As I’ve said before, I’m always very shy about making changes around here. I don’t want to be seen as the kind of jerk creator that’s always doing promotions and partnerships. I don’t want ads crowding out my content. I don’t want to be hawking products in exchange for money. Some people have been supporting me for years, and I don’t want them to ever feel like I’m ungrateful or like I’m ditching them because someone waved some money at me. Basically, I just want to make cool content and eat.
I’ve been doing that, more or less, for the last few years. Which means I’m really reluctant to rock the boat.
A long time agoMonths? Years? I have no concept of time. Patreon began offering merchandise. At the time I ignored it because it was USA-only, but now they ship worldwide so I thought it was worth considering.
It’s actually a pretty neat idea. Lots of people want mugs, t-shirts, posters, etc from their favorite creators. On the other hand, merch is a pain in the ass on a small scale.
Oh, So You Want to Sell Merchandise?
Welcome to the world of selling merch. You’re going to hate it. You’ve got a little audience of people who dig your indie games / dubstep music / cosplay / paintings / programming tutorials / woodworking videos / Tuvan throat singing / ridiculous obscure blog of pedantic video game criticism and Mass Effect rants. Those people dig your work, and wouldn’t mind having a T-shirt with your catchphrase on it. At first, this seems like a money-making opportunity. You’re about to discover it’s really a part-time job.
First up, you need to sink some money up-front to buy it in bulk. Then you need to figure out where to store all this crap in your residential space. It’s amazing how fast inventory gets out of control when you’re dealing with Ndesigns × Nsizes × Ncolors. And if you’re offering clothing items that require male / female options, then stick a × 2 on the end of that. Now multiply that whole list times the number of different items you want to sell: Shirts, hoodies, mouse pads, mugs, bongs, hats, phone cases, chainsaws, or whatever your audience is into. In the end, you’re going to end up with several large cardboard boxes packed with various goods that your audience can buy from you.
Er, once you set up the website. Maybe I should have mentioned that first.
Websites with a shopping cart front-end are completely turnkey these daysDoes the Epic Games Store know about this? Can someone swing by the EG office and install the latest version of WooCommerce for Tim Sweeny?. But it’s still something that needs to be set up, monitored, and kept up-to-date. In your mind you’re going to imagine a five-minute setup process, but what you’re actually going to end up doing is spending five minutes installing the storefront, then two hours learning how to use it and entering all your inventory, then six hours endlessly fiddling with the theme so it looks reasonable.
Now you’ve got a bunch of capital tied up in goods that might get damagedPeople with kids / pets know what I’m talking about. before you can sell them, so be sure to worry about that on a regular basis. Next you need to set aside several hours every week for processing orders, printing labels, packing goods, and taking them to the post office. Anecdotally, I hear it’s common to dedicate a desk / corner of a room to order processing.
Just so you know: You’re not done just because you dropped that package in the mail. You need to keep track of stock so you don’t run out of fast-selling items. You need to deal with lost or broken items, handle returns / mistakes, and keep track of the flow of inventory. Don’t forget to be careful with your data. You really don’t want to be the source of a security breach that exposes the personal details of your fans!
Eventually your audience will be sated with goods, sales will drop off, and you’ll be stuck with a bunch of overstock goods that are never going to sellOne particular size / gender / color of shirt will end up selling far less than predicted.. You’ll still get juuust enough orders for the store to nibble away at your time without making much money.
Now let’s jump to the end of the year. You run the numbers and discover you made a few thousand bucks. That seems nice, but was it worth it? Going by the number of dead merch projects out there, probably not. You probably made something minimum-wage-ish. You got into this gig because you wanted to create stuff, and you ended up spending a bunch of time doing some very dull, unrewarding work. You probably could have spent those hours on a part-time job and gotten the same money with a lot less stress.
Services like Printify can make all of this easier, of course. The print-on-demand services have gotten pretty good over the last few years, but it’s still something that requires a certain degree of attention, care, and headspace.
Let’s Let Patreon Do It
So now Patreon is offering to handle everything for its creators. It makes sense. My supporters get more merch, and I maybe get more supporters. My supporters don’t have to share their details with yet another site, since Patreon already has it. This is all basically fine.
In the image above, you can see I have to give them 3% of my Patreon income for three months. You can see what I make on my Patreon page, but to save you the hassle of doing the math, it comes to about $150. That’s not much, but it’s also not something to be spent lightly.
So now a Telltales Walking Dead – style prompt has appeared. I can add merch, or not.
If I add merch and nobody wants it, then I’m out $150 and I possibly annoy / confuse existing Patrons with unwanted merch offers.
If I don’t add merch and people DO want it, then I’m passing up a chance to make more money. This isn’t a just about money, either. If I could bump up my income, then Heather could drop one of her jobsOur dream is that she could quit all jobs and stay home to help me, but barring super-stardom I doubt that’s in the cards. I’d settle for her having a day a week she can spend painting. and I’d get more time with the person I love most. So there are real quality-of-life concerns here.
My one concern is how this will change the perception of Patreon support.
Let’s say someone donates $25 a month for three months. They’re doing this, presumably, because they like my work and want it to continue. But if I offer a shirt for Patrons who give $25 a month for three monthsThis is Patreon’s suggested setup. as a bonus reward, then I worry they’ll stop and go, “Ugh. $75 for a shirt?!? What a ripoff.” Putting money into the hat of a street busker is different from paying to see a concert, even if the dollar amount is the same. There’s a whole psychological dimension to these sorts of decisions and I don’t really understand how it works.
Anyway, here are the products available:
I’m not a visual artist, so neither of the first two make a lot of sense. (I have an idea for a “But What do they eat?” poster, but I’d have to commission an artist to draw it. Firstly, I wouldn’t want to start with an expense like that. Secondly, 12″ x 14″ isn’t a very big poster. Thirdly, I kinda feel like “But What Do They Eat?” started out as Bob‘s catchphrase and I’m not sure what the etiquette is in these situations.) So that leaves us with mugs and shirts. That makes a lot of sense. There are plenty of witty or amusing things I could come up withThinkGeek was selling a “Help, my Dice are trying to kill me!” shirt for years, and I’m pretty sure I came up with that first. to put on those. And there’s always the old “Put the site logo on a thing and call it merch” style of merch.
