Many consumer media brands are finding that online merchandise sales are growing. It’s providing a useful extra strand of revenue on top of subscriptions, circulation, advertising and events. And with Covid hitting live events, newsstand and advertising revenues, it is worth exploring.
It’s no surprise that readers identify with a strong media brand and are happy to purchase items that show their allegiance to their community. Over two decades ago, in the heady days of gift-based marketing for newsstand magazines, one of the long-standing winners was the Elle Bag.
These days, merchandise is more likely to be marketed via email and sold online, than included in a plastic bag with a magazine in WH Smiths. Here’s some examples of modern-day merch entrepreneurship.
London Review of Books wins with its online shop
The LRB store was launched in 2018 with branded bags, calendars and issue binders, quickly moving into mugs and drink bottles, postcards, pencils and mouse mats.
The store was built on Shopify, and they found a warehouse partner, launching in just six weeks.
They then created a series of self-printed books called LRB Collections repurposing archive content. New product lines include bookshelves, lighting and cover art. LRB are now testing gift packs including books and even a book box subscription.
In its first year the LRB store sold £150k of branded merchandise with over 4600 orders.
A good e-commerce business will be international: LRB has a strong readership in the US, and over a third of their shop sales are outside the UK.
Products are marketed to readers largely via email. As with all email marketing, it pays to test copy and offers continually.
Singletrack supplies the community of mountain bikers
Indie specialist publisher Singletrack markets a range of branded products online – from T shirts, hats, mudguards, mugs and coffee to tea towels, and even a hip flask and bike mount (surely a strong seller). It’s a useful additional revenue contributor.
Singletrack also bundle their own branded filter coffee with their magazine in a premium subscription package.
Women’s cycling magazine casquette creates limited editions
Casquette is a recent start up publisher serving the community of women cyclists. They have developed a series of exclusive cap designs with manufacturer Condor which have proven highly popular with their audience.
Suitcase travel magazine curates favourite products
Suitcase travel sell their own subscriptions and back issues on their site, but also curates beautiful products that should certainly be included in their readers packing lists, from bamboo toothbrushes to fans and essential oils.
Practical Publishing provides paper crafters with supplies
A longer established e-commerce business is Craft Stash, selling supplies and kits to keen papercrafters from the readers of its stable of paper craft magazines. They also offer discounts to those who sign up for their (free) online community Craftworld.
Rock Sound creates fan packs
Youth-focussed rock magazine Rock Sound has developed a range of fan packs including exclusive content, collectable magazines, and T shirts. They also sell limited edition vinyl pressings and cassettes.
Tips on developing branded merchandise sales for media brands
With a specialist community, you may already have an idea of products that will sell well. The highest margins are on branded merchandise, and these also strengthen the connection with your brand. Books and compilations from previously published articles have worked well for London Review of Books, and can be high margin. Curated third party products can sell well, but your margins are much lower.
High web traffic and a good email list provide the most effective marketing. And the stats from sales quickly provides good insight into the products your readers value.
If you have other tips on selling merchandise for a media brand to share, do get in touch.
About the author
Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.