*Edit 9/11/15: CEO of Craftsy, John Levisay, wrote an open letter in response to this post. You can find that here.
On June 17 Craftsy’s parent company, Sympoz, Inc., registered two new trademarks that appear to be for their own fabric and yarn lines. The fabric line will be called Boundless Fabrics and the yarn line will be Cloudborn Fibers.
Sympoz, Inc. created Craftsy as an online teaching platform in 2010 and has raised $106 million in venture capital since then. Craftsy has over 5 million users and offers more than 550 classes in sewing, quilting, knitting, crochet, painting, and cake decorating.
The site also offers an indie pattern marketplace and has long sold supplies to supplement the online class offerings. CEO and co-founder John Levisay, who came to Sympoz from eBay, told Forbes, ““People like to have good products and recommendations.” Customers can buy everything from watercolor pencils to fondant icing, fat quarter bundles of premium quilting cottons, and Cascade yarns. Craftsy also offers a growing array of kits for knitting, quilting and sewing.
With over 8 million members 43,000 blog subscribers, and 1.2 million fans combined on their Facebook pages, Craftsy has a huge customer base which allows them to negotiate deals with fabric suppliers that are 10-20% below wholesale (although I know this to be the case with fabric, I was not able to find a reliable source to confirm or deny that it is the case with yarn). The supplies for sale on Craftsy are then listed at below manufactured suggested retail price – a great deal for customers but a cause of anger and frustration for independently owned yarn and quilt shops.
A Raverly member who works at a local yarn shop in St. Louis, Missouri, explains, “We’ve called our reps and even the honchos at several of the above companies [Cascade, Plymouth, Berroco, Crystal Palace, and Rowan] and the party line is that once one has fallen, they all have to allow Craftsy to offer deeply discounted current lines. Why would my customer buy Cascade Ultra Pima from me for suggested retail of $9.50 when he or she can get it from Craftsy for $5.70? 27 colors of the stuff, not just discontinued colors…this is a small-business-killing move.”
A quilt shop owner I spoke with in the Boston area agrees. “This is a business model that’s intended to smash an industry. People see that when Amazon does it, but not when Craftsy does it…They have so much power and there really is no fighting them. We’ve created a gorilla in our midst.”
Over the summer Craftsy began reaching out to independent sewing pattern designers who offer print patterns asking if they’d be interested in having patterns be part of kits sold on the site. The only catch? Designers have to sell the patterns to Craftsy at 30% off wholesale. This is 5% more than designers offer to other distributors. The designer I spoke with about this told me, “I’m afraid they’re trying to be the Amazon of patterns. They are going to control the market. This could be a disruption that has long-term effects for all of us.”
Now, it looks as though Craftsy is not only selling supplies at below retail price, they’re likely going to be producing those supplies themselves. Boundless Fabrics is, right now, just a trademark and domain owned by Sympoz, Inc. so it’s still unknown how that business model will look. Cloudborn Fibers also only exists as a trademark and domain of Sympoz, although today they sent out letters to indie knitwear designers asking them to create patterns with their new yarns.
The letter says:
We here at Cloudborn Fibers have been searching long and hard for beautiful patterns — and naturally, we found you! As a top pattern shop owner and unique designer, we think you’re a perfect choice to help us launch our new yarn line, sold exclusively through Craftsy.
Carefully crafted by our yarnistas, we offer sumptuous, high-quality wools, alpacas and blends, ethically sourced and available in any weight. There’s so much possibility! That’s why we teamed up with Craftsy to create a limited number of slots for independent designers like you to show off your creativity, showcase our yarns and get some amazing exposure.
Wondering how it all works? We’ll provide you with one project’s worth of highland wool, superwash merino or alpaca yarn. We’re asking that you use this yarn and your one-of-a-kind design talents to dream up and post a free, original pattern by November 15. We’ll pick out the exact fiber and color for your project based on which perform best, but please use the attached form to describe your idea in detail. That way, we can get you the yarn that fits your beautiful project best.
Then, it’s time to get your name out there! Your pattern will get posting priority on Craftsy’s social media outlets, blog and pattern marketplace. With over 8 million members, 43,000 blog subscribers and 1.2 million combined fans on the Craftsy Knitting Club and Crochet Club (Facebook), there’s no shortage of opportunity for leveraging your lovely work. They get over 2 million pattern downloads a month!
Your design will be free for at least a year, but we don’t mind if you want to post it to Ravelry, PatternFish or any other pattern sites. It’s not a problem if pattern descriptions or photos get leaked early either, but please don’t post the pattern itself anywhere before November 15. We’ll debut all of these designs at the same time. We’ll also send you some helpful marketing materials, so you can spread the word about Cloudborn and your new pattern on social media, Ravelry, blogs and more.
While we know these deadlines are tight, we didn’t want you to miss out on a promising opportunity to reach millions with your designs and knit with amazing fiber. If you’re interested, simply add your name to this Google Form by September 8th. We’ll be in touch by September 10th with all the info you need. In the meantime, feel free to reach out with any questions to email@example.com.
We’re wooly looking forward to working with you!
Our best to you,
I contacted Craftsy for comment on the new fabric and yarn lines, but was told, “Thanks, but Craftsy has no comment on ventures we may or may not decide to pursue in the future.”
Several designers were angered by the offer of exposure as pay. One on Twitter stated, “Please, designers, check the parent co. of the “new” yarn co. that’s offering exposure w/o payment. They can afford to pay, they just won’t.” Another stated, “I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Craftsy in the past, but this complete disregard for my profession makes me want to take my patterns off your site and never go back. ‘Wooly’ looking forward to professional respect.”
I asked Casey Forbes, co-founder of Ravelry, whether Ravelry would ever get into the yarn business. “Designers do yarn, but I don’t think our brand would mean a lot in that context,” he said, “and we would be competing with friends of Ravelry. For venture-backed tech companies [like Craftsy] exploring 100 different avenues seems compulsory these days.”