Like I’ve said before, I’m in this crazy internet game for the blog writing. Video games are fun, YouTube videos are okay sometimes, and Livestreaming has its charms, but when given the choice I’ll take long-form post-writing every time. If offering merch makes the blog more successful without requiring too much of my attention, then I’m all for it. But if it annoys people or causes problems, then I’d just as soon give it a pass.
So… do any of you support Patreon creators that do merch? Do YOU do merch? What do you think of it? Any cautionary tales?
Are you into merch? Anything you’ve been wishing for?
I’m basically an Ent, and not prone to doing anything hasty. Consider this topic the first step in a long process that might eventually convince me to make a decision.
 Months? Years? I have no concept of time.
 Does the Epic Games Store know about this? Can someone swing by the EG office and install the latest version of WooCommerce for Tim Sweeny?
 People with kids / pets know what I’m talking about.
 One particular size / gender / color of shirt will end up selling far less than predicted.
 Our dream is that she could quit all jobs and stay home to help me, but barring super-stardom I doubt that’s in the cards. I’d settle for her having a day a week she can spend painting.
 This is Patreon’s suggested setup.
 ThinkGeek was selling a “Help, my Dice are trying to kill me!” shirt for years, and I’m pretty sure I came up with that first.
PC Hardware is Toast
This is why shopping for graphics cards is so stupid and miserable.
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As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.
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It seems like a simple question, but it turns out everyone has a different idea of right and wrong in the digital world.
What is Vulkan?
There's a new graphics API in town. What does that mean, and why do we need it?
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Fidget spinners are ruining education! We need to... oh, never mind the fad is over. This is not the first time we've had a dumb moral panic.
83 thoughts on “Merch Madness”
I’m not really interested in merch to be honest. But I can’t see what harm it could cause. But if someone is already going to be spending $25 dollars on you, then they’re already a superfan and would’ve bought the shirt regardless.
I’ll second this. A “But what do they EAT?!” T-Shirt would be fun…but not fun enough to buy more than one, and then there’s import costs…
It sounds like a hell of a lot of effort on your part, for not much in the way of profit.
You wouldn’t get Heather to do it?
There’s actually a potential suggestion in there, as with merch you could expand your offerings to include her art and maybe, over time, make that replace one of her jobs. About the only downside is how much — or, rather, little — time she has now.
Personally, though, I’m not much interested in merch or in art, so take this comment as you will.
How much would you make on each thing you sold. I take it you wont get the full 25 bucks someone pays because of manufacturing/transportation costs.
And I dont know about using your logo on a shirt as merch. A natural 20 roll is kind of a staple of nerd culture that non-nerds can recognize. And im sure you can already find shirts that have a natural 20 printed on them. You need something that is something that could only work for you. A shirt with “I read a novel of ME criticism and all i got is this shirt” or something like that. Or three colored lines with some snappy remark about choices mattering. Or maybe something that obscurely references mass effect (make sure you dont get lawyered by EA) with every blog entry on the back like a touring schedule you see on the back of band Tshirts.
I might be interested in a coffee cup. I am basically a houseplant that is also addicted to caffeine. I admit that I dislike Patreon though.
As a European it probably doesn’t really concern me, but even without that I don’t really see your content as mercheable. Maybe if we were in the middle of the DM of the Rings craze and you could create something clever without running afoul of copyright, but otherwise I think it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth.
No interest in merchandise.
I like merch, but shipping to Canada is usually too much to make it worth it. Also, if I am getting merch I want to buy just the merch and not have it tied to some “pay x for y months” type scenario.
Same. Only difference is I’m in Eastern Europe, and shipping will probably be an even bigger hassle. Although, I’d like to be able to just buy the merch outright, rather than have it be tied to a subscription-style thing.
What, you don’t like getting charged $30 for customs/duties, and getting your $20 T-shirt delayed by a month because of it?
How about a cartoon of a guy looking angrily at a newspaper, with another person looking on, confused.
caption: ‘the whole article’s on the front page AGAIN!’
Oh yes, that would be awesome!
I’m not sure your blog is really merch-friendly. Part of the appeal of having, say, a t-shirt with a catchphrase on it is that you’re hoping that somebody out there will see it and get the reference. Twenty-sided is a bit small for that. Nothing from your site is visually iconic.
I think this actually ties in with the discussion a while ago about YouTube branding- if you had a really good piece of branding for your channel then that’s something that might make for a good t-shirt/coffee mug.
It also seems a bit clunky to me if the way this works is really “Sign up as a patreon for $X for Y months and you get a t-shirt” rather than being a separate store. What if somebody just wants to buy the merch? What if somebody wants two shirts? Do they get two if they’re still signed up after 2Y months? What if somebody wants it now? That kind of model works for Kickstarter since it’s a one-off purchase for a product that will presumably go on general sale afterward, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Patreon.
Yeah, I think this is an important point. (Maybe slightly less true for mugs. Coffee mugs, for me at least, are more “reminder of something I like” than a “public expression of something I like”)
But I think it’s likely that the merch would have to largely sell on its own merits – i.e. by being either inherently visually appealing, or funny to people who haven’t read the blog. The “My Dice are Trying to Kill Me” shirt is a good example (… but that ship has probably sailed, regardless of who came up with the joke first). A “What Do They Eat?” shirt, probably less so, the ShamuBob-o-sphere isn’t a big enough audience for such a catch-phrase to be recognizable, (and it’d be hard to design in such a way to be inherently funny, IMO).
So it seems in Shamus’s cases, it’d be less a question of simply “monetize an existing audience”, and more a question of trying to get into the “funny t-shirt business” directly. And Shamus is funny, creative, and multitalented, and could probably be fairly successful, but it’d essentially be spinning up another channel of content creation orthogonal to what he’s currently doing, while in other creators cases it can be more “parallel”.
