One thing I've noticed in the last few months, and once again at TNNA, is what seems to be a trend in the knit-publishing world. Looking at recent and future releases, I noticed quite a few books that are re-issues of previously-published works, or compilations of material that has been released before (e.g., a "Best of" selection of items previously published in magazines).
Is this a publishing trend, republishing patterns and content that have already been published before? (Note that I'm leaving out re-editions of books that have long been out of print and are hard to find, like the Alice Starmore books and Principles of Knitting.)
Now let me be clear: I don't think that there is anything wrong or "evil" about this, and I am in no way trying to call out any particular author or publisher. Certainly publishers pay good money for content and I can understand why they want to try to get the most bang for their buck. Repackaging a book is less costly than creating new content -- you just have to take the existing patterns and in many cases you can re-use the photographs, too -- and there's another addition to your catalog. To the extent that you can market the book to an audience that might not be familiar with the prior publications (say, newly-hatched knitters), or freshen up selections to make them more appealing to today's trends, you might do just fine.
But I wonder if this push to publish recycled patterns is ultimately short-sighted. First of all, I have sensed that some knitters feel cheated when they look forward to a new book, only to find that it doesn't contain new content. (If you don't believe me, read some of the Amazon.com reviews for books that don't clearly state they are using pre-published content.)
Second, recycling patterns means that the books aren't reacting to current developments in the knitting world. Admittedly, this may not be a big deal when you are talking about classic styles, or things like socks that don't change much over time.
I wondered if maybe there are very popular patterns that have a loyal following even after the individual magazine is no longer available or is sold out. Maybe compilations are a way for knitters who missed out on the original issue to cherry-pick the best patterns from previous years. But the rise of individual pattern PDF sales means that even if a magazine is sold out, if you really really want a particular pattern, you may be able to purchase it directly from the publisher in PDF form.
Looking at the bigger picture, though, I think that publishers run the risk of making themselves less relevant to knitters by doing this -- and this is a risk that they can't afford to take.
I think there will continue to be a place for knitting design books. Apart from the aesthetic appeal of a beautifully-designed, well-photographed book, and apart from the old-school knitters who prefer books and paper to PDFs and computer screens, there is a built-in economic incentive for the knitter to purchase good knitting books.
Do the math. Buying an individual pattern (paper or PDF) will now cost you $5 or more, depending on the designer and pattern (some complex lace patterns may go up to $12. Again, I am NOT saying these patterns are too expensive, I am just looking at average price). If you buy three individual patterns at five bucks each, you've spent 15 dollars for 3 patterns. Compare the cost of a book: 20 or more patterns, often for that same 15 dollars or less. The per-pattern price is substantially lower for the book. Even if you assume that you might not care for a handful of the patterns in a 20- or 25-pattern book, you're still getting about 15-20 patterns you like for less than a dollar each.
The economics change, however, if I already own some of the patterns in the book. If I already own, say, half of them, then the per-pattern price rises. On a purely emotional level, it just become harder for me to justify buying a book when I already own some of the patterns in it. And again, speaking from an emotional place, I just can't get as excited about a book full of designs I've seen before, even if they're great designs, as I can about the possibilities inherent in a book full of brand-new content.
I think there's the risk of knitters getting glazed over when they start to perceive a lot of published books as simply recycled patterns that they've already seen (even if they are rephotographed; even if some portion of new content is added). With the Internet and PDFs and ebooks eating into sales, traditional publishers can't afford to be perceived as less relevant.
These are just my ramblings, from a book-lover with no publishing-company work experience.... Your thoughts and insights are always welcome.