Thanks for compiling all the relevant information into this article. I am not a designer but I am a supporter of designers.
BETH CASEY says
Please keep in mind that not all vendors discount to Craftsy. Here at Lorna’s Laces, we have never sold to them, or any other client, at anything less than our full wholesale price.
Thank you, Beth. And to me the very fact that you have to point this out speaks to way Craftsy is participating in the industry.
BETH CASEY says
I just wanted to make it clear. The post might lead people to believe otherwise.
Yes, I saw your announcement in this Ravelry thread: http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/lysos/3266434/1-25
Booth Kittson says
Interesting move on Craftsy’s part. It seems like they are trying a Joann’s style end move and might succeed.
There is an interesting discussion on the Craftsy discounting practice over on Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/lysos/3266434/1-25
It devolves a bit but if you can weave through the pertinent comments you’ll see that most shop owners feel pretty threatened by Craftsy already.
but $106 million? I had no idea that they were that well funded.
As always, current and pertinent post, Abby, thanks!
Donna Berlanda says
It sounds like Craftsy is becoming the Walmart of the craft industry with predatory pricing, low/no employee pay and a goal to edge out small businesses. This puts undue pressure on small businesses not only financially, but it also falls upon us to create campaigns to educate the consumer.
I think their employees are paid fairly and I know that the designers who teach classes on Craftsy are paid well. This unpaid call for patterns is new and, in my mind, is poorly thought out as a way to launch a new yarn line.
Their blog contributor rates are really low. Equal to or less than 6 cents per word was basically what I was offered. The request for free patterns seems in line with that. They want to offer it all but don’t seem to be putting much money or effort into offering patterns or having a blog.
That’s interesting to know, Andi. $60 for a 1,000 word post is low for sure.
Kathie W says
Thank you for another well done article on new ventures that may not be completely transparent.
Louise Reilly says
Thanks for such an informative post! I think it’s ridiculous that they expect designers to take “exposure” as payment. Particularly when the vast majority of designers do this as a full time gig, and deserve to be paid for the hard work they put in. It definitely sounds like they are trying to take over the craft market in a similar way to what Amazon has done.
Thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful post about this issue! It is completely insulting to receive such a letter, and demeaning to the many folks who are designing as a living.
This is all very interesting. I hadn’t hear of this before so I will definitely watch and see where this is headed.
Laura Nelkin says
I just want to chime in and say that I have been working with Craftsy since their inception and have had nothing but VERY positive and respectful interactions with them. These have turned out to be financially rewarding as well as helping me build a strong customer base. Besides teaching classes I sell patterns in kits that I get full wholesale pricing for. I have found them to be the most supportive and respectful companies I have ever worked with.
I’m not sure they thought through how this call for free patterns would be received, but it is their right to ask just as it is the designer’s right to say “no”.
Mary Beth Temple says
I appreciate you posting. Laura, but you may recall my experience with them – and I started before you as I recall – was exactly the opposite. I have been nothing but delighted for you with the benefits you have gotten from working with them, but in the same way I can’t presume my horrible experience was shared by all, I don’t know that your positive experience was shared by all either.
And now I will stop posting on this topic because it’s awfully hard for me to remain unbiased.
Seriously said with love and respect – MBT
Laura, I have heard very, very good things from many instructors about teaching at Craftsy. It’s fun, professional, and lucrative for designers. I love the Craftsy classes I’ve watched and I know many designers who have had terrific experiences like the one you describe.
I absolutely agree with Laura, and I’ve posted more below. I’m sorry Mary Beth didn’t have a good experience, but I wish she would give it another shot as I’d love to take her class! I am ecstatic to have met Laura and many other designers through the Craftsy platform, and I’m certain that I wouldn’t know who they were if I hadn’t taken their classes. I have bought every class Laura teaches– even if I already know the material– because she’s a fabulous person and I love to watch her work. I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of beaded knitting, so I don’t always buy her patterns, but I do find other ways to support her work (like buying her classes and books). Let’s not overlook either that many people who take online classes are unable to leave their houses or live too far from a yarn shop. I purchase yarns from Craftsy when it suits me, but I buy much more from Jimmy Beans Wool. Just because they SELL something doesn’t mean people are buying it. For people like me who rarely leave home, however… I cannot even express how grateful I am for the goods and services I’ve been provided by their staff and teachers! Thank you, Laura, and thank you Craftsy.
Carol Y says
I wonder if future teachers will be required to use Craftsy fabric and yarn?
I’ve looked at and pondered their sales, but I don’t get a good feeling about buying from a retail giant who can undercut the small businesses.
Interesting… Not surprising, I must admit. It does seem like a logical next-step for them as a business. I don’t buy supplies from Craftsy as 1) they don’t ship to my country, and 2) I’d prefer to support small businesses anyway (whether that be online or local).
I’m glad to read in the comments that the teachers are well-paid, because I love their classes! However, I am still a bit disillusioned by Craftsy’s lack of support for their designers who bring a lot of traffic to their site – highly disappointed that Craftsy do not support the pattern designers that sell on their site with VAT assistance like Etsy does. And I can also confirm that blog contributors are paid very poorly, considering how long it can take write even a basic round-up post! But that was a choice I made when I took some other things into consideration, which I’m happy to talk to you about further if you like.
Susan Druding says
Clarification from Crystal Palace Yarns:
We have not ever sold to Craftsy at less than our normal wholesale except for occasional closeout yarns.
As of end of July 2015, we are no longer selling our yarns to Craftsy. They may occasionally buy closeout yarns, but not yarns from our continuing collections.
This article is in error.
Susan Druding, president CPY
I’ve just sent you an email, Susan. Once I hear from you I will make any necessary corrections. Thank you.