Exactly. I can see it working if Shamus could come up with T-shirt designs which “geeks” (ie people like us!) who don’t currently know about Twenty Sided find funny, put the twenty sided logo and/or website in small print, and then hope that enough people are amused they think “the t-shirt made me laugh, I should check that blog out”
But it does rely on coming up with some pretty clever designs.
DMotR is an obvious place to harvest stuff that general geeks might understand and be amused by.
Merchandise works well with images, not text. That’s not exactly the strong suite of this site. Well except for the webcomics, but that’s also mostly the text in combination with the images. I do not associate twenty sided with iconic imagery.
I think that this merchandise stuff is not playing to your strengths.
Unless… You would have a king-size bed sheet with an entire mass effect retrospective article(s) fitted on it in font 8 points. But I guess that would not sell well.
There’s at least one place that sells T-shirts where the designs are made out of dense text (shaped into text-related designs, like a big chunk of Hamlet in the shape of a skull, etc.): https://www.litographs.com/collections/t-shirts
I don’t buy merch and don’t see the site as merch-able, too much of it is based in other copyrighted material. But I could see a Good Robot shirt. But I wouldn’t buy it. But I could see it.
Love your work, but can’t see myself buying much in the way of merchandise. Based on the other comments here, it looks like maybe it’s not worth setting up and managing a storefront.
Could be an idea worth revisiting if the YouTube thing takes off or there’s a big spike in blog readership.
I’m just glad you’re doing new things to monetize the site. It’s almost like you have this strange mental block against getting paid for your work. You have no ads, no affiliate links, you barely promote your books, and so forth. Even today’s simple merchandising action is written as though it were an agonizing decision.
As someone who has been following you for years, I don’t come here to watch you make a principled stand against being able to afford to eat and provide for your family. I come here because you write really, really well. You serve us best by continuing to write really, really well. And that means ensuring that the site brings in enough money to keep your energy focused on your work instead of your financial anxiety.
Even if doing so requires you to dip your toe into activities you fear will rock the boat or somehow make you seem less authentic. None of us are strangers to the internet. We know what’s required to run a profitable site because those things are present on nearly every other site we visit.
Please do more to monetize us. I give you permission to take care of yourself.
I was thinking: some sites have a subscription model. They make all content available in due time BUT some of it is temporarily accessible only for paid members.
The Dutch version of Linux magazine for example sells linux magazines, and three months after the release, every article is publicly accessible. However if you want access to the current content you need a subscription.
This way you can continue the site in its current form and without alienating the people who visit for free.
Heck, you could make forum access a paid feature. That will get rid of spambots and
I am sure some people would pay to be on the exclusive forum. I would.
Please monetize us.
The only thing that keeps me from becoming a patreon is that I have to
– get money from paypal
– convert it into dollars
– give it to patreon and pay Dutch taxes.
All these steps cost money. On a 2-3 dollar patreon the overhead is 40%. That is very excessive. I’d rather have that money go to you so I lump summed via paypal last time. The overhead is much smaller that way. This does not give you the steadiness of a monthly income however.
If only patreon would do yearly subscriptions.
Early Access content would split the comment in two. Those who pay and can comment right away and those who get access days/weeks later. The later comments don’t get the usual response which drives those readers away.
Also timely exclusive content can create Diecast-Mailbag to topics some readers don’t have the background for now.
A forum with paid access on the other hand is a good idea.
So really, the important question to ask based on the lack of monetization is “But what does Shamus eat?”.
I whole-heartedly agree with your take on Shamus’ communication and seeming fear of getting compensated for the content created. It was most directly visible for me in the build up and release of the latest book, but your other points still stand. Glad to see it at least being given thought, not just the angle of getting paid but Shamus exploring avenues (at the moment really just YouTube) to have his work be visible. Twentysided is just not a site you randomly stumble upon. Perhaps YouTube is not driving as much audience as hoped (I’ve seen Shamus make comments as such), but in the grand scheme of things, it’s always better than nothing. Way I see it, as an audience member, it’s not even particularly about significantly expanding the potential income, but at least maintaining this minimal standard. From the glimpses we get, it feels like if the income were to decline from the current level, it won’t be long before Shamus is forced to supplement his income with non blog activities. This does not seem to be in anyone’s interest…
But yeah, back to the topic at hand, you highlighted the upstart costs (financial, time and mental strain wise) of the merch business. I’ve never given it much thought before, but it feels to me that the merch game in the end is all about volume. Now I’m no Businessman (TM), but I am more than capable of making broad gut-based assumptions on some out loud thinking. If we look at the number of current patrons (a little over 400), we can treat that as an indication of the number of people willing to buy merch. It doesn’t have to be the same people, but a group of similar size seems to be reasonable. Now we can even be generous and double the group size. We’ll even round it up to a nice 1000 people. Now again, no Businessman, but it seems to me that 1000 potential customers is nowhere near the volume where merchandise becomes a sustainable pillar of anyone’s income. Especially since these are all one-off or in best case two or three times over multiple years customers. So from a financial point of view, it seems to me you need a way larger initial pool of (potential) customers and one that has a reliable influx of a decent number of new audience members. Now at what point does it become viable? I have no idea, no Businessman. But to me at least, it feels you’re off by at least an order of magnitude… There could still be other reasons to do this, but it does not appear as a viable, steady supplementation on any kind of longer term. And you already addressed not being interested chasing the one time payout which may be comparable to working a couple months for minimum wage.
I used Spreadshirt once upon a time ago. I stopped logging in so they deleted my account without telling me, it seems. Which doesn’t bother me, no one was buying any of the merch anyway. My attempt was to make fan-art style stuff with a bit of humor, but I never had a following that justified the effort. I sold maybe one or two t-shirts to not me, and you need to make $100 in profit before you can take any of the cash and place it in your own wallet.
