The question of selling tour merchandise (‘merch’) was raised at my recent meeting with the band’s drummer. He asked my professional advice about printing up and bringing over T-shirts to sell at the festival shows. I told him not to bother for the simple reason that, unless you are the headline act or at least very high up the bill, you will simply not sell anything.
I explained by asking him to think about the economics involved for the modern festival goer. Each audience member has already paid in excess of £50 ($100) each for a ticket. They then still have to pay for transport to and from the site as well as food, drink and other provisions while at the show. So there is not a lot of money per audience member available to spend on band merchandise. The smaller your profile as an act then the smaller your slice of any potential merch sales pie there will be.
There is also the question of the price of the merch. A considerable majority of venues, including the festivals, will charge a concession fee when the bands and artists sell merch. (A band cannot sell its own merch, it has to be sold by the concession people).The fee charged to the band can range between 10-25% of the price of each shirt and obviously, if the bands actually want to make any money from selling their shirts, they have to raise the sale price of the shirt. This is (usually) the reason tour merch is so expensive to buy. You also have to remember that the companies that run the concessions will insist that there is ‘price-parity’ between the merch of the different acts performing at the festival i.e. a two-piece alt-country act playing at 2 pm in the beer tent will have to sell their shirts at the same price as the mega-platinum selling, 20-year career headliners.
Finally a lesser act will be limited to the amount of display space on the merch stands they will be given – if they get given any space at all. Remember, if people cannot see your merch displayed they are less inclined to remember your band and buy your shirts.
So, I asked the drummer, do you really think you are going to sell any shirts?
He did look a bit upset so I suggested that it is important for an act to have some identity at this kind of show and if they really wanted to print up some shirts they should do it as cheaply as possible and simply throw the shirts into the crowd. (With a knot tied in the bottom of each shirt to make them fly further of course).
The drummer said he could see my point and he’d let the rest of the band know.
Of course I was not surprised at all when the band subsequently emailed me saying ‘despite your professional expertise and advice, we are bringing over merch’.
Great. As well as the prospect of hauling around a whole bunch of unsold t-shirts I now have to get onto the festival sites incredibly early on the morning of each show. By doing this I have a slim chance of getting our merch onto the display boards. I will also have to hang around right until the end of the day in order to collect my stock and sort out the money we may have made.
I am taking bets. I predict the band will sell no shirts at the first festival show and 3 at the second one. Anyone care to take me up on this?