This is very interesting – and disappointing. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. Amazon has a rather apalling behaviour, and now Craftsy aim to take the same spot in this marketplace. I am a Craftsy members, and have several online classes that I love. The possibility of me traveling to a class with Sandra Betzina is rather low, but I have her on Craftsy. I’ve become more digruntled with them the last six months, there’s been a change in attitude I’m not comfortable with, and this explains why. I’ll keep my membership and my classes, but I really doubt I’ll buy new ones. I’ll take a closer look at Creativebug instead – which, I seem to recall, Threads magazine is now cooperating with. (Don’t take my workd for it, though).
I really love your sleuthing through the creative business, Abby! I prefer being aware and make informed choices, and your website has proven to be a great source of information. Objective and clear, instead of falling over in total admiration. You save the total admiration for those who deserve it – great artists!
I think it’s important to differentiate between Craftsy’s three offerings. Craftsy has online classes, a pattern marketplace, and a supplies shop. Although these three work together in some ways, they are also distinct. The online classes are overall a positive and lucrative opportunity for designers and a great resource for the creative community (as you point out Berte). The pattern marketplace is free for designers which is nice, but the marketplace also lacks important features designers need in order to abide by tax laws including a way to charge sales tax and VAT. This post is about the supplies shop which offers terrific discounts for Craftsy customers but perhaps those discounts come at a price for local quilt and yarn shops. If and when Craftsy begins producing and selling it’s own yarn and fabrics, the question becomes does that have a further adverse affect on those shops. I hope that’s clear!
Yes, that is perfectly clear! But something about Craftsy’s “mood” has changed. Not sure how to put it, because it’s rather intangible, but the energy seems so very different. I’ve been going through your backlog (not that I’ve come far, it’s not that long ago I discovered you), and discovering that Craftsy were going to go public gave me an aha moment. I had noticed something was different, but didn’t understand why, and this explained it. And this post gave me more validation into what I’d been feeling, but was unable to put my finger on. I want independent sellers with a passion for what they do (not primarily a passion for making money), be they online or not. I’ll definitely keep on doing my part to keep them all alive. 😉
I don’t have any evidence to believe that Craftsy intends to go public. I think you might have misread that somewhere?
I guess I misunderstood, then. I’ll hide behind the fact that English is not my native tongue, and business speak is even further away… 😉
Nancy Nally says
Once a company has taken that much venture capital, it’s almost certain that an IPO is the intended end game at some point. It’s the best way for venture capitalists to cash out their investment.
Yes, but it could be many years out. Etsy went public 10 years in. If Craftsy followed the same path we’re looking at 2020.
Nancy, I have another question for you tangentially related to this. In the scrapbooking world it’s very common for companies to form design teams where they give out free product in exchange for tutorials and blog content. Why are those calls acceptable? Why don’t those scrapbookers asked to be paid in money rather than product?
Thank you so much for a very interesting and informative article. I am in Australia and I had no idea, I have purchased many of there classes but I try very hard to buy from indie designers like Andi as I prefer to support small business. This really opened my eyes so thank you so very very much
Thanks of another well researched and written exposé of scoop in our community. We as consumers need to look at ourselves, not just the retailers that are killing small business. We are the fuel to the Walmart, Massdrop, Amazon etc fires. Let’s face it, we all have more fabric, yarn, craft supplies that we will ever be able to use in our life times (myself included), yet we sometimes say we find ourselves hunting for bargain deals as we feel that we can’t afford to pay full price. If we bought less and paid fair pricing for it, not only would we be less hoardy, but we’d be supporting small businesses that make the kind of community that we want to belong to. Just my two bits worth.
Leah Kabaker says
Welcome the competition, 6-7 years ago the sewing and quilting industry were chugging along with very little growth. Now it is a fast growing viable business which means more people are getting into what is now becoming a crowded field. I am fortunate to have lovely local yarn and fabric stores. So many people have none of that and due to the internet are able to fully participate in the fun.
Judy Coates Perez says
It’s a very worrisome trend. There are several big companies using and abusing artists and unfortunately there are many artists so anxious to get published that they will do it for free. It’s going to make it impossible for many of us who teach and design to continue earning a living. I’ve noticed it’s harder and harder to fill classes with everyone turning to cheaper online options, sadly they forget the tremendous value of learning side by side with others , the sharing and feedback one gets is priceless. As well as what a teacher can offer when they sit down with a student one on one and see first hand exactly where they are struggling and show them how to improve their technique..
I don’t see this as purely an incident of a big company using and abusing designers. I think this was a misstep on Craftsy’s part to ask designers to create free patterns as part of the launch of their new yarn line.
I think Craftsy has been a great partner with the indie designers that teach on their platform. My friends who have done it have had great experiences – both lucrative and brand building.
I love online teaching and I think it’s a great way for all of us to access teachers any time, day or night, that we might never meet in person and for an affordable price. I don’t think online classes replace in-person learning. There will always be value in face to face interactions.
Susan S says
I have purchased a couple of items from Craftsy and was very disappointed in the products and the quality. They were not “quilt shop” quality. I have also noticed that a number of the kits and deals are made from older fabric runs. I have the feeling that their new fabrics may be more of a “chain store” quality than a quilt store quality although we will not know until they produce them. They are very “heavy” on the marketing similar to Joann’s.
An area which rarely gets addressed is their classes may also be cutting into in-person classes at independent retailers especially with the $19.99 sales. As a sewing and quilting teacher, I cannot offer multi-week classes to relatively small groups of students for $19.99. My students do get lots of individual attention which they won’t get on Craftsy.
I am curious who is behind Sympozium. I know that a lot of thesewing and quilting magazines have been bought out by F and W media and have gone down in quality.
I don’t think there’s a way to know what the quality of the base cloth will be for the fabric line at this point. If you purchased name brand fabrics or yarns from Craftsy the quality should be the same that you’d find for the brand elsewhere.
I don’t have any data indicting whether online classes cut into sales of in-person classes at local shops so I can’t say one way or the other.