I think you have enough of a following that you could justify the merchandise, but the question then becomes, as others have noted, what you have on the shirt itself. I think there are a lot of potential shirts you could get out of DM of the Rings or Chainmail Bikini, but the iron is no longer hot to strike on either of those. For the former, you’d probably need to commission an artist to render some of the gags into a visual work since text alone wouldn’t do. For the latter, you’d likely need to work with Shawn Gaston on permissions alone, let alone whatever needs to be done regarding artwork. Same goes with Stolen Pixels and how much of that content technically belongs to The Escapist (I mean, a Breen talkshow coffee mug seems all too perfect a merchandise idea, but the iron there is pretty cold, too). If we look at your blog, I’m sure you can come up with comedic ideas mocking the worthless idiocy of the Illusive Man, but well enough to catch on?
If you go to geek conventions, a lot of t-shirts are effectively fan-art of popular properties. Most online comics rely on popular gags where context is not necessary for understanding. I myself don’t understand buying merch for a YouTube channel I follow, but aside from Casually Explained and Videogamedunkey I’m also not one to follow comedy channels, either. At the end of the day, if I’m buying a t-shirt, it needs to say just as much about me and my interests as it does the product it’s effectively advertising (because really, this whole consumerist trip is to pay to be a walking billboard for someone else – I realized this back in highschool when I was buying yet another Invader Zim or Dragon Ball Z t-shirt).
There’s also the possibility of commissioning artists to create t-shirts for different characters from your books, or perhaps quotable lines that might seem amusing out of context. But it’s that whole issue of understanding and such once more.
Of course, there’s also another alternative: stop trying to tie the merchandise to your content specifically, and just think of witty t-shirts period. That itself might work well enough, but… I dunno.
It’s a complicated thing to ponder.
“Behind every great man, is an explosion.”
(Picture of explosion on back)
The last merch i bought was from penny arcade. I actually would like some Shamus merch though I’d actually probably most likely buy a poster or t-shirt…. and I’m way more picky about clothing than i am about posters.
I’m not sure about that “donate $25 for 3 months and get something” thing. I’d prefer to just buy stuff on top of the patreon donation.
Actually, saying that, I’d love an artified Jen5 and Max poster.
I am confused about exactly how the Patreon merch thing works. You have to give them a portion of your money to turn it on, but then what? Does turning it on unlock a setting where Patreon will send a free coffee mug to anyone in your $10/month tier? It feels like the economics of that can’t possibly work out, coffee mugs have got to cost them more than a couple percent, but I can’t see where in the process they take additional money from anyone to pay for their manufacturing/shipping.
I was wondering the same thing. It lists the base price of the shirt (~$17 IIRC) but it doesn’t say when / how that gets paid. I was honestly starting to wonder if I was being stupid or if the system was bad at explaining itself.
In any case, I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m getting a pretty firm “no thanks” from the comments, so I doubt I’m going to mess with merch.
I dug through their FAQ and all I could find was a tiny disclaimer stating “Note: Fee does not include the cost of the merch items or applicable tax.” So the system is both bad at explaining itself, and badly designed. If someone (still not clear if that’s you or the patron) is paying a flat $17 for a shirt, why all the runaround with requiring them to be a supporter at a particular tier for three months?
Bad at explaining itself, perhaps, but I don’t necessarily think it’s designed badly.
How I think it works is that the cost of the shirt is deducted from the third months payment. So if I subscribed to a $25 tier, on the third month Shamus would get $25-$17=$8 (instead of the full $25), and I’d get a shirt. And so it feels more like “hey a free shirt for something I was doing already”, and not “I paid $75 for this shirt”.
The point of the system I think is largely to work around the very dynamic Shamus mentions: rather than framing it as “a $25 dollar shirt” (and actually $75), it’s framed as a “loyalty bonus for being a Patron”, the idea isn’t that someone subscribes specifically to get the merch, but the merch might encourage someone to bump up a tier, or to generally reward loyalty.
And from the creator’s side, the three month policy means that the merch is a smaller chunk of their revenue. It’s $17 dollars out of $75, rather than $17 out of $25. But it is still consuming a chunk of patronage, compared to a standalone venture.
I can see where a lot of creators would benefit from this sort of system. It’s a bit more of a long-term play. You encourage people to bump up tiers, and generally reward loyalty (a long term gain), in exchange for giving up some short-term revenue in the form of merch.
And for a lot of creators, “merch” is its own reward: having wearing (or drinking from) your brand is essentially advertising. That alone may make it a good long-term play, depending on their situation.
But I do think this system doesn’t sound right for Shamus.
So you can’t buy it if you’re not already a patron? That seems like a missed opportunity – there are loads of people in any creator’s audience who wouldn’t want to support them with a subscription, but who would be more than happy to buy merchandise themed with them…
It’s merchandise through Patreon though. So obviously you have to be a Patron to get it. Like if it was merchandise made from Amazon, you would have to buy it… through Amazon.
The analogy here is more like if you had to subscribe to Amazon Prime to buy things from a specific Amazon seller.
Or perhaps the analogy is the swag that you sometimes get for donating to charities (PBS tote bags, etc.)? That’s also a thing you only get through the act of donation, and also meant as a little add-on bonus rather than a straight-up purchase …
Yes, but let’s say there’s a tier to specifically cover the cost of a merch item. What a merch-wanter would do is subscribe at that tier and immediately receive the item along with a *bonus* month of subscription.
Maybe you could have given a couple of examples for shirt/mug designs. Nothing too time-consuming – just a couple of rough drafts for what you had in mind for it.
If I don’t have some sort if visual aid, it’s hard for me to warm to the idea of merchandise.
Yeah, it’s hard to want something that’s not even in concept…
My first though was that you would put some funny phrase from your lord of the ring comic serie. No image, just a funny iconic phrase
When I read the post title, I was hoping to find a link to your merch store, because I know that my son and I would each want a shirt with the Twenty Sided logo on them.
I could have sworn that I had a “Help, my dice are trying to kill me!” t-shirt that I bought from YOU, Shamus?
Did you sell one at some point, or am I horribly misremembering?
