Whenever people start a band, a theatre company or a podcast, there’s one inescapable thought: “when do we get t-shirts?” Podcast merch is a great way to advertise and build up excitement about your show. But, if you don’t do it right, you can end up with boxes of merchandise in a closet or basement, collecting dust and moisture. Don’t worry. Either you can use it to generate some amazing penicillin samples, or you can use this guide to make and distribute better podcast merchandise.
Know Your Brand and Your Audience.
Before you start silkscreening t-shirts by hand, pinpoint why you want to make and sell podcast merchandise. Some reasons could be promotion, engagement, or expanding on a particular aspect of the topic.
Other things that are important to consider:
- What’s your podcast’s niche? What makes it unique?
- Who’s your ideal listener? Who is your podcast for?
- What’s your podcast description? Do you have a one-sentence pitch?
- How do you feel about your podcast art?
- What’s exciting, memorable or provocative about your podcast that you can highlight?
Knowing all of this helps you decide what to make, how to design it, and how to distribute it. You wouldn’t bother giving catnip to a dog, right?
How Will You Distribute Your Podcast Merchandise?
Some podcasters sell merchandise. Others give away small promotional items. Whichever you choose, they have their own set of considerations. Plus, you need to know how you’ll get your merchandise safely in your audience’s hands.
Giving Away Podcast Merch
If you’re giving away podcast merchandise, it should be inexpensive for you and easy to distribute. Pick small items with a low price point. Stickers and bar mats/coasters are popular, collectable, and function as advertising. This is another reason to make sure your art is good enough to share. Pencils or pens, too, can transmit your podcast’s name, brand colours and logo.
Be careful with spending too much money on give-away merch, because people don’t value them as highly. My mother volunteers at her church thrift shop, and it’s loaded with branded caps, beer koozies, manicure or sewing kits, all kinds of promotional stuff that gets handed out for free at business conventions. She even scored a Madoff Investment Securities tote bag, once.
When planning to sell podcast merchandise, balance how much it’s useful, meaningful and promotional. If it’s very useful and meaningful, it doesn’t have to be a billboard, because people are more likely to talk about it and your show. If it’s a billboard, it doesn’t have to be as useful or meaningful, because it’s promoting your podcast. But, this podcast merch can end up at a charity shop.
Items that tend to sell well are useful, attractive, tactile items like enamel pins (people really do collect them), flash drives, water bottles, travel mugs, and yes, t-shirts.
Is Your Podcast Merch Deliverable?
How do you plan to get the merchandise in the hands of your loyal audience? You can ship it yourself, use a print on demand company, or sell it directly to the person, like at a convention.
Stocking and shipping items yourself gives you the most control. It’s also extra work on your part. You’re better served spending that time and effort on your podcast episodes.
Selling it directly to the person is great because you can couple it with a conversation. The item gets tied in with the memory of meeting you, so the object becomes more meaningful. But, in that case, you have to be in a situation where your podcast’s fans can find you. If you’re renting booth space at a convention or hosting a live podcast episode, then a podcast merchandise table is ideal. Again, this takes time, effort and money on your part. But, it’s a good step toward building community.
A print on demand company is the easiest, but you don’t have as much control. You also don’t have as much responsibility (i.e., “they sent me the wrong size,” etc.). The buyer picks out the item, colour and size they want, and the print on demand company prints it and handles the shipping.
Personally, I’m a big fan of Teepublic’s program for artists, because they:
- pay creators monthly via PayPal,
- have a wide variety of sizes, styles, and colours
- are not just t-shirts: they have mugs, tote bags, stickers, and more
- use a design process that’s simple to learn and follow
- frequently have sales that you can promote to your following (without cuting into the amount you make from each sale)
Plus, you can use a print-on-demand service to buy an item and have it shipped to an interview guest or a generous supporter. They set the prices and schedule sales, but you don’t have to handle returns, misspelt addresses, or customer complaints. If you can’t deliver the merchandise to the buyer, it’s not worth it. Do what works for you.
Whatever merchandise you choose, keep the size and weight in mind. If you’re selling podcast merchandise in person, the smaller and lighter it is, the better. The buyer’s going to have to carry it around with them. Anything bigger than someone’s hand, or heavier than a pound, people are more likely to order online. If you’re selling something like glass drinkware or ceramic mugs, keep this in mind.
This is where print on demand companies are helpful, again. You don’t want to have to take an hour out of your podcasting workflow to go to the post office and pay $20 shipping to send a $10 mug.
Interesting or Inventive Podcast Merchandise
You know your podcast better than anyone. Take a trip back to those questions that we asked at the beginning. Based on your podcast niche, and ideal listener, what’s something your audience will appreciate?
For example, a podcast for real estate agents pairs well with keychains or flashlights. A cooking podcast could sell spatulas emblazoned with a clever quote from the show on the handle. An investment podcast can sell coin banks. Role-playing game podcasts often sell dice.
A clever way to monetize your podcast is to sell a flash drive with an entire season, music, and/or special episodes of your podcast loaded onto it. This is time-consuming for you, but it’s unique. If your podcast has ads, an ad-free version is very tempting to some fans. Plus, they can download your content and reuse the hard drive. Bonus points if you use a flash drive that works double duty as a keychain or jewellery.
Is your podcast specific to an industry? What items does it need? Type “custom (object)” into Google, and chances are very good that you’ll find a company that makes branded versions of it. I have found companies that make branded piggy banks, cooking utensils, stuffed llamas, and too many kinds of things to mention. Where there’s a niche, there’s podcast merch.
Repurpose Your Content
Printed materials, like books or posters, are easy to print and deliver, plus they don’t weigh much. If your podcast has really great art, work with the artist to create variations on that theme. Some podcasts expand into graphic novels or posters.
Recipe booklets can help your audience feel more connected. When they cook and/or eat a recipe that’s related to the show, the smell, taste and texture are memorable and emotionally stimulating.
Great quotes from your show can go on anything. I bought my husband a Canadian House of Pizza and Garbage t-shirt, celebrating one of the weirdest inside jokes on the Judge John Hodgman podcast, probably ten years ago, and he still wears it. I’m not proud of it, but this is a good example of how this can work for you.
Don’t Expect to Make A Huge Profit
Unless your podcast is an advertisement for an existing merchandise business, don’t expect to make a big profit on your podcast merch. The goal here should be to advertise your show, get your audience excited, and stay connected.
Podcast Merchandise, In A Nutshell
Essentially, here’s all you need:
- terrific art,
- memorable content,
- a solid and specific niche,
- a clear sense of your ideal listener
- a print on demand company of sterling reputation that will reliably deliver your merchandise to your audience.
See? Podcast merchandise is easy, it’s good podcast merchandise that’s more challenging.
Need More Help With Promotion & Growth?
We’ve loads more tips and strategies to help you build your audience in our 30 Days of Audience Growth course inside The Podcast Host Academy. In there, you’ll get access to all our other courses too – from equipment and editing to voice training and monetization. Plus, we run regular live Q&A sessions where you can get tailored podcasting advice, and solutions to your podcasting problems!