Sympoz, Inc. is owned by the original founders. It has not been sold to F+W Media. You can read more about the four founders on their About page: https://www.craftsy.com/about
Susan S says
Abby—While I cannot address the base good that they will use for their fabrics, I can address the class kit I purchased from them which consisted of specialty threads and a book. The book arrived bent (they had rolled it into too small an envelope) and some of the threads literally looked like they had been picked out of someone’s trash—they were not wound onto spools. The second thing I purchased was a kit for a Kaffe Fassett quilt. Some of the 2.5″ strips were smaller than 2.5″. I did discuss these issues with a person at Craftsy and let them know that I was disappointed. These experiences have put me off buying supplies from them.
I do not know if anyone has researched the impact of Craftsy on in-person attendance at classes. I have had a couple of students who tried it and decided they needed a “live” teacher. I have had more who have tried to learn from You-Tube videos but again decided they learnt better from in-person classes. It would be interesting for someone to do a survey/study on how online sewing (or knitting or crafting) classes affect attendance at in-person classes.
Kathleen Dames says
In regards to Craftsy cutting into in-person classes, in a conversation with an LYSO a few months ago, she told me she was unable to get customers to sign up for new classes with a very popular designer who had previously sold out classes at her shop multiple times. To her it seemed Craftsy-related. Some of the feedback she got from customers was along the lines of “why would I pay money to show up at a particular time/place when I can view a class from this person whenever I want?”).
Thanks for a very interesting article, Abby. Lots of food for thought here for those of us in the craft business (I design patterns for handknitters).
Although I hear some anecdotal evidence of this, I don’t think we have any hard numbers to prove it one way or the other. I know that I’ve enjoyed several Craftsy classes with favorite designers and would happily also pay to take an in-person class with those designers. Perhaps other people feel differently. Either way, online learning is here to stay. It’s one of the very best aspects of the internet and I love it!
Rebecca Grace says
I think a Craftsy class is much more like a DVD or VHS tape (remember those?) than it is like an in-person class. If we’re talking about a complex, involved skill, then there is no way that any kind of video lesson can ever take the place of one-on-one feedback from the instructor that you can only get in a live class situation. For instance, I bought the book That Perfect Stitch as well as the DVD some years ago and attempted to teach myself hand quilting using all the recommended supplies and suggestions. But I jumped at the chance to take a class with Dierdre McElroy at a quilt show and it was worth EVERY PENNY! It turned out my thimble was too big and my fabric had an uneven weave, making it impossible for me to make stitches the same length across the warp and weft. I made huge leaps and strides in just one day. I think that the recorded classes and the live classes ideally can complement one another, using the video class as a refresher when you’re getting back into a project after a break, or to trouble-shoot or whatever. If a teacher is getting feedback that their “real life” classes are no better than their video classes, that indicates that she or he has an opportunity to make their live classes a better value to students by giving more individualized feedback etc.
I never choose to learn from real life teachers in classes. Scope is usually too small and too limited and over too wide a time span. For example a sock class. When I made some for the first time after not knitting for very long, I read a pattern and had a book to help me with the queries I had. I didn’t have to wait week by week to get to the next bit, but went off at my own faster pace. Much more preferable to me. Time for the individual is either limited (and distracts from whole class information as well) or you get crowded out by others and someone always has to be back of the class. I may be unusual as well as I don’t see making stuff as at all a sociable thing. I don’t much like other people around me then at all!
My preference for learning is always the written word, i.e. books. I have however bought 4 Craftsy classes. Two stayed and two were returned. The ones that were returned were because of poor explanation (showing without telling is no good, nor the other way around), and limited scope for learning (too many courses are not pushing content and remain for ever at beginner level which is very frustrating). The ones I have kept are both crochet and the content is good – there is a learning curve, the knowledge and enthusiasm of the teacher is infectious and the explanations clear and thorough. They are still limited though in comparison to the instructors published books (I went out and purchased one of them, so also a good way of marketing) but they make a enjoyable change every now and then.
I would never go to a real life class now. I have tried a couple of times and I find it frustrating. Teaching is not so much about what you know but how you tell it, the same skills do carry over in a book but I find them generally much fuller and more informative. A draw back to online classes is that sometimes the instructors seem plucked off the internet due to popularity rather than actually real ability or knowledge. The internet is to blame for much poor information being passed down, and is even published in newer books now because everyone is re-inventing the wheel and there is some confusion over the standardised previous versions of things. There is some very poor hand sewing around because of this. I find myself literally going back to Victorian books to get what I need to know.
Craftsy are selling classes to me when I would never go in real life to a crochet or knitting class. I just don’t ever see that need as I simply follow a sock pattern and look up explanations I may need as I go, rather than go to a sock making class strung out over several weeks. I like to puzzle over things for myself in my own time rather than go out to a class that I could have stayed in for and achieved more in the time. Online classes can be stopped and started and you have a front row seat. You are not competing for time, attention and a good view. I have ironically though, had to leave Craftsy classes on a couple of occasions to visit YouTube when things were not shown properly (poor audible quality, lack of information or poor camera angles for example.
It is also a matter of confidence. I would never in a million years go to an art class but have done several online (not Craftsy) which I found wonderful and which re-opened paths to me closed years ago. I have access to them for ever and each time I look at them I am newly inspired and get something totally different from them. Art in reality can be scary and comparative. I was thrilled to have the online opportunities I have had.
Kristi Johnson says
This is part of the continual devaluation of products/services created by small (artisan) companies. As a moderately sized hand dyer, in our minds it is bad business and unethical to extend these types of discounts to the exclusion of our other customers. We don’t participate in the kit/club model that does that either. I can’t go back to my mills for free product. It bumfuddles me how the norm in business models now includes building a business that requires free or discounted product.
