We all love merch. Stuff. It’s hard to leave a concert or game without picking up a t-shirt or cap, maybe a giant foam finger.
How else will everyone know you were there?
We’re even compelled to bring home water bottles and keychains from radio station promotions and frozen yogurt shop grand openings despite knowing we’ll probably never use them.
More stuff! And free!
It’s the American way to consume and collect, and what better than something that illustrates your special connection to a movie, musician, team, or cartoon mouse.
So where do screenwriting and merch come together?
Well, for one, entertainment and commerce have pretty much been linked from the start. Even more so in the era of buzzwords like branding and vertical integration. They feed and fund one another in a never-ending loop. After all, it is show business.
Some merchandising makes its way to the marketplace after a movie or series has proven itself a hit. More commonly, they’re developed and produced simultaneously.
The more peculiar phenomenon (and yet, quickly growing in popularity, it seems) is the somewhat artistically questionable entertainment property that’s specifically put into production to piggyback off the success and/or name-recognition of a preexisting product, toy, or even theme park ride.
I’m looking at you, Battleship and Pirates of the Caribbean. And where do you think you’re going, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie?
Over the years, the projects I’ve worked on have generated a fair amount of merchandise (some also generated from it). There have been toys, clothes, DVDs, and all manner of molded plastic Happy Meal choking hazards.
I’ve done my civic duty and collected my share. Some I’ve had to buy myself, while others were distributed free as a job perk (Rhonda was given an impressive set of Rescue Heroes figures when she was the story editor on that series. After the project wrapped, though, it was my nephews who were the real winners).
Years later, my show souvenirs generally still populate my desk or an office shelf, acting as a sort of career museum and three-dimensional resume.
Perhaps one day they’ll all collapse on top of me and I’ll become a permanent exhibit in the museum as well.
For my own personal projects, however, the idea behind creating merchandise is promotion.
Today, with virtually no financial investment, a person can create all sorts of customized swag through sites like Cafe Press and Zazzle. T-shirts and glassware seem like the most popular items, but there are even seemingly random things like pacifiers and iPhone cases.
It’s kind of crazy, really.
So crazy that anyone can do it. Which means you can too.
Before you get too excited, though, you should know that this is really not a moneymaking venture in and of itself. The advantage of not paying any up-front money with a print-on-demand platform leads to an infinitesimally small royalty when something gets bought (a $14.95 mug generates a .60 royalty on Zazzle for example, and upping your royalty percentage can quickly lead to product prices that no one in their right mind will pay).
But making money selling merchandise isn’t your primary goal anyway. If you’re a writer, your primary goal should be to get awareness of your project out into the world, ideally paired with a URL for the project’s website (if you don’t have a website for your project, you should probably start your marketing plan with that).
Here’s an example and simultaneous plug (speaking of promotion)…
And if someone buys one and uses it for coffee at their office, maybe someone else will see it and maybe check out our site… and maybe subscribe to our newsletter… and maybe actually buy a copy of the book when it comes out. Sure, that’s a lot of maybes, but without putting it out there, that’s a guaranteed non-sale.Since you’re here and we’re already on the subject, you should know that even a [TEXTSMITH] mug can be purchased by the most zealous of this blog’s twelve readers (don’t do it, mom).
As with this example, you don’t even need graphics… or a likely market, I suppose.
But the point is that this bit of merch is out there. Available. And even if that hypothetical person at the office who has a mug of your project is you, that’s still more opportunities to build your project’s audience than if it had a picture of Garfield or SpongeBob.
And if all else fails, you may not have made a movie yet, but at least you made a mug.