(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.