Great post, as always. This is the same as what seems to be happening with the fabric manufacturers. Creative, talented artists design quilts and fabrics for large corporations for free or next to nothing in payment. I don’t get it. Why are women (mostly women designers) giving away their creative energy? This saddens me. We are going backwards.
Thanks again for the insight into this new dilemma. Another major hit at the struggling small businesses, which are again, usually operated by women. First it was people opening fabric shops with prices well below the MSRP, then the ridiculous Facebook groups and massdrop, now Craftsy. I “feel” for the professional online and brick/mortar fabric shop owners who work very hard and are barely surviving.
Amazon destroyed the amazing, incredible local book stores in our area: Borders, Booksellers, etc. The same thing is happening with fabrics shops., brick/mortar and online.
Finally, I apologize for the negative post. It saddens me that everything is going in this direction.
Best to all of you,
I think we are in a time of reinvention for brick-and-mortar stores for sure.
Deb Grogan says
Sondra, Many fabric companies pay very well. Pattern designers receive fabric free in exchange for naming the collection on their patterns and in their social media and on websites. Fabric companies help promote these designs as part of their marketing, marketing that many of us could never afford. They rely on what we do as part of their marketing and we rely on them to promote us. The companies I work with are wonderful and have been very generous.
Deb, thanks for the insight. I have never heard from anyone that manufacturers pay well. I don’t consider “fabric” as payment. Having been a previous store owner, the cost of fabric to the manufacturers is so minimal, I would prefer that they were paid money. I am glad to hear that some of them are.
With the accessibility to social media that we all have, I don’t feel that designers need marketing from manufacturers. They can easily do it themselves and do it now with IG, FB, TW, Blogs, etc.
I guess it is all relative. I strongly feel that artists and designers should be paid very well for their skills and creativity. I have never heard that they are until now. I am glad to hear that you are.
I wonder if men were doing the designing and sewing, would we be even talking about this?
Best wishes to all creators,
Deb Grogan says
Pattern designers do sell to distributors at a discounted price, usually 30% less than regular wholesale, however that may allow a shop to try your patterns and not need to place a big order. It can be great in volume as well, but it is 30% off wholesale and then sold at regular wholesale, it is for retail shops not retail buyers. To ask for 30% off wholesale to sell it retail is not anything I am sure I would do, unless they plan on buying very large quantities, then perhaps the volume would make it worth it.
Magazines that use your patterns ask you offer it “free” in their magazine for a certain amount of time, but you are PAID for the use by the magazine…..asking for free for a year is really out of line.
I was loving Craftsy, but not sure I am loving this new model….But the reality is, things are changing, and we may not like them but they are coming none the less….so, dig in your heals? Or get on board?
Can you explain this in more detail?
“The only catch? Designers have to sell the patterns to Craftsy at 30% off wholesale. This is 5% more than designers offer to other distributors. ”
Is that designers often sell to distributors (who then sell to shops) at 35% off wholesale? Or 25% off (ie, they’re asking for a bigger discount than distributors?)
Thanks for your great reporting!
Designers sell print patterns to distributors like Checker, Brewer, and Untied Notions for 25% off wholesale. For kits, Craftsy is asking for 30% off wholesale, a bigger discount than other distributors are asking for. Perhaps they’ll sell at a bigger volume, though, and that might make it worth it for some designers.
Deb Grogan says
Actually Abby, designers sell at 30% off the wholesale price to those distributors, but those distributors are then selling at wholesale prices…….anyone who is doing it for less got a great deal but standard is 30%.
Craftsy is looking to do it and then sell retail, albeit at a discount. So lets say that a pattern sells retail for $10, wholesale would be $5, less that 30% is $3.50. Then Craftsy sells it in a kit and lets say the discount overall for that pattern in the kit ends up being 20%, their profit on that portion of the kit on that pattern is still $4.50. No one really looses, the pattern designer is still hopefully, making volume on large quantities just like distributors. The problem is more of an issue for brick and mortars………of course we as consumers have done this to ourselves, always wanting a deal…..
What irks me is that in the end they will end up making more of a profit for the sale than the designer makes for the product….but in this industry the designer always makes less money….I also license my art and am at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to pay……yet my art helps sell the product. Its just the nature of the business we do and unless we do something to invoke change it will remain the same…..
We have an ever growing number of designers out there and an ever shrinking amount of opportunity….so many take what they are offered. It is not an artist market, it is a manufacturers market. And you also need to consider that many companies will sell at a discount to the giants because they need to in order to survive as well….things have changed…….
Good to know. I also try to shop local, etc. I enjoy Craftsy classes and have purchased many, as well as some patterns on their site. What bothers me about Craftsy is that their upper management lineup is 100% male. I’m going to guess their customer base is nearly 100% female. I sorta vaguely feel like a bunch of guys got together to start a money-making company and decided that online craft classes were the way to make their fortune. Compare that to Ravelry where you have people with a true interest in the subject wanting to share it with others. It’s just a different “feel” to me. Craftsy isn’t there because they enjoy creativity, they’re there to make a bunch of money asap. At least that is the feeling I get.
I will say that I have always received good service, from them, and I have no beef with making money, it’s just more impersonal.
Also, if a company has venture capital funding to the tune of $190 million, you can bet the house that there will be an IPO. Venture capitalists want their money back in spades, and mega growth with a big IPO bang at the end is how you get there. Caring about keeping the industry healthy is not a factor in that particular profit equation. Which is why it makes me uncomfortable that their management do not seem to represent their customers in any way.
You’re right that the founders of Craftsy came from the business world and not from the craft world, but many other people who work there in upper management did come from the craft world. And people can learn. Men are certainly no less able to understand craft than women. I will say that I’ve noticed a clear focus on Craftsy’s part on only pursuing what sells, versus pursuing things that might be fun but less profitable.
