In the hobbies and crafts category, knitting began to take hold about six years ago; no one knows why. But in a post-9/11 world, the activity has continued to increase in popularity. Publishers, of course, have responded with books and more books. But now comes the challenging part. Is knitting on the verge of becoming a widely established American hobby (like, say, gardening) or is it headed for the fate of philately*?
The article notes that while knitting books are still being published, and many are focusing on younger knitters, knitting-book sales have already peaked. Publishers, afraid that the new knitters and younger knitters will lose interest and move on to another fad, or that this segment of the market is already saturated with books, are now looking to a broader audience. Apparently, one way to address this change in the market is to target books for intermediate, rather than beginner, knitters. Or as one editor quipped: "You can knit only so many beer cozies and then it's time to move on."
Another interesting development noted in the article is the "cult of personality" that has attached to knitting. Publisher's Weekly credits this to Stitch N Bitch, Deb Stoller's extraordinarily popular book, noting that she is photographed on the cover, and pointing out that subsequent knitting books continued to feature a particular writer and her personality (citing, among others, the Yarn Harlot). The article concludes that the reasons people have taken up knitting are complex, and so it's difficult to predict exactly how that will impact the market. (Don't you love these "conclusions"? It's like those studies showing that people who take taxicabs frequently are less likely to own a car, or that children in dysfunctional homes are more at risk. Duh.)
I found it interesting that this article appeared right around the time that you, gentle readers, were yourselves raising some of the very same points in the comments to my blog. Yes, you are Faith Popcorns, all of you, and I think it bears pointing out that the little snitfest that just concluded in the comments section ultimately raised some interesting issues about knitting books, issues which were touched upon in the above article. To wit:
- the sheer quantity of new knitting books that are being released. Is it too much? Is the knitter getting simultaneously overwhelmed (by numbers) and underwhelmed (by quality)? Or does the increased quantity create more variety, more of a chance that someone, no matter what their taste or skill level, will find a new book to get excited about?
- Others bemoaned the focus on young knitters, or what the market apparently perceives as young or new knitters. Think about it: how many books either directly -- "young," "girl/girls/grrlz" -- or indirectly -- "funky," "hip," "fun" -- market themselves to a younger generation? And let's not even mention the dreaded (and, as Lisa Myers likes to point out, insulting) phrase "it's not your grandmother's knitting." Is the market focusing on new knitters at the expense of those with more experience or advanced skills? Is the market neglecting knitters older than, say, age 30? In this regard, note that there is a book being released this fall that is aiming for an older demographic: Never Too Old To Knit: Beautiful Basics for Baby Boomers (the same cover photo of which appears, oddly, on another Amazon listing titled -- I kid you not -- AARP Beginner's Guide to Knitting).
- Still others lamented the speed and/or simplicity factor, ostensibly marketing books to beginners, but resulting in a dreadful same-iness, both in titles ("quick," "easy," "fast," "simple") and in projects (scarves, rolled-brim caps, anything made of quadrilaterals sewn together). I know that a book which features more complex patterns or focuses on a particular skill (e.g., felting, fair isle, cables) is more appealing to me, but I'm an experienced knitter and I enjoy doing my own thing with projects. Not everyone is or does.
Trisha Malcolm, Vogue Knitting's editor, is quoted in the article saying that VK is trying to focus less on patterns, which can go out of style and look dated quickly, and more toward books like the Vogue Stitchionary series, which catalogue stitch patterns. This is great for adventurous knitters and those who like to design their own items, but there's also a population of knitters who enjoy following patterns that someone else has figured out. There's a great deal of trial and error in designing, and these knitters would rather let someone else do the trying and erring. I can relate: sometimes I just feel like following a pattern and letting my brain take a breather.
I have no grand answers for you about the future of publishing knitting books. I love books, though, and I love knitting, so it stands to reason that I love knitting books -- or at least, good knitting books. And if for every couple of "Quik 'N' Dummed Down Knitting for Funki Hipster Chix" book that is released, there is one really good, innovative book, well, then, that's a balance I can live with.
But behave yourselves, please.
* Also known as stamp collecting.