Yeah, I had an old Zazzle account. Zazzle is… not very good these days. A decade later, and almost all the other print-on-demand services have better goods with better margins.
EDIT: And better interfaces and also better payout systems. I remember my Zazzle account ALWAYS had some stupid residual amount like $53.27 stuck in it, and I couldn’t get it until I hit $100. Which would be fine, but after the payout there was still somehow money left behind. I don’t remember what the deal was, but I remember it was annoying.
Not really a fan of merchandise. But, I’d be tempted to buy your “Drama first” t-shirt… To my enemies xD
Stickers totally make sense. I would totally put a (appropriately sized) sticker of the site site favicon on my laptop, right next to the Exapunks one even, so it’d be in super good company.
I’m perfectly willing to buy Shamus merch, if shipping isn’t prohibitively expensive to Europe, but I would want to simply buy an item, not go through some sort of Patreon-temporarily-increase-tier-then-back-down-again hassle.
Honestly, as a simple CafePress site with a link here and some basics available without too much trouble for you, I’d love it. A 20-sided mug, a Stolen Pixels calendar, a Tuvan throat singing chainsaw, whatever.
But I don’t think it can become a full-on new income method, unfortunately. If it’s a project that’ll bring in $1000 once when it’s new, and then $100 a year after that, it can’t take much effort to still be worth it.
I bought a Prequel sweater once, but Prequel merch is pretty damn good, because Kazerad (the author) put in a lot more time than is considered reasonable. Like, the guy adds little comics and funny notes in the package and everything, it’s super cool.
I don’t think I’d buy generic “This is the logo and the catchphrase of my show” merch.
I would totally pay $20 plus shipping for a tshirt with robot-eyes lady from Other Kind of Life’s cover printed on it. It’s a neat piece of art.
Now there’s something I hadn’t thought of.
Shamus Young, Blog Writer might have a harder time selling merch than Shamus Young, Book Author. A lot of the best works on this blog are analysis over IP someone else owns as well, making merchandising a bit of an iffy area… but Shamus definitely owns everything to do with his own novels.
Of course, I don’t know what the readership numbers are like for his books. I do know from a family member that book-selling and promotion is a full-time venture though, and I’m still not sure that she could stand to profit off merch for her books. I expect that Shamus would benefit more just from selling more books than selling merch associated with the books.
This whole merch thing honestly sounds like a whole tedious and miserable minimum wage side job. The thing that baffles me is, if you’re willing to do a tedious and miserable side job, why not do some software consulting on the side instead? Young grads fresh out of school are starting with 100k/year wages now at the big software companies. You’re a creative, totally self-directed skilled engineer who’s finished multiple successful software projects (successful in the sense of “it works”, not necessarily financially successful, which requires luck as much as anything). It seems like it should be possible to pick up some sort of remote part-time work at somewhere between $50-$100 per hour. (The software consultants i know make a multiple of that number, but if you want to go remote and low-stress, this is probably more realistic.)
At 10-20 hours/month that’d take a big financial load off without taking away too much of your time.
Yup. I come into contact with so-called “IT support” on an almost daily basis (as my job is supporting our customers so they can use our software on their system). Most small businesses have ludicrously crappy off-site support, and someone with even just a basic grasp of Google, let alone understanding actual computers and networks, could do a better job. Staying entirely remote is a challenge, but since I’m based in Europe and I often get customers whose IT is either in India or the States, definitely doable. It’s not the most glorious of jobs, but is, indeed, a very easy way to make some extra money on the side for anyone with IT knowledge.
Though I wouldn’t want to do it for more than one or two companies at a time, as it gets tedious and boring.
(If you *would* consider it, I’d love your permission to pass your contact details along to a guy I know who’s looking for software engineers who work remotely, and see if they have anything suitably part-time that’d be a bit more fun and lucrative than shipping boxes and dealing with the inevitable refund bullshit. I hope this isn’t too intrusive, I’ll butt out now if you’re not interested.)
Not too fond of merch, especially the way Patreon is charging for them. They should do a simple store instead.
I hod a couple of t-shirts from crowdfounding campaigns when I didn’t have a choice, but usually I take a digital only pack and increase the price if I feel like it.
But the quality of those t-shirts is amazing, I didn’t expect that. I’m a bit sad I use them as home/bed cloth, because I only wear blank ones outside.
Unless you cross it with Rick and Morty and make “I am Pickle-Chu!”
Then you can get sued by Nintendo AND have dickhead RIck and Morty fans turn up to shout quotes at you!
Twice the trouble for half the effort :D
Actually, that would qualify as parody and be protected under Fair Use. Why do you think so many “funny t-shirt” places sell so many character mash-ups? They can’t get sued if they do it.
Fair Use doesn’t protect you from being sued, just (maybe) from losing – and adding for-profit enterprise to the equation makes that far from an easy call.
I have no issue with content monetization in any general sense. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to, if not make a living, at least make a hobby pay for itself. And as monetization methods go, I like merch because it feels like the most “honest” form of monetization.
Ad space hosting can die in a fire. You’re turning your ostensible audience into a commodity you to sell to someone else, rather than your content into a commodity you sell to your audience. In an ad-monetized model, your audience is livestock, and you’re incentivized to treat them as such. You can see this in youtube algorithms, SEO tactics, and anything else like that. It’s a dysfunctional/abusive relationship thats been normalized because ad companies turned their expertise in selling stuff towards selling the idea that the internet would be helpless without them.
Patreon is much better, but it’s not a fair exchange. Your client/customer is your actual audience, as it should be, but it’s a virtual tip jar rather than commodification, so it’s unpredictable and hard for the creator/host to get good value. It’s a post scarcity Star Trek future sort of payment/wage model… but unfortunately this isn’t a post scarcity Star Trek world… yet.
Subscription services (including “soft” subscriptions like Patreon-gated content) is in theory perfectly balanced, but in practice is the death of information/content in an environment like the internet.
