Paper Patterns vs. PDF and the Future of Indie Sewing Pattern Companies

It seems Colette Patterns is doing away with its paper pattern collection and is selling its remaining inventory at 50% off. This is a actually smart business move by Colette. The company is freeing itself of costly inventory and is relying on a subscription-based business model instead, which is a great model for a small business. I expect more of the indie sewing pattern companies will move to this model, or die out, in the coming years.

The vagaries of a paper-pattern model rely on seasonal variations in sales, printing and shipping costs, inventory headaches (Grainline Studio goes through this all the time) and dealing with middlemen at retail outlets. Unsold inventory really drags on a small business – hence the sale to unload the rest of those paper patterns. A print-to-order model sounds good in theory, but it costs much more than bulk printing and relies on someone to manage the process.

Subscriptions allow a business to more easily track its revenue, since most subscribers keep coming back year after year (even if they don’t use the product that much – think of all the unused Burda mags lying around). Subscriptions allow a business to collect revenue before they provide any service to the client. A subscriber pays in advance on the expectation that the product will be worth it later on. So the business can put revenue toward product development, marketing etc. before it has given the customer anything. And that business can more or less count on that revenue over the long haul, which makes it more attractive for financing or sale.

Because you a subscription-based business can count on the revenue, it can charge less per pattern than it would have to if selling patterns a la carte, The subscriber gets something – or the promise of something – for a lot less per item than if she bought just what she wanted. This can be a win-win for the subscriber and the company. Would you rather pay, say, $6 a month for the chance of getting two patterns you’d like, or $14 – $18 for one pattern you really want? Many people would take the chance if they really like the Colette product.

That said…

You have to actually value the product and trust the company to deliver what you like, most of the time, to subscribe!

I have decided that Colette patterns are not for me. I had a Colette Seamwork subscription for about 6 months. A few patterns were good, but most were unappealing or with many weird fitting issues. At the time, Seamwork came with two simple patterns a month, and subscribers either downloaded those patterns or spent pattern credits on back-issue patterns. Colette separately published more complex patterns in paper or .pdf formats. Sometimes an issue of Seamwork would come out and I’d think “Ugh – I am not sewing these up. Let’s see what next month brings.”

Some hits:


Some “thanks but no thanks” patterns:

And that’s the beauty of the subscription business model. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s how all subscriptions work. You can cancel anytime, but most people don’t. The subscription model, however, also allows a business to deliver an uneven product. I subscribe to The New Yorker magazine and the same thing happens – some weeks I read the whole thing cover to cover and some weeks I glance at the cartoons and put the mag in the recycling bin. As long as I get a few “worth it” stories regularly, I am happy with this arrangement. It beats buying at the newsstand.

It must have been very hard for Colette to keep up with two patterns a month, even as simple as the patterns were, AND do paper patterns that were more complex designs.

I got a survey a few months after I cancelled Seamwork that asked about preferences for future Seamwork issues, for simple vs. more complex patterns, and for .pdf vs. paper. Several months after that, Colette changed its Seamwork issue schedule, has promised to release more complex patterns. And now is phasing out paper patterns. I am not surprised.

This new model is smart, as I said, but it relies ultimately on a good product. I don’t think it’s good. I am not buying. I will be interested to see how it all unfolds. I expect other companies will follow suit, or will be winnowed out.



Author: shoes15

I live in Connecticut, USA with my husband and my dog, in an old house outfitted with a sewing room, a garden, an orchard, and a big liquor cabinet.

3 thoughts on “Paper Patterns vs. PDF and the Future of Indie Sewing Pattern Companies”

  1. This is fascinating- I like hearing a take on the business models of the sewing world! I can’t see the value in Seamwork (I’ve heard too many negatives about Colette’s fit issues)… or in pattern subscriptions for me personally, because I don’t want that uneven may or may not use it accumulation with patterns. I would rather shell out for 1 thing I really want for $14 than subscribe $72/year for 24 things I may or may not want. The accumulation of that would be stressful to me. The psychology of this is interesting – and there’s plenty of people who would and do like the subscription, though, or obviously Colette wouldn’t move in that direction. I’m curious to see if your prediction holds true. I did see Christine Haynes unloaded all her paper inventory last fall, but at the same time, I’ve heard interviews with say, Kelli of True Bias, where she says getting her pattern to print was a huge goal because it legitimized her work and expanded access to her patterns. I guess it just depends on the goals and business model of any particular entity. Good food for thought.


  2. I just went to Colette’s site- wow Seamwork is $7/month AND they’ve stopped adding content to their blog. Interesting.


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