actually KNITS does make it a superior publication. (And yeah--Knitty is still my favorite. Go Amy!!!)

Mandy said...

BTW, when's the Knitty article going to hit? Just wondering....

riverspirit said...

I really love this article.A voice in the wilderness that needs to be heard. I have a terrible time with patterns in Vogue. I have tried 3 and wasted time and yarn and satisfaction because I simply could not finish the items. Others who have advanced experience were able to complete their projects- but they had to modify the pattern to make it work. I posted On vogue that there were pattern errors in a specific pattern-I didn't hear from them ever or see a response until about 6 mos later I saw an entry in their errata site. I can't wait that long. This seems to indicate a disdain for their subscribers and unwillingness to be helpful. i notice they put up an internet chat site- but it is pretty worthless and questions seem controlled-heaven forbid that any one asks a question that solves a problem in a pattern. Thanks for hearing me out or reading me out.

Louiz said...

Interesting points. I'm seriously wondering why someone like Vogue doesn't get you on their payroll.

TinkingBell said...

Ah yes - the old - 'what I did the desiogn and NOW you want to me to knit it? - ask the work experience girl to knit it - I'm off to drink champagne and wank on about design thing...)

It's also interesting which designers and mags have the least errata.... usually indicates good test knitting and editing...

Ginger_nut said...

ooh... the bitch in me wants to know what thread that was posted in so I can see what some of your non-fans say...

But yes, I do completly agree with you. you make good points :)

Ginger_nut said...

ahh... actually came across it in one of the aussie boards. we don't seem to have many snarks there, so there probably won't be a lot of backlash. I thought you may have posted it to one of the main boards (where the comment, "it is dark at night" is argued just for the sake of someone not wanting to agree with you)

Liz said...

Thanks for doing the stats on this for us!

And amen, on all points. I'm sitting here wearing Kathy Zimmermann's "Age of Aquarius" sweater from IK Fall 2001, and it's never going to date because it was never *in* fashion in the first place.

A sweater's worth of yarn costs a honking big amount, particularly if you're a plus-size, and IK seem to understand this and design patterns which are both wearable and have some classic elements. (At least in the Fall and Winter magazines; I'm not a fan of the recent trend for little pastel frou-frou things in the Spring and Summer, but those are at least cheaper to knit...)

I'm also a huge fan of the IK galleries and the Knitting Daily newsletter, which does acknowledge that there are people with differently-conformed bodies out there. And I like Knitty's approach - using real people to model their own designs, so you get a mix of sizes, shapes and ages.

Roxie said...

I don't believe Kaffe Fasset knits his own sweaters. He knits up swatches, then hands the madness over to hired hands. And I, like you, create my own designs. I do like Knitters for inspiration, though.

Pamulla said...

I think Knitter's stays in business by running their camps and Stitches expositions. They haven't had good patterns for years and even their nicer patterns are styled in god-awful colors. What man would wear a sweater with 3 different colored cables on a 4th colored background?