Like with subscriptions, there’s a consistent and agreed upon exchange of value with merch, but unlike subscriptions it doesn’t harshly throttle the visibility/spread of the content. It’s a side hustle rather than a tip jar. As such it has to be super popular in order to pay for the main content in addition to itself. This can lead some entrepreneurial sorts to treat the main content as just a loss leader for the merch, which can create the same dysfunctional relationship issues as ad-financed content.
As a poor audience member I prefer merch as it lets me support creators with one-time transactions instead of recurring bills. If I were more financially set, I’d prefer Patreon B/C it’s better for the creator (ongoing payments for ongoing content) and “fire and forget” for me.
That said, I don’t actually buy much merch. That’s because I have almost zero interest in printed tees, coffee mugs, posters, and other stuff that can be described as “print any image on X common object”. Those feel basically so perfunctory to me that my brain basically doesn’t consider them “real” merch. I mean, I get it: that stuff is the most economical to produce, so it’s the natural go-to, possible the only viable choice, if you don’t think your content/popularity can sell much merch no matter what sort. It’s just that if I’m fan enough to want an IRL souvenir of my fandom, I want something more connected than “that one picture only on a shirt instead of my screen”.
Doesn’t help that I don’t like to wear printed tees in general, and dislike cylindrical mugs for drinking coffee. so I don’t buy them regardless of what’s on them.
My favorite merch is stuff that feels like an in-world artifact, which is applicable to webcomics, movies, and games, but unfortunately not generally op-ed media, so unfortunately doesn’t help here.
It’s also hard for me as well to think of anything visually iconic of 20-Sided. You barely even have a logo, and the “what do they eat?” gag is the only bit I can think of that seems memetic.
I don’t drink coffee, so this might be a dumb question, but is there a shape other than a cylinder for mugs? I am picturing pyramids and right parallelepipeds, neither of which seems like a big improvement.
Probably TMI food geek dive:
If you’re going for style rather than function, there’s basically any shape that will hold liquid without spilling. That’s obvious and not what you meant though. If you’re going for function there are 3 or 4 different common shapes that effect things in different ways, and which one is “best” depends on why you drink coffee.
If you mostly care about the caffeine, and aren’t too bothered about taste or temperature, anything will do. “Regular” cylindrical coffee mug live in this zone. They’re designed to be a cheap, basic delivery vehicle for hot liquid to people who don’t care about anything other than getting the caffeine fix they need to get on with their day. They’re a fixture in our food culture because for most of the last century, that was the mass market bulk of coffee consumption: working joes at breakfast tables and diners just trying to get fueled up.
Culturally this caused that kind of mug to just mean “coffee” on a symbolic ritual level, completely losing track of the fact that it’s not actually designed for anything other than low cost.
If you care mostly about the temperature (you want it to nurse your drink, so want it remain hot for a long time), then an inverted cone with a hemispherical bottom (and optimally a lid) is what you want. A round-bottomed inverted cone gives you the best balance of efficient and consistent surface area to volume ratio for the mass of hot liquid. Traditional tea cups and cafe glasses tend to be roughly this shape.
Sidebar: if you care about heat retention, materials matter A LOT as well. Paper and styrofoam, though technically insulators, are weaksauce, and won’t hold temp for long regardless of shape. Glass is better, but only if it’s thick, and even then it’s kinda not great. Thick ceramic (a lot of cheap ceramic mugs are thin), double-walled glass, or vacuum flask metal is what you want.
Note that paper and styrofoam cups are usually inverted cones with flat bottoms. This shape is simple to mass manufacture, and is almost the best thermal shape (for both hot and cold drinks), which it needs to be to hedge against the poor materials.
A sphere with the top cut off has technically the most efficient thermal retention, but only when full above half way, after which it reverses and becomes inefficient. This is a semi-common shape for handmade coffee/tea cups, but it’s not really ideal IMO. Teacup sized ones with a flared lip are great, as they fit really comfortably in the hand, and the small volume means you won’t be drinking long enough to worry about temperature retention. But larger than that and they get awkward as you have to tip your head to far to drink the last half. Avoid if they don’t have a flared lip, large or small, as that exacerbates the tipping issue.
If you care mostly about the taste, then you want a mug shaped like a red wine glass (hemispherical bottom, sides that taper upward to a narrower mouth). For the same reason as a red wine glass: a huge amount of the taste in both coffee and wine is actually in the smell*, so to make the most of it, you want a shape that presents as much surface area as possible to air, while also restricting as much as possible of that fume-laden air from escaping the cup. To use this shape properly you should only fill it up to the widest part**. Any higher and you’re reducing both the drink’s air-available surface area and the cup’s ability to retain vapors, basically invalidating the reasons for the design. This is bad for thermal retention though, so it’s best paired with a lid (that you remove when you go to sip, not that has a sip-hole, or that you lift just enough for your mouth: the whole point is to blast your nose with that fume reservoir when you sip). This shape is also fairly common in handmade mugs, though they rarely come with lids.
*Remember how as kid someone told you to hold your nose while eating something you don’t like, in order to blunt the taste? Same phenomenon here, only you’re exploiting it the opposite way: to amplify the taste. Also: know how coffee smells way different than it tastes, and lots of people wish they could make it taste the way it smells? This is because the chemicals for those flavors are only detectable by our smell receptors; our taste buds unfortunately don’t have the right “sensors” for those compounds, so the only actual way to make coffee taste like that is by exploiting this natural close range smell/taste synesthesia.
**It’s super common for people to think this is just for hoity-toity tradition/etiquette reasons and gripe about the glass not being “full”, but it’s actually functional design. Which is understandable confusion since A) hoity-toity people have a long history of making up nonsense etiquette as anti-commoner shibboleths, and B) lots of people who are snooty about this either don’t understand it themselves, or don’t bother to explain it for snootiness reasons. It’s super common to see people (even waiters, who should know better) fill wine glasses to somewhere above the apex, yet still only to the appearance of “partly” full, because they know it’s “supposed’ to vaguely be like that, but not why. With coffee mugs of this shape, it’s common for most people to just fill it all the way up like with a regular mug, because again, most people don’t know the reason for the shape.
