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Saturday, 7 May 2016

Solving the Pain of PDF Pricing

Perils of PDF Pricing
How much is enough... and how much is too much?
What do you think a PDF pattern is worth, on average?

Or is that even a fair question since there are so many variables?

Do we need to consider what sort of pattern it might be, as in, is it a toy? A pillow? An item of clothing? (Which in turn poses the question of, is it a skirt, a jumpsuit, a jacket, a coat, etc.?)

Even if it's a bag or purse pattern, there are so many different variants and complexities involved with their construction that surely, pricing must factor into it.

Or does it?

Is there an actual price point at which you would say, no, that's too much, or does it really depend on the pattern?

Perhaps if the pattern is for a truly unique item that surely everyone and his sister will want to make, price may not matter so much and the creator can let the basic economics of demand take over. But such a pattern probably doesn't come around that often. Therefore, if a pattern is something more or less average, how does one determine its price?

There's probably no real answer to that question, perhaps just some guiding principles based on the realities of being a buyer or a seller.

I have no experience or interest in buying PDF clothing patterns so will not get into that side of things. (Perhaps those of you who do can provide your thoughts at the end of this post.) For the "accessories" kind of projects that I've been making, the buyer side of me thinks that anything priced above $10 is excessive.

And because most patterns are priced in USD, even the $10 price point becomes excessive when currency exchange is taken into account. Those of you who live in the US usually don't realize (or care) how much your dollar has risen in comparison to other countries' currencies over the past two years. Be assured, however, that the difference does give the rest of us serious pause. (Mind you, the majority of the PDF pattern buying public may well reside in the US, so concern over currency exchange might be a moot point for most pattern sellers.)

As a pattern seller, I grapple with pricing conundrums. Once you sell something, you are technically "in business" and the uppermost goal of being in business is to maximize profits. That's where it gets iffy for me personally, because I do not consider this blog, my patterns, etc., to be a business in that traditional sense. Maximizing profits is not one of my goals. (And I know there are those who would accuse me of being bonkers for saying that.)

So I sometimes struggle with setting a price because I want the patterns that I choose to sell (as opposed to those I give up as freebies) to have a value that reflects the relative complexity of the item. The problem is, how do I determine that?

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For instance, do you know how many "zippered pouch" patterns there are on Craftsy? (I don't know... lots and lots and lots.) Many of them are free and I can attest to the fact that there are many, many more free tutorials for zippered pouches that are not on Craftsy. Suffice to say, if you want to make a zippered pouch, you can do so quite nicely without spending a penny. (Want a good one? The Triple Zip Pouch is a keeper!) And yet I see PDFs for basic zippered pouches — i.e., not any of those embellished, multi-pocketed things — selling for $8 and more!

In what world is a simple zippered pouch pattern worth $8? (I know, I know: in a free enterprise world... and I'm not forced to buy it, so I'll just shut up about that.)

When I released my first pattern, I actually posted a condensed free version of it also. Why? As a new and unproven seller, I wanted to reassure the buyer that she would get a quality product. Then I priced the pattern at $2.49. In some places, that's less than the price of a good cup of coffee.

I initially wanted to give away one of my patterns because it was so obviously derivative of an existing design. In an email conversation with a fellow pattern designer, I was told that there are people trying to make a living selling PDF patterns and that my plan to give away a pattern so similar would jeopardize their ability to make a living.


Having previously been in business (the old fashioned "brick and mortar" kind) and having taken numerous Economics courses, I believe that the market is the market is the market. Ultimately, it self-balances... despite individual actions or even a series of individual actions. And if a given market is meant to go in a certain direction — price-wise, quality-wise, whatever — it eventually will.

For instance, this "PDF sewing pattern" market (that I am truly grateful to be a part of, by the way) is never going to eliminate the freebies. For every PDF being sold to make item ABC, there is likely a freebie tutorial or pattern to make something very similar.

For this reason, I've priced my PDFs with the idea that well, I've taken the time to improve and add real value to the instructions, so I will happily sell the pattern for "real money". For the reason that the patterns may not be one-of-a-kind, however, I've tried to keep the price in line with "comparables".

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All of this lengthy discussion has been a lead-up to my current plan for really radical PDF pricing: PWYW, meaning pay what you want. I'm sure I'm not the first one to try this "restaurant style" promotion in the PDF arena, but it's probably not a common marketing technique.

The thing is, my current project is hardly one of a kind. But it was something that I wanted to create (and put my own spin on), so now that it's finished, I do think it's worth something as a sellable pattern. That said, I've gotten nowhere in terms of deciding what to set as a price.

So why not try something different?

Bundled Up Bindle Bag by eSheep Designs
This is my next project... the Bundled Up Bindle Bag...

The Bundled Up Bindle Bag is my next pattern release. At its most basic level, it's a circular drawstring bag. But I've done a few things to the inside of the bag to make it different, so it has added value in that sense.

Bundled Up Bindle Bag by eSheep Designs
Here is the Bundled Up Bindle Bag cinched up with all of the contents from the previous photo inside...

Craftsy only has two options for sales, free and paid, so I am going to have to list this as a free pattern. But the description (and the photos, as you can see) will include the idea behind this PWYW pricing and I'll see how people respond. A wide range of possibilities exist: people may be reluctant to download the pattern at all, people may download and never pay anything, people may end up paying a very similar amount... who knows? (At the very least, people can treat this like the "tip jar" idea that I previously talked about regarding Creativelive and its freebie courses.)

I'm willing to try it out. And of course, I'm not obligated to keep the promotion running forever, so at some point in time I may slap a conventional price on it and be finished with this particular social experiment.

What do you think?


  1. I too struggle with pricing my few pdf's that I have for sale. I wanted to keep my prices low when I began because I thought if my pdf's were cheaper that I may sell more. Not really true. I think if someone really wants to make whatever pattern you have they will purchase the pdf. People do love free and I am one of them. I download free stuff all the time, even if I have only made a small amount of the free patterns that I do download. I offer a lot of freebies on Craftsy and every single day since I have been on Craftsy, my free items are downloaded from people around the world. As for how many times my other patterns are purchased, well it's very few. There will be several months that go by before I make one sale.

    I agree about the not over $10 price. I think if the buyer of the pattern has to print the pattern pieces (I do not recommend printing the entire pdf, but some people will) after they purchased the pattern, then that's more expense, so pdf's should be under $10. I have seen a popular multi-zipper pouch pdf that does sell for a little more than $10 and it sells well because I see it all over the internet and in the top patterns on Craftsy a lot. I think it boils down to if someone really wants the pattern they will pay the price. But would we sell more patterns if the price were lower? Who knows?

    Pay the price you want is a good idea in theory, but in reality people probably won't want to pay much and they will struggle with how much to pay and then will you even make anything in the end?

  2. Very interesting post, Rochelle. A $10US pattern would cost us almost $14AUS at the moment. I'd really have to want it badly to pay that much. I'm more likely to pay that for a garment pattern, than a bag pattern.


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