2012 SXSW: Merchandise + Authors = Cheese & Chicken






I’ve been wittering on about 2012 SXSW all week, but I promise there are only two more posts to go. Today I want to talk about merchandising for authors, a crazy consideration for most.

The thing is, I was sat in a talk about crowdsourcing (as discussed in the last post), and a good chunk of the discussion was on merchandising. Merchandise and bands go together like cheese and ham, but authors and merchandise are more liken to cheese and carrots.

I began questioning why exactly. Why do authors not look to bring in extra income and further enhance their relationship with fans?

My previous two posts discussed what I think the future holds. What I’m about to discuss isn’t what I think will happen, rather what I hope. Unfortunately I just don’t see it happening, but who knows, maybe I will wake up surprised one day.


Authors + Merchandise = Cheese and Chicken

Not quite cheese and ham, but pretty darn good never the less. A big draw back to merchandising (be it T-Shirts or Mouse Mats) is the initial cost. You tend to have to buy thousands for it to be viable, and if you know you’ll sell them all great, but otherwise it’s a big risk.

Doesn’t this sound similar to what the book business was like?

We now live in an age of buying on demand, something Joyce Williams of Zazzle discussed in depth, and how her site took away much of the risk just as Amazon and Smashwords takes away risk to authors. The modern era is one where you can create a design, stick it on several products, advertise it, and not have the worry about selling out or not.


This has to be good, right?

Another key part of merchandising is creativity, which again is something an author shouldn’t shy away from. Writers are creative people! We create crazy new worlds for god’s sake, so is the thought of producing a cool design (or at least a cool concept) so hard to imagine?

I’m not talking about a lame T-Shirt with your name on here, rather something with a quote from your book. If you’ve gone through all the trouble of creating a story, and people are buying the damn thing, then chances are you have some cool quotes in there.

You don’t even have to choose. Create a poll and ask your readers to, and then go a step further and ask a designer to create it. In the last post I discussed crowdsourcing and I feel projects like this are absolutely perfect for involving a variety of people.

Another thing mentioned in the talk was ingenuity. The example used was from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros whose household song is ‘Home’. On the back of this they produced a set of door mats saying ‘Home’ and sold out in days. A band like Coldplay wouldn’t be able to do this, because where’s the relevance?

So let me ask you this…what is it about your brand, your characters, your book that’s a little bit unique and interesting?

If your book is set on a beach then maybe you could create some amazing beach towels, or what about if it’s set at a ski resort… why you could create a limited edition woolly hat.

The possibilities are endless, and the potential of reaching new people gives this whole idea some extra strength.

This is where this talk came together for me, when they began to discuss bands like The Ramones and The Misfits who have shirts worn by people who’ve never listened to their songs.

The key to all this is you don’t need to stay too close to your book, and you don’t have to target your own fans. A cool T-Shirt is a cool T-Shirt, whether it’s about your book or not. Strike it lucky in the merchandise game and you could see your brand, your book, and your writing in front of a whole new set of followers.

In my last post I talked about my love for crowsourcing, and I feel merchandising is the ideal platform for this. This, combined with on demand buying, takes away the risk of such an endeavour and helps you reach a completely new set of people. Not all of them will become your readers, but some will.

Plus, even if they don’t, does it matter?

You’re sharing your author platform and spreading your reach. You also get the happy thought of more money coming into your bank account, which in turn can have huge effects on your writing. You’re not guaranteed success, just as you aren’t with your writing.

This isn’t a perfect fit for everyone, yet for some people this could become the perfect way to spread their brand and reach new people. For those who are creative, or know creative people, or have a large support base always looking to get involved, then this could become a huge part of their future success.

Is this the future?

Am I crazy?

Come on people; share your thoughts and experiences with us all.

Turndog Millionaire – @turndog_million

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