Perhaps the founder’s business background had led to a tone-deafness to the needs of small shops? There was a time when Craftsy was at Quilt Market working with small shops to co-promote classes, but now they are working with Joann’s to do the same. Here’s a new initiative they launched in Colorado Joann’s stores this March: https://www.behance.net/gallery/24039281/The-Craftsy-Classroom-at-Jo-Ann
Thank you for explaining to another commenter that there is really 3 parts to Craftsy. From what I have read in other blogs (blog reading is an addiction for me ;-).) the teachers for the classes seem very happy and excited about the opportunity to teach and how well Craftsy treats them. I know I have been taking classes through them since early 2012 and have enjoyed and learned from each. I try, where ever possible to buy an indie pattern before the large companies. As an artist I want to support artists. It’s a shame that you can’t charge accurate taxes and vat on patterns for Craftsy. Perhaps like Etsy they’ll pull it together for that. I’ve never actually bought anything from Craftsy products, but it is annoying that companies will allow large companies to push there way in and hurt the small local companies that have kept them alive when quilting, knitting, crochet and sewing weren’t the fashion.
Honestly though, when you go into a craft store like Michael’s or hobby lobby 50% to 65% of there space is now home goods. They are now decorator emporiums and not craft stores. Joann fabric tries to be the everyone store for every craft and home decor. There fabric dept. is now down to 25% of their store. In the stores here there are less than 50 bolts of premium quilt fabrics available to chose from, and the other quilt fabric lacks quality. So have we the customers caused this by shopping cheap at large “craft” stores. I really miss the independently owned larger fabric stores
Thank you for a thought inspiring article.
Great questions. I also think it’s worth noting that Craftsy classes are available on the Joann’s website: http://www.joann.com/search?q=craftsy This becomes tricky for indie designers, I think. Christine Haynes wrote a wonderful piece recently about the connection between the closing of Sew L.A. and opening of a Joann’s nearby: http://citystitching.com/blog/2015/08/the-closing-of-sew-la-and-thoughts-on.html Christine has a class on Craftsy. Although I understand why working with Joann’s is a smart business move on Craftsy’s part, again it feels like profit takes priority over supporting the smaller industry stakeholders.
Ace reporting, Abby. Really impressive.
Full-fledged stupid on the part of Craftsy.
For itty bitty money they could be masking their upcoming Walmart level evil. They could have sent around the same email, gotten deluged with gorgeous designs – on spec! – been vaunted throughout the craft blog-o–sphere, and be sitting pretty, by making just a few really, REALLY cheap (for them) tweaks. Like: Say it’s going to be ten patterns. In a competition judged by named cool kids and each designer gets an advance of 3K each, against some gigantically generous amount of royalties.
30K, upfront, is Venture Capital single origin coffee for a week. Nothing. They could do it every month. Totally cheap way to be heroes. And the number of blog posts and reTweets would be gigantic. Cheaper PR budget. They’re idiots for not only missing a monster opportunity, but racking up ire. Having Ravelry be agin’ ya is not a smart move to make in the knitting community.
But the actual good news is their chintzy – and absolutely sexist, as many noted – ways intrigued fabulous Abby to do her outstanding investigation. Politely and fairly, of course. But her hard work unmasks their goals to anyone familiar with big biz. It seems they aim to exploit the huge expense of knitting by offering discount yarn, build relationship (the goal of all successful biz, by the way) with the vast numbers of knitters who can’t afford 150 bucks a sweater, and sell the gravy train pixelated air of online classes. What is immensely dim is not factor in just a tiny bit more to make Craftsy the highest paying original design commission in the business.
FYI, highly appreciative lurker – and global marketing consultant – de-lurking to say, you can’t stop people wanting either cheap or convenient. And the online combo of both will not be derailed. Alas. But anyone in business can get smart. LYS’s have to retool for the future, catering to their local market. There are a jillion ways, but they all require effort and change. (bigger topic)
Venture Capital is part of American Biz which lives to “Beat the Chart”. Which creates The Stupid. Everything gets reduced to numbers on a slide in a meeting. Then these numbers get held up in more meetings, like for another round of financing, or IPO bandwagon.
And people’s careers live or die by surpassing the chart numbers. Just like the “Tyranny of the Quarterly Report”. Every public-traded American business has to meet their quarterly number predictions or analysts say they’ve failed. Craftsy is not warm and fuzzy. They are Venture Capital. Some idiot thought jerking off designers was a good way to Beat the Chart.
In all honesty, this comment makes me uncomfortable. I’m not implying that Craftsy is evil in any way. I actually think Craftsy is pretty awesome in many ways! Craftsy has created a top notch online class platform that is incredibly beneficial to both designers and hobbyists alike. Filming a Craftsy class now is just as prestigious and lucrative as writing a book, and that says a lot considering the company has only been around for five years.
Venture capital is not all bad. And start-ups are not necessarily evil. I don’t think the people who run Craftsy are sexist. I think asking designers to create free patterns for a new yarn line was a misstep and every company makes missteps (I know I’ve made many myself). I think offering supplies for sale at below MSRP is not a way to support local yarn and quilt shops and that’s upsetting. These are things that can be corrected for sure.
Among the many things to admire about your work, Abby, is your smart equanimity and openness. Seeing possibilities from all sides makes you an excellent reporter. Certainly no discomfort was intended, and many apologies for engendering same.
You know Craftsy, I don’t. My passion arose from having an “oh, no” moment of recognizing some of the worse tactics of business – impossible to match undercutting of prices, obliterating through size, disrespecting by no pay for creative effort, the exploitation of spec work, getting people to feel flattered providing valuable content for free, fealty to numbers first – coming to bear on the beauty and community of crafts. It felt a little ducks in a barrel to me, especially after reading the LYS reaction thread at Ravelry, and I got riled.
Yes, of course, all VC is not nefarious. Much, much good can come from risk and exploration. May it be that Craftsy, indeed, polishes up their missteps and moves forward, expanding opportunities that truly prosper all.