I don’t respond to caffeine the way other people do (it takes only a small amount to make me uncomfortably jittery, yet does jack shit to keep me awake at any amount), so when I drink coffee it’s generally in small amounts and more for the taste than anything else. So at home I like a wine glass style ceramic mug if its hot, small teacup or tumbler glass if cold.
Ahh, I just realized that I phrased some of that shape stuff misleadlingly (and didn’t post from my edit-friendly browser). An inverted cone is not more efficient at retaining heat in an absolute sense. In fact depending on how tall it is relative to how wide, it can be terrible. Rather the important thing is that the shape of the liquid (and thus surface-area-to-volume ratio) stays more consistent as it drains, compared to a cylinder, which “flattens out” much faster.
With a full cone, that shape would stay absolutely consistent. However, cups have flat or round bottoms, so the shape ratio does change as they empty, just not as rapidly as with a cylinder.
Both a cone and a cylinder benefit from being taller than wide, as the top, open-air surface is going to be the side with the fastest heat loss. The shittier the material, the shorter the optimal shape. Starbucks cups are probably at their most optimal when half full, and when full rely more on thermal mass than shape to retain temp.
There’s a lot of math to be done if you REALLY want to optimize cup shape for thermal retention, but I don’t think it’s worth it.
Very interesting information! As a huge tea fan, it was extremely useful! Just to make sure we’re on the same page, though, is this the type of glass you mean in the last paragraph (about the ones similar to wine glasses)?
That’s a cafe mug. They’re straight sided, rather than tapering like a wine glass. Not my favorite for coffee specifically (though they’re way better than “regular” mugs), but they’re fantastic for a lot of other things. More people should know about them IMO. They’re glass, so they don’t hold heat as well as ceramic, but they’re SUPER practical and versatile, and usually very robust. In fact if I had to pick a single “desert island” style of glass for everything, it’d be that.
For coffee, the “wine glass” shape I mean is like this:
See how it tapers up from the bowl to the rim, instead of being straight sided. That’s kind of an ugly retro looking one IMO, but I’m just using it to demonstrate the general shape I mean.
Sorry about the big garbage link, BTW. I tried to embed it, but it didn’t work. I dunno why, but the 20-Sided comment system uses really esoteric/non-standard BBcode.
Aaah, I see what you mean. Thanks for clarifying! I’ll probably look into getting a similar one. I recently stopped adding sugar to my tea, to help me appreciate the taste better (that, and there’s more than enough sugar in the food we city-folk have easy access to). Getting a good mug is the next logical step. Right now, I’m using a traditional-looking mug, because it has a mesh for steeping tea leaves and a lid (kind of like that – the infuser I’ve got at home is metal, while the one I have at work is ceramic). But I should probably look into getting a proper cup. Although the challenge would be to find one that’s big enough – I like drinking a lot of tea. Thanks again :)
Oh, and if you go to the very bottom of the comments, there’s some useful info, including how to embed links.
Thank you for an entertaining and enlightening read!
Thanks so much! I am rethinking my favorite hot chocolate mug.
I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but must have missed your cosplay posts, and your woodworking videos. Time for a dive through the archives. Good work on the Tuvan throat singing content though, you’re one of the few who cater to this niche audience, and I appreciate it. Keeps me coming back consistently.
I hereby declare “what do they eat” to be an open source obnoxious question. Improper use will be punished by twenty pushups, done on your own time on the honor system.
As much as I’d love to support you through merchandising, like many others I really don’t see how would you go about doing it. Your content is based on writing, so there’s not recognizable imagery (let’s face it, most people are not going to naturally connect twenty sided die with your website), and you don’t really have much in the way of catchphrases.
Hell, some creators who do webcomics tend to make compilations and sell them as physical books, but I don’t know if you could do that the way your webcomics are done, since (save for Chainmail Bikini) they use screenshots instead of original art, which might or might not be a legal issue. Sure, you could hire an artist to make art for them, but that’s an extra expense.
I don’t know, maybe you could start getting to work into some recognizable logos or characters (like, I don’t know, little sentient die or something like that) at least. Maybe actually make a webcomic with original art (you mentioned your wife likes painting, maybe she can help). Sure, it will take a while before those things are branded into people’s minds enough that you can profit off them, but the sooner you start the better.
Also, release the Mass Effect Retrospective in book form. I’ll buy three copies.
The only time I remember anybody wanting merch from this blog was Steve’s D4D20 shirt (which apparently existed at some point?)
It’s the downside of being a primarily textual rather than visual medium I guess.
I’m not interested in Merch that requires a patreon sub. I would be interested in Merch that was simply “in the shop” so to speak. DM of the rings or DnD related … or programming related for that matter. All would appeal to me.
primarily Mugs, t’s and stickers would be my pic typically and there’s lot’s of material on your site to draw from
Example: Page 8 of project Frontier.
“When will it be done?
Don’t make me slug you.”
Throw in a nice graphic to make the IT bend clear and I’d buy a set for my whole team. They’d bloody well love them!
I would like a shirt that says:
Tell me your name, horse f*****
Oh dear lord … YES!
I think it makes sense that most of the replies here are lukewarm to the idea. I’m going to repeat myself, but if you don’t provide a particular idea, the image in people’s head tends to drift, and often times it leads to the audience having an image quite different from what you have in your head.
E.g., this is what I imagine when I hear the words “20-sided poster or T-shirt print”. I’ve called it “What do they eat!?!”, and it’s a commentary on the creative bankruptcy of the AAA gaming industry, exemplified in its leadership’s lack of vision, which leads them to create the same game, over and over again, without offering any kind of new ideas. It’s also a commentary on the Mass Effect 3 endings – 3 colored copies of the same outcome in a different colour palette, with a fourth outcome representing the option of turning off the game, and not subjecting yourself to this travesty!
