Making Money Through Merchandise, Part 4: The Limited Edition
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 - Part 4 of 4
In this series of articles I have been looking at ways for independent and unsigned acts make money from merchandise. The key way to actually make money is to not spend much in the first place. You need to be able to balance your production costs against the price that prospective customers are willing to pay – which in the case of most unsigned acts is not a lot. This was one of my worries when I first decided to take the plunge. A lot of the merchandise of acts I have played shows with is excellent quality – t-shirts printed by online companies, CDs in professionally cellophaned digipacks – but that comes at a huge price. One band I put on a show for in 2011 were touring down from Scotland. They had 5 dates on the tour and had high quality printed cardboard sleeves for their CDs and 60 t-shirts in red, black or purple, plus some stickers and badges. Their merch looked amazing – and they ended up giving away most of it. Not only that, but it cost them about £500 in total just to make, putting them in the position of having to sell a lot just to break even. So until you have some disposable money in your pocket for high-quality merchandise, it is often better to go the DIY route to begin with.
Having already looked at making your own CDs, shirts, badges and the rest, there is one item related to all that I have skipped over so far - that of the fabled 'limited edition'. You can have limited runs of anything – exclusive tour t-shirts, for example – but the best outlet will always be for music media. Limited edition runs of cassette tapes, coloured vinyl, CDs, floppy discs, USB keys, or any other type of media can be both incredibly fun to produce and are an enticing proposition for potential buyers. Even if people don't have a record player, the knowledge that your 7” is a limited, numbered, edition of 50 can push people into handing over their money in exchange for something a little unique. Some media, for example coloured vinyl, can be tricky or expensive to produce, but some can be remarkably easy. For instance, maybe do a limited run of CDs with hand-drawn covers? Or even easier, buy some cheap cassette tapes and produce a limited run of tapes. Cassettes will never sell huge amounts, but they are undergoing something of hipster renaissance, similar to vinyl records five or six years ago. A lot of young adults are still buying cheap older cars with tape decks in them, and the 'old-school' nature of a cassette gives them an attractive quality in the eyes of many enthusiasts. They are also incredibly cheap to produce. One of the best websites to pick up a bunch of cheap tapes from is Tapeline (https://tapeline.info/v2/). You can choose from a different colours and tape lengths, and all you need to do is to tape your music (by hand, which takes a while) from a CD, like when you used to record the top 20 off the radio. Then hey presto, you have a limited run of cassette tapes! The last run of cassettes my band did cost just £20 to make 25, and selling them for £3 each we made a £2 profit on each tape. We wrapped each tape in a handmade paper sleeve, and there was a lot of interest in the original idea of the product. Cassette tapes aren't widely available any more, and people will be interested in the notion of an act deliberately releasing their music on a 'dead format'.
Bandit The Panther/Adam Bennett split cassette tape (edition of 20)
Woahnows FOMA cassette tape (edition of 30) (Unfun rcords)
Speaking of dead formats, one of the most innovative limited edition runs I've seen recently is the latest EP from metal band Sermon, who released their latest single as an edition of floppy disks via indie label Pornography For Cowards. The floppy disk comes packaged in a beautiful die-cut box with themed artwork and inserts, as part of a limited run of 15. Releases on mediums like this appeal to collectors, and whilst they will not sell widely, they are an interesting and useful backup to your standard CDs. It is always best to try to offer your fans something different, so putting exclusive tracks on your limited editions will encourage them to buy, and you can always add in a download code that links to your website so they can download mp3's of the tracks to listen to if they don't have any way of playing your tape/floppy disk/ betamax etc. My experience of selling limited runs of tapes tells me that initially people are interested in the CDs, but with some encouragement will often buy both CD and tape, giving you a double sale.
Sermon – Reptilian floppy disk (Pornography For Cowards)