I think many things have been forgotten in this debate. For instance… Designers have a right to be paid for their work, but they also have the right to post their work for free. And many do. In fact, many highly respected designers have free patterns on Ravelry, Craftsy, and/or their own websites. I don’t even think that asking people if they wanted to submit a pattern free was a misstep. I think that the designers that are complaining were NOT their intended audience. In support of the new designers who wanted to participate, they told people where to submit. Perhaps we are all jaded and when one person sees the downside, everyone jumps on. Personally, I think this could just as easily be seen as an attempt to give a new yarn to some aspiring designers and promote a little creativity. No one is perfect, nor is any company perfect. But in my dealings with Craftsy my disappointments have been reimbursed and I have learned an absurd number of new skills. I have also met the most incredible designers in the fields! I sincerely doubt the I would know who Stephanie Japel, Laura Nelkin or Linda Lee are if I hadn’t learned to knit and sew by watching their videos. I think it’s also worth noting that I tried to learn in person and went home unable to cast on after paying $40 for a knitting class! I think this issue and almost every other in the world would be better dealt with if people could take a moment to breathe before blowing their stack, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Where’s the harm in asking, “when you asked me to submit a free pattern, were you aware that it’s not the industry standard?” (If, indeed, it’s not). Educate and enlighten… Which is what I believe YOU are attempting to do. If everyone else did the same there’d be a lot less anger and suspicion in the world!
I’m really interested in that “ethical” piece to the new Craftsty yarn line. That word made me wonder. What do they mean by that, exactly? If Craftsy has been paying attention, they would know that ethical fiber sourcing (for knitting yarn, especially, but it’s making its way in fabric lines as well) is a concern for many people in the online crafting community. Sustainably produced yarn and fabric may be a small piece of the craft industry, but it’s big enough that a lot of companies have to at least pretend they’re doing it right. So if Craftsy is planning to make products in a way that they claim is ethical, I hope they back that up with some real information. I admit I’m skeptical about a large retailer selling something in mass quantities for a (relatively) cheap price and then claiming that product is sourced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The way global supply works in the fiber industry, it’s basically impossible to produce anything responsibly, especially a LOT of it, and then turn around and sell it at a price competitive with a large retailer like Joanns or Michaels.
I hope you follow up, Abby, and let us know what happens!
You raise a great point and one that I overlooked when I read the letter. I hope that they intend to follow through with this idea of “ethically sourced” yarn. Let’s see what happens.
Kate G says
Excellent post, Abbey. Shoot me, but I’m not angry about Craftsy’s business move (Amazon, however, is another story). I see two separate issues at play here: the rules of competitive pricing and the hidden currency in payment by exposure deals.
My heart is with the independents, but focusing on underpricing by a competing business is a waste of business energy. Harsh, but that strategy is not going away. Small business have the advantage of being nimble. They cannot always compete on pricing, but they can compete in quality and inventiveness. Understand the core and the customers (as Ravelry and the Purl Bee certainly do), polish that core ( as you certainly do with consistent, forward-facing content) and love those customers (as my local fabric store does) to grow that business.
Craftsy has built a large following and now they want to use that platform as currency. Depending on the designer, a free pattern on an established platform with high exposure is a fair trade. That’s not as true for established designers and bloggers. That said, low payment for blogging rates does not guarantee good content. But I would ask angry bloggers how much they pay themselves to post and whether the hidden currency of exposure with a post on Craftsy is worth the effort. If not, state a fair price and be prepared to walk that content to your own site. Then learn the rules of SEO and move that post up in the search results.
I have mixed feeling about this. I don’t agree at all wit with how they offered exposure for pay. I also don’t want to see local yarn and fabric stores undercut. On the other hand, I really like Craftsy’s classes. I am taking a photography class through Craftsy and I am very happy with the class. It is a a better class than I could get locally at a better price. I recently purchased a Craftsy class on shawl Design that is taught by a designer I admire. I also purchased a class on sizing knitwear patterns. I would flat out not have access to this without Craftsy. I hope I don’t sound like an ad for their classes but I don’t think the company is all bad either.
agree at all *with* not wit
I think you put it really well. I absolutely love online learning and Craftsy does a stellar job at it. I love local yarn and quilt shops and I love it when designers are paid appropriately for their work. I definitely don’t think Craftsy is a bad company.
Holly Quate says
Realistically, how many of us have a nearby brick and mortar fabric store nearby that’s not a chain? And in-person classes ? I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and the nearest “real” fabric store is an hour away by car. If I want to take an in-person class, I have to take a day off work and drive an hour each way. Craftsy found a need and filled it. I think there’s plenty of room in the marketplace for both.
Deb Grogan says
Hi Holly, I guess maybe its a regional thing. I have 10+ quilt shops within 15 minutes to an hour from me, an hour being the farthest the rest within 15-30 minutes. I also have four Joann’s to choose from, which I rarely go to but they are there none the less……And they all have classes…….I think there is a place for Craftsy as well and as I sell my patterns there, I love the fact they don’t take a cut, that is a huge support to independents like myself 🙂
Gosh, you live in a resource rich area. Around here it’s difficult to find fabric shops or live classes, especially on the weekends, unless one can afford thousands for a six day sewing retreat. The Sewing Workshop in San Francisco, which was a great teaching resource, just closed its doors. Like I said, I think there’s plenty of room in the marketplace for Craftsy and the entrepreneurs. I suppose time will tell.
Deb Grogan says
Thats too bad Holly, I guess I am lucky….I do love a great deal and as a pattern designer I do get fabric free from the manufacturers, but when I need something for a project of my own, its great to be able to see and feel all the wonderful choices there are out there….sometimes I go in with one thought in my head and end up walking out with another option all together……..lol Times have changed and everyone is struggling to make things work, the old model just doesn’t anymore but all this change, its been coming for some time now……The brick and mortars, some of them, will still stand and I am sure more will close eventually, and those who are selling online will have to compete with the others selling online, and most little independent online merchants like those at ETSY etc, will not be able to compete with the bigger online and some of those will fall by the wayside as well….those who will survive will be those with something unique to offer……Good luck to you!