Jokes aside, chances are, it’s probably not what you have in mind, but this is what my mind naturally drifts to. Do I have a twisted mind? Probably. Do you have better ideas for merch? I’m willing to bet good money that you do. But if I can’t actually see them, it’s hard for me to get excited…
I would not conceptualize this idea with a shopping cart front-end, buying inventory, storing inventory at your house etc. That is all too much for the size of the operation. Instead it would better to think of it more as an order for a social club. Where instead of an ongoing business it is one-and-done. Even if it is repeatedly one-and-done, it is never a permanent thing. Where you might order a shirt that says “This Dumb Industry” for *yourself* and then post a blog post, “Who else wants one of these?”
IE Where you act more as coordinator than a business. You’d collect orders, collect money, forward the order onto an on-demand print service and have the printer fulfill them direct to the customer. Which is not without effort and a cut for you. But more on the lines of email and simple webforms than a shopping cart and the rest of what you describe. Like my bank allows me send/receive cash via email to and from people with no service charge. Which is good for small events and purchases.
The benefit is less effort, and *no* maintenance. With the drawback it doesn’t scale and isn’t permanent. Except you don’t expect it to need to scale. While permanence necessitates maintenance.
I sadly also have no interest in merch, as I generally don’t value owning physical things, preferring to just have stuff on my computer.
[Edit: Deleted silly joke that could have come across poorly.]
Just make a T-shirt with, like, part 1 of your Mass Effect rant. Like all of it. That would teach those people who always need to read what your T-shirt says.
I’d be interested in some simple merch- a mousepad or shirt with the header logo on it, say- but I wouldn’t be able to buy it pretty much no matter what it cost due to how low my income is, and that’s just one purchase. Judging by the rest of the comments here, it doesn’t really seem worth it to me.
I prefer just to contribute to you through Patreon which I just resumed doing because I’m watching your videos (you say you’re in this for the blogs, you should consider your videos, you seem to have a growing audience, if you put more time into the YouTube game I’ll bet you’d do well.) I might buy a mug though honestly it would be for display not for use. Prefer it to contain something humorous.
T-shirts. Everybody offers those. There tends to be several problems for me.
1) I don’t call myself Wide and Nerdy for no reason, I wear a 5XL shirt (prefer 5XLT) and most web creators don’t offer anything above 2XL or 3XL. I’m currently losing weight but for the moment I still wear that size shirt.
2) I have limited use for T-shirts. I work 4 days a week and who knows when I’ll have to go back to a 5 day schedule and on those days I have to wear a polo. So that leaves 2 or 3 days a week I can wear T-shirts, thus I only have need for so many T-shirts. Fortunately/Unfortunately
3)Most merch sites T-shirts tend to be terrible quality and wear out quickly.
4) I prefer to wear shirts where if there’s something on the shirt, the people looking at it can appreciate it. Like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a shirt based on their “The most Dangerous Game” Comic (two guys each on a bear’s back playing tennis with a lit bundle of dynamite) I figure people will get that joke even if they haven’t read the original comic. If I wore a T-shirt saying “But what do they eat” nobody is going to get that. They’re not going to get in-jokes. Now I wouldn’t mind a shirt that just says “Shamus Young” on it (assuming you could provide one in my size) and I could explain who that is to people or just tell people that I’m Shamus Young and I like wearing shirts with my name on them.
How about a Kickstarter campaign? Like Dice Tower is making one every year to get the funds to continue the show for the next year. In the Kickstarter tiers you can include different kind of merch stuff.
– You know how many people backed, for which merch and can estimate, how much mugs/T shirts you need to produce with only little over-production for later customers.
– You get the money up front and don’t have to pay before you get the money.
– Backers only pay one time for a specific item.
– A printed version of Free Radical for high tier backers is possible.
– Shipping costs, even international, can be part of the tier.
– Kickstarter success is not guarantied.
– You are the only one responsible for producing/shipping/aftersale. No Patreon help.
– fees for Kickstarter/BackerKit/Taxes
I am having a hard time seeing this as something that makes sense in general, not just for you, really. Assuming the intended model is more or less that people back someone at $25 for 3 months and then get a shirt/mug/whatever, I’m having trouble thinking of who really wants to join a “t-shirt of the quarter club” for even a primarily-visual creator that they like. Maybe other people acquire t-shirts at a much faster pace than I do, but I tend to feel that after I have one or two t-shirts celebrating a given thing I like, that particular t-shirt ecological niche is filled and I probably don’t need any more and should focus my t-shirt acquisitions on another theme for a while unless the new design is really, really compelling for some reason and worth bumping an existing shirt out of the rotation for. (This is assuming the person running the Patreon rotates their designs each quarter, so you’d be getting a different t-shirt each time. The market of people who wear out a given t-shirt in 3 months and want it automatically replaced like a t-shirt version of Dollar Shave Club would have to be even smaller.)
I could see joining a quarterly sticker or enamel pin subscription for someone who had consistently interesting designs, since those are things you can reasonably display multiples of at a time, but how many t-shirts or coffee mugs do people generally acquire per fandom?
I’m pretty late to this party, but FWIW, I think this sounds like a bad idea for you. If, say, you had a merch shop that was independent of Patreon, and sold enough to justify the effort put into it, that could work. But either because they’re bad at explaining how it works, or because they’re trying to hide how much of a scam it is (are they charging you 3% of ALL your Patreon income for the privilege of giving away some t-shirts? Just the share of it that comes from merch tiers? Presumably you have to sacrifice that 3% whether anyone actually opts to get any merch), all in all it sounds like a questionable deal.
I’d suggest setting a storefront up on TeePublic or somewhere similar instead. Create a design or two, put them on shirts and mugs, announce it here, add a “store” link to the main site interface, and see if there’s interest. TeePublic is PoD, theres no up-front cost, and they pay out monthly with no minimum. So really your only costs are the time you spend on design, setup, and maintenance. Which as you say, isn’t zero, but exploring a new revenue stream means you have to risk SOMETHING.
And if some of the merch DOES sell, you could THEN explore adding the good ones as bonus rewards to Patreon tiers – and maybe even without sacrificing as much of your Patreon income either, since you can order just what you need from your PoD site, at cost, once a month then reship to those subscribers that want them.
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