Thursday, July 2, 2009

Meet The Stitch Coop Geniuses

Suzanne went to TNNA a few weeks ago. TNNA is aka “Market” where folks in the biz of needle-related crafts go to check out all the new, cool stuff available for shops. When she got back, she told me about the Stitch Cooperative, a cool new way for independent designers to reach a bigger audience with their patterns both in shops and online.

I checked in with two of the main folks involved—Annie Modesitt (top picture) and Shannon Okey (bottom picture), and asked for details about the Coop. Annie designs, writes knit books, and teaches knitting fulltime. She’s published eight books including Romantic Hand Knits, Twist & Loop, and Men Who Knit & The Dogs Who Love Them. Shannon also counts knit-related work as her fulltime gig, including editing the UK-based knitting magazine Yarn Forward .Below is our conversation about Stitch Coop.

Spike: Suzanne came back from TNNA excited about Stitch Coop. In a nutshell, can you tell me how this works?

AM: Well, obviously Suzanne was excited because we'd arranged for her to get a Shiner Bock from Buffalo Gold. We're good at hooking parched Texans up with each other.

Seriously, though, the Stitch Coop is a group of 9 designers who offer high quality, well-edited knit and crochet patterns. We originally joined together because we like each other's aesthetic vision and respect each other's work, and to offer our patterns wholesale to yarn shops. We've also devised a unique and exciting way to bridge the gap between Internet shopping and the brick and mortar local yarn shops, allowing greater flexibility for knitters and crocheters who like to shop online, but also want to support their local yarn shop.

Spike: Will you add more designers?

AM: We have a waiting list of designers. We’re slated to start welcoming in more this Fall. New designers will be juried so we can keep the quality at a level we're all comfortable with. And, obviously, we all have to be able to work well together and respect each other.

SO: Yes, there are currently 184 designers on the designers' waiting list...which means there will be quite a bit of jurying to do! We want to keep the quality level as high as we can.

Spike: Tell me about the online affiliate program.

AM: Originally we'd intended to simply sell our patterns wholesale to yarn shops as paper patterns. But we soon discovered that shops would also like access to a larger scope of patterns than just the dozen or so they can afford to buy as paper patterns and sell in their shops. Knitters like to shop both online AND in yarn shops, and they like a LARGE selection of patterns (which not every yarn shop is able to offer...) but that doesn't necessarily translate into sales for the brick and mortar shops, which are the heart and soul of many knitting communities.

After appraising the situation, Shannon came up with the brilliant idea of an affiliate program for yarn shops whereby they could offer Stitch Coop's whole catalog (right now it numbers around 140 patterns) and at the same time close the circle and bring some of those internet-shopping customers physically into the shop.

SO: There are many different ways to tackle the digital issue, but this one seemed to make the most sense in terms of not putting an additional burden on the store owners and in keeping individual designers' comfort levels high re: piracy, etc. We ran a trial run test of the software with a local yarn store that has a large mailing list, using 2 Stitch Cooperative patterns. After they sent it out, they promptly got deluged with pattern orders.

Spike: Overall do you see the Internet as more beneficial to designers (with a
chance to reach out to so many shop owners) or more detrimental (with
everybody flinging around free patterns online)?

AM: There are a lot of free patterns out there - it's inevitable! Those of us who try to earn a living by designing and selling patterns see a wealth of free patterns as a mixed blessing. I think just about every designer has at least one free pattern they've put out for charity or marketing purposes, and many folks who aren't full-time designers like to publish their work gratis for others to enjoy. I, myself, offer several free patterns on my website and also offer a free-to-yarn shops pattern to encourage folks to visit their local yarn shop. Free patterns are a reality, and to just rail against ALL free patterns is non-productive (and a bit unrealistic). Instead we at the Stitch Coop choose to offer high quality, well-edited patterns in a wider range of sizes and styles than most free patterns, and trust the savvy knitter to understand that you get what you pay for. At $5 to $7, a pattern that provides hours and hours of enjoyment is a bargain.

SO: I think if shop owners choose to think about the Internet as an opportunity to reach out to more knitters and solidify their relationship with the knitters they already know, they will reap the benefits. Yarn stores that choose to participate on Ravelry, etc have a much more devoted following than the others do. And when new people come to town and look for a knitting community, they're searching online -- having a presence is vital.

That said, in terms of patterns, I think our digital program just makes economic sense. If a yarn store owner wanted to bring in all 140 patterns (and let's give each pattern an average price of about $5) as print, we have a minimum of 3 you need to order, so they'd have to spend over $1000, not including shipping. Contrast that to having the ability to sell ALL 140 patterns, all the time, with no upfront costs or constant reordering...does that not make so much more sense?

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