I do want to add that I LOVE the Craftsy Classes/Workshops, as well as Creativebug and others. I think that they are fantastic and I am signed up for many classes. They are wonderful, not only because they have high quality instructors but also so convenient. Thank you to Craftsy, Creativebug, Interweave, etc. for providing these courses. In previous years, I attended many workshops in person but for a variety of reasons, I can’t do that now. They do a great job of trying to fill that gap.
This is excellent news! I do have a Joann Fabrics somewhat nearby, but any good stores are far away for both supplies and classes. Craftsy has been a huge joy and inspiration for me. Great classes at a good price with great accessibility and convenience. And now they will be offering a wide variety of products at a discount price?! That is the best thing I have heard all week!!
Those of you who produce product or have stores should not be threatened because you do not have to participate. And presumably your products and/or shops add value beyond just the purchase for people to pay premium prices. You are more of a service business than just offering the inventory. Welcome the challenge! I would think that JoAnn and other chains would be the ones who should feel threatened.
Thanks, Craftsy, for offering me even more options at lower prices!!
Lucy, Just to clarify a few things. Craftsy has been selling discounted supplies on their site for several years. This isn’t a new addition. The new addition will be producing their own yarn and fabric. Joann’s is not threatened by Craftsy. In fact, it’s the opposite. Craftsy works closely with Joann’s and has actually taken over parts of several Joann’s to create in-store Craftsy classrooms: http://blogs.denverpost.com/tech/2015/03/05/craftsy-expands-classes-offline-sort-inside-local-jo-ann-stores/16080/
Agree with Abby. There is no way Joann’s would feel threatened by Craftsy – the J store is huge, last year’s revenue was over $2 billion. That’s *billion*.
If anything, I ‘d be worried about Craftsy.
Joann’s past business practice has been to buy out smaller retailers-steeply discount their quality goods, then fill in with their inferior wares at a low price. The current landscape of missing small yarn or fabric shops is due more to Joann’s business practices than any economic trend.
Teri Lynn says
An interesting topic. I’m rather new to the entire sewing realm after a hiatus of 30 years. Dove in face first with the goal of being thrifty and frugal, as to so many warnings about how expensive of a habit is quilting. My first introduction to Craftsy was an invite by Joanns for a free class. I tried it out after going through all the various locked in handshakes to log into the site (and subsequent mass emails) only to find the free met short snips that led no where. The sticker price of the classes for my frugality is a hindrance. Understanding that everyone wants to make money but I need to put my funds elsewhere. From the solicitations I’ve always felt that Joanns was a pivotal backbone to Craftsy (angel investor?) Along the way I found the favorite shops around the US host their own tutorials as wells as many videos/tutorials found on crafter/artist blogs.
Even joining the local quilt guild with the benefit of discounts at LQS buying first run fabric is daunting to my budget. However, I do know where the discount rack is located at each store so I am spending my budget locally. I do purchase designer fabric via Amazon because I participate in reward sites that in exchange for running videos and participating in surveys pay me in Amazon gift cards. The LQS that sell products on there might not be in my town or even state but they are home grown shops.
With all this said, the paradigm is changing which is frightening – isn’t all change scary at first? Amazon with fabric.com, Joanns supplementing training with Craftsy, Hobby Lobby growing out nationwide, even Walmart with their fight to price match Amazon. Jaftex mentioned in a post yesterday that the vendor they used and trusted for so long was merged into another company for point-of-sale and website support. Even the model with Hawthorne Threads and Spoonflower, easily envision just-in-time fabrics where LQS might only show samples then the fabric is printed to order on the spot.
The place of Craftsy in the mix is still curious to me, but I’ve yet to spend a dime there since I have not found a reward site that offers incentives of Craftsy gift cards. Etsy yes! Craftsy no.
You’re right to be cautious about the mix of big-box stores in the crafts market. The big-box monsters tend to use the not-so-nice tactics of steep price reductions, not only to acquire the budget shopper, but also to put their small competitors out of business.
Carley Biblin says
JoAnn recently announced their own line of premium fabric and yarn. Given how closely Craftsy and JoAnn work together in some areas, it suggests the possibility that they may be pooling their resources on this venture. Perhaps using the same manufacturers for bulk discounts. I’d be interested to see if there are any similarities in the products they sell in their lines.
Just to clarify, Joann’s has always had their own line of fabric. I don’t know much about yarn, but perhaps that as well?
Whoa, you are saying I should pay more than I have to for the same exact fabric? Whether I’m buying a printer, a watch, or two yards of, say, Kaufman cotton denim I shouldn’t look online for the best price? Especially since I have not found much in the way of helpful advice or any kind of “community” on the part of any local fabric store employees.
Lucy Cooper says
I stumbled onto the crafts site looking for a yarn winder, and signed up for e-mail.
When I got the first advert for Cliudbirn, I ordered some and have lived working with it. Had no idea if the backstory or controversy. I mostlemahe scarves and baby blankets so online classes and patterns don’t draw me.
I have decided to continue to patronize my inconvenient expensive but very friendly yarn store for everything BUT Cloudborn. Kind of like I patronize local Boswell books before turning to Amazon. Sometimes Boswell actually sends me to Anazon.
I can do this because I am a financially comfortable retiree. And an old leftie hippie. But the free marketers make some good points about Craftsy serving people who can’t get to good stores or easily pay their prices and who DO benefit hugely from the online classes and the kits.
Sakong Online says
When I got the first advert for Cliudbirn, I ordered some and have lived working with it. Had no idea if the backstory or controversy. I mostlemahe scarves and baby blankets so online classes and patterns don’t draw me