David vs. Goliath… but how dare David charge that much for a toga pattern?!

David vs. Goliath | blog post on Creative + Mindful | creativeandmindful.com

Humans have a knack for criticizing. For railing against the unfairness of it all. For finding fault first. I’ve taken a look in the mirror. I know I can be a glass-half-empty kind of girl.

The truth is, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. You can’t even please some of them some of the time. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken to my internet soapbox but I’m feeling a little salty today.

This morning, I read two different blog posts, which feature comments complaining about two different sides of sewing/craft commerce. It’s really an issue that not even specific to the sewing/craft world. You can find it in the music industry, books, anywhere there is a perceived David vs. Goliath kind of situation.

Yep, it’s that old chestnut: the dreaded indie vs. corporate giant debate.

The irony in these posts is that in one (Abby Glassenberg’s posts on Craftsy and their plans to launch their own fabric and yarn lines) many comments were about a well-funded giant crushing the little guy. While in the other (Lauren Dahl’s question “Do we really need another t-shirt pattern?”), the comments seemed to gather steam around “indie designers are just financed by people with disposable income” and “how dare they charge that much for their work?!”

Can we really have it both ways?

First off, let me say that I wholeheartedly support indies. I buy indie patterns, I shop my local quilt shop (LQS)/local yarn store (LYS). I support online indies like Fat Quarter Shop. But I also shop at Jo-Ann and Hobby Lobby and Amazon and Fabric.com when I can’t find what I’m looking for or can’t afford supplies otherwise. I think a lot of people are like me.

It seems to me that much of the railing and whining boils down to “it’s not fair.”

  • It’s not fair that Etsy is going public
  • It’s not fair that Craftsy has asked indie designers to supply free patterns in exchange for exposure
  • It’s not fair that so-and-so can charge that much for her patterns/workshop/etc.

There is a lot in the world that’s not fair. But we (in the US, at least) operate within a capitalist economy.

Capitalism means people can make any lawful decisions they wish in order to grow their business.

Even if they are kind of sucky and unpopular. I think Crafty asking designers to create free patterns in exchange for exposure is a dick move. But the beauty of capitalism is that consumers who are opposed to that can stop buying from them or selling with them.

Maybe it’s insulting to be asked, but being asked doesn’t mean you have to acquiesce. And I strongly believe that it DOESN’T mean they are ruining the industry. Nor are the designers who decide to take them up on their offer. (assuming anyone does)

Now what about designers who charge a lot for their patterns or workshops? Because, you know they’re the enemy if they do any work for free, right?

Rising prices are also part of the capitalist economy. These people are charging what they feel is fair and what the market will support. If no one buys their patterns, they will change their prices, or stop doing business.

I’m sorry if you can’t afford it. There are lots of things I can’t afford and so I go with what my budget allows. No one ever said the sewing/craft world has to accommodate everyone.

What about the LQS and the LYS?

It makes me really sad when I see independent shops go out of business. Opening a shop is risky business, no matter what you are selling. I know I’ve seen a staggering statistic that most restaurants go out of business in their first year. My guess is it’s the same for any kind of small brick & mortar venture.

The single most cited reason I see for local shops closing is: “Jo-Ann opened down the street.” I get it. A lot of people are cheapskates and won’t pay for quality.

But there is an interesting thing about local shops. It seems to me that shops which are well-run, willing/able to be innovative and which offer exemplary customer service seem more likely to stay in business.

Case in point, I drive past several of my LQSs to another state to frequent a quilt shop that I love. Their customer service is stellar and they offer really cool classes and other experiences. There is a laundry list of the ways they are different from other local shops and I think this is why they are thriving. (Abby Glassenberg wrote about this topic too.) Plus, Jo-Ann and Fabric.com doesn’t carry the stuff I buy from this shop.

(Note: please don’t take my comments as a slam on small biz owners who have had to shutter their stores. I know there are exceptions and probably many great places that are gone despite great service, etc. But I’ve also noticed a common theme of helplessness in many stories that could have potentially turned out differently, IMHO.)

Consumers spend their money for a lot of different reasons.

There are the fangirls – like Lauren mentioned in her post – who buy what they buy based on devotion. There are the traditionalists. There are the newbies and the dabblers. There are the eclectic types. There are those who just buy and make based on what their friends are doing.

Businesses can’t – and shouldn’t! – cater to everyone.

The entertainment industry has been trying to work this stuff out for ages. Remember how Napster knocked record labels to their knees? You may have noticed how RedBox and Netflix kind of put Blockbuster out of business not too long ago. How’s that for a David & Goliath story?

Businesses have to innovate. Artists often hear: If someone copies you, make something newer and better. I feel that it’s the same thing here. Can’t compete in an Amazon- and Craftsy-filled world? Then do something different and better.

I noticed comments on Abby’s Craftsy posts saying “Craftsy is just looking out for their own bottom line.” Well, duh! Of course they are! That’s how capitalism works. They may be using some less than stellar tactics as they grow, but they haven’t done anything illegal to my knowledge.

People said the same thing about Etsy. I’ve even the same sort of thinly veiled comments about independent designers and craftspeople.

I know nothing about Craftsy’s – or Etsy’s – bottomline. But I’ve owned several small businesses and have worked in the corporate world for a long time and I know that businesses make the decisions they make, not for the hell of it, but to: (1) stay profitable and (2) to meet the demands of their customers.

Businesses that don’t or can’t do these two things go out of business.

I feel that the “it’s not fair argument” is born out of a scarcity mentality. I know it seems like the big boys are squeezing the little guy out of business. But this is nothing new. There are lots of stories of little guys who have great ideas and do amazing things and come out ahead. (Until they grow big enough to have to make hard decisions and then we bitch about them for selling out.)

And “how dare they?” is just sour grapes no matter what perspective you’re coming from. I think every single designer I follow, including Abby and Lauren, has been targeted on GOMI. Can I tell you how much I hate GOMI? At least the commenters on Lauren’s post weren’t mean-spirited.

That was a long, rambling post. Thanks if you made it this far! My opinions might be unpopular, but I’d really be interested to hear from some of my peeps on this!

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