Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A publishing trend?

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 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.


Donna said...

I wonder how many knitters are like me: I've been knitting for close to 10 years, and I love a good knitting book (and their perceived value per pattern), so I've amassed a huge library. At last count (thanks, Ravelry library!), I had close to 2,000 patterns at my fingertips. Even if I only like a fraction of them, it's clearly a lifetime supply for someone who knits 15 things a year. So while I love the extra information a book can supply, I'm no longer a volume consumer - I buy fewer patterns, the ones I absolutely *love* because I'm dying to make them, not because they're a better value to me.

Obviously, I would be terrible in retail, because that goal is to *sell* and focus on the potential of the book or the yarn, not whether the customer will actually use it.

But how many other long-term knitters have tapered back their buying because they have a lot of patterns already? The value argument is pretty important, but maybe only if you feel like your pattern collection isn't big enough yet.

Carol said...

Yup, excellent point. I have found that my yarn buying has tapered off for that reason. I probably look at books a bit differently from many knitters because I find looking at knitwear inspirational. I love to see how different people put their own spin on things and I find it spurs me on to be more creative. So I probably have an extra incentive to purchase books compared to most. But I am assuming that if you have become more selective about book purchasing, you would be more likely to purchase a book if you didn't already own some of the patterns in some form?

Anonymous said...

I am in publishing not related to knitting. Personally if the compilation has more than 5 patterns that I like, good sizing I am going to buy the book. I love when they include other designs that I haven't seen, makes me want the book more. I can't imagine that adding two more interesting patterns will raise a book cost so significantly that a buyer will be turned off. I often wonder why compilations by various magazines and companies didn't do it. I thought it was very short sighted.

Now with epubs, self pubs, it is going to be very interesting over the next few months/years. I am betting, more independent designers are going to this route rather than with a traditional magazine or publisher. They will establish a name, following, and publish patterns that hopefully will touch a nerve then everyone is knitting it. They have control, they have the income. Very interesting indeed. As a consumer who might like just one, if I can buy just that pattern I am happy if not, I can wait until it is a single pattern download, if I haven't gotten it already.


Donna said...

Yes, I'd be less likely to purchase a book if I owned a majority of the patterns (see: Best of Interweave Knits), *unless* those patterns were revised and enhanced to offer better sizing/more information than I could get originally (see: Knit Sock Love).

Ultimately, I end up reading a lot of books courtesy of Interlibrary Loan, so I still get the infusion of information and the inspiration, without the overwhelming sense that my library will crush me under its weight!

Donna said...

That last comment was from me - I think I hit "send" too soon!

kerrie.james said...

Like you, I tend to buy knitting/crafting books for inspiration more so than for the actual patterns, I love beautifully photographed and thoughtfully planned books more than anything.

That said, there have been a few books purchased over the years which were 'recycled content.' If an entire book is recycled content, it is often quite apparent but when one or two new patterns have been tossed in with recycled patterns, I am disappointed as I feel 'tricked.'

I agree with you, for publishers to do this is quite risky, especially in these times. Consumers are certainly far more conscientious in their purchases. And I hear over and over that most would rather invest in a single pattern, which would be knitted at least once and possibly more, than a book full of patterns that simply look pretty and not knitted at all, regardless of the cost per pattern a knitting book would yield.

As for hard copies vs. soft copies. I find myself stuck squarely in the middle. I am a bibliophile and am such a sucker for a gorgeous book (especially knitting!). I was not on the bandwagon of digital books until recently as I now value the convenience of a digital copy. Quite recently, I forgot my printed knitting pattern at home while traveling. Fortunately, my electronic copy was stored in both my laptop and my iTouch, so the pattern was available. I love when both electronic and hard copies are included in the cost of a book and wish more publishers offered this as an option.

Perhaps this trend of recycled content is a pause in the publishing world as they figure out just where and how to survive in this push button society we now live in.

Having no experience in publishing, in my eyes the greatest assets publishing has to offer authors are connections (distribution) and marketing. So I do feel they are still quite relevant but might become more so if they offered those services to those who wish to self-publish, especially digitally. *My* thoughts and ramblings... Thanks Carol!

Kitten With a Whiplash said...

One of my very earliest knitting book purchases was a Vogue pattern collection. Since then I've managed to collect nearly every issue (I love thrift shops!) that had one of those patterns. I wouldn't buy the book today, but I won't give it up either.

For sweaters, I think the magazines usually offer better price-per-pattern, and usually offer some instructional content with each issue.

Too many books offer nothing instructional, and feel they need to have a simple stockinette sweater, a easy raglan, a simple cable pattern, etc., before they get into anything unique, which some never do. I must have a couple dozen patterns for drop shoulder stockintte sweaters, which was one of the first things I knit from scratch, without a pattern.

This is especially true of books of men's sweaters - beleive it or not, some of us do have a bit of flair. That's another plus for the magazines, we men may not get much, but there is usually at least one pattern for us.

Socks, hats, shawls and other non-sweater garments are usually better represented in books focusing on that one garment.

I now buy very few books, sticking mostly to instructional books on techniques (lace, toe-up, spinning & dyeing, modular), or ethnic/regional patterns and styles (Nordic, Faroe). These I value by the knowledge gained rather than a pattern count.

Unknown said...

Debbie Bliss over does the republish thing. Sometimes they change something slightly, but most of the time, they don't. I used to buy all of her books, I haven't bought one in at least 4 years. But I still buy books, sometimes too many!!

Anonymous said...

I love our county library system; we are so lucky to have it. If I'm interested in a book, I will check it out from the library when it becomes available. This has stopped me from buying books that sounded good, but weren't really to my taste after all. If I like the book a lot, I'll buy it, because I want to support designers.I've bought really great knitting books that I wouldn't have looked at in the store or weren't available at the store (especially now that Borders has closed). I donate "outgrown" knitting and pattern books to the library book sales, too.

aelievense said...

It's funny. But I often find that it is cheaper to buy patterns in PDF format a la carte. Or some designers offer e-books that are works in progress. If the designer's e-book is $15 and there are 5 patterns already included in the book that I love, and I know there will be more patterns added that I will get e-mailed to me included in the one time $15 price tag, I think that is a steal!

Gauss said...

Your point about a "best of" book not reacting to current developments in the knitting world was particularly good. I recently saw the cover of a "Best of lace"-type book from a magazine publisher, with a lace sweater on the cover. I still have the magazine that contained the cover design - it's several years old and things have moved on since then. Yes, lace is timeless, but shapes and tastes do change and the pattern that seemed so original and revolutionary at the time now looks kind of boring and dated.