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Doing something creative costs money. If you're in a band, you're paying for gas to get to and from practice and gigs, studio time, and all the bits and pieces of tech you need to sound good. If you're an artist, you're paying for your materials and maybe studio space. Even if you're doing a simple webcomic, blog, or fansite you're paying for bandwidth.
And, unfortunately, creative work doesn't pay very well until you're famous. And sometimes it doesn't pay very well even then. So what do you do to help support your
habit creative endeavors?
It turns out just about everybody loves owning cute little tchotchkes. Ones that are branded with some obscure, indie-cred logo, image or phrase they like is even better.
So, you start to sell stuff. T-shirts, pins, prints, CDs, and cards are the obvious choices. But mouse pads, coffee mugs, baseball caps, plushies, posters, babies' onesies, messenger bags, and refrigerator magnets all have their fans. In fact, anything that you can figure out how to stick a logo, character or catchphrase onto will do. That's "The Merch". The merchandise. The moneymaker. The stuff that pays the bills.
And if this is for girls, the Pink Product Ploy increasingly is used.
Sometimes The Merch becomes more important than the work it was intended to support.
- Detail-Hogging Cover (since it covers merchandise as well)
- Everything's Better with Plushies
- Fun T-Shirt
- Misaimed Marketing
- Official Cosplay Gear
Contrast Merchandise-Driven, which covers instances when the creators of The Merch are the same people who have creative control over the show. If The Merch debuted in the work, then it's a Defictionalization that may or may not be in response to The Red Stapler effect. When merchandising works well enough, then we learn that Crack is Cheaper.
Anime And Manga
- Generally speaking, Anime are made to promote their Merch - BD sales won't cover their production costs, except for excessively popular anime which are few and far between. This phenomenon is lampshaded in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, which pokes fun at its own DVD bonuses.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion has a very strange and bipolar relationship with its marketing, even aside from the tone of the story. Allegedly, a fan once proudly told Hideaki Anno that he had sold all his university textbooks to buy more Eva merchandise. Anno called him an idiot and told him to study harder.
- Gundam certainly qualifies, and may even outdo Evangelion in this regard. It was once estimated in the early 90's that Bandai had sold so many Gundam toys and models that on average, every single man, woman, and child in Japan owned at least one. And that doesn't count other merchandise like keychains, posters, shirts, and so on.
- Otogi Juushi Akazukin gets a special mention as it literally started its life as a bonus OVA for a collectible figure. Following the unexpected success, the resultant TV show is chock full of blatant plot changes to accommodate merchandising.
- Black Rock Shooter was a similarly backwards merch-ifiying incident. At first, it was just a music video and vague character design with no further plans, but that quickly spawned an out-of-control merchandising and promoting spree, which eventually led to a game, OVA, and anime being created to keep the figures, plushies, shirts, posters, and who-knows-what-else selling. The merch still charges ahead of everything else; a figurine bundle with the anime DVD was announced before the anime was even halfway through airing.
- Sailor Moon became such a franchise that Naoko Takeuchi got sick of it and pulled rights from Toei.
- In-universe for Empowered. In-story, there are official Superhomey ringtones and themed T-shirts (and panties), plus action figures of their Rogues' Gallery.
- Mystic Studios Productions calls their Merch "Moon Gear". They'll literally slap their logo on anything. Not to mention, logos for their comics and characters, drawings and injokes from such.
- George Lucas wanted creative control of his upcoming movie, so he agreed to drop his director's fee to keep the rights, including merchandising. Twentieth Century Fox was convinced his "space movie" would flop, so they agreed, thinking they just saved more money they would lose. To put it mildly, they chose...poorly. Adjusted for inflation, Star Wars: A New Hope is the second-highest-grossing movie of all time in the US, with $1.3 billion in total ticket sales (unadjusted it's fourth, with $460 million). Star Wars merchandise makes that much money every year.
- At the time, merchandising involved selling posters, tie-in books, maybe t-shirts. Star Wars is the reason you can get everything from promotional shoes to toothbrushes.
- Producer Gary Kurtz notes in this article, "The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films."
- And Lucas didn't fight to keep the merchandising rights because he was far-sighted and knew it would be profitable in the long run. He just wanted to be able to promote the film himself in case the studio gave it Invisible Advertising.
- Spaceballs spoofed this in so many ways, from putting the movie's name on every other product, to having Dark Helmet play with the action figures.
- The Lord of the Rings movies expanded their merch into replica weapons, shields, helmets, costumes, flags, pipes, and jewelry worn by the characters, along with the more prosaic buttons, pins, books, posters, mousepads, and t-shirts.
- Tremors franchise offers In-Universe example. Say, your hometown was attacked by giant subterranean monsters, who kill half of its inhabitants before being defeated by the other half. What do you do? Make money on it, of course! Over the course of subsequent movies and the TV series the main characters have become famous science and pop-culture personas, being featured in magazines and TV shows, starring in commercials and documentaries, opening theme parks, having the exclusive license and producing video games, comics, action figures and other merchandise based on the monsters. All while continuing to fight said monsters first occasionally (Tremors 2-3) and then on a weekly basis.
- Cars has become this for Pixar, with just after a few years of existance, became the sixth best-selling toy brand on the market, making $2 Billion per year in merchandise. The Sequel was arguably made based on the money made on the toys.
- At one point, Jurassic Park uses the film's actual merchandise to portray the in-universe merchandise for the fictional theme park (which is also sort of an example of Off-the-Shelf FX).
Live Action TV
- Notably the Trope Codifier for the format of all the following Disney Channel shows post-1999 (Hannah Montana, etc.), Lizzie McGuire also started the merchandising craze those shows had. Fortune magazine estimated in 2003 that Lizzie McGuire merchandise had earned the Walt Disney Co. nearly $100 million! That's from Radio Disney's big CD promotion, books based on the episodes being sold, mystery books starring Lizzie (much in the same vein as the Mary Kate And Ashley Olson mystery books), Tokyo POP manga adaptations, bed sheets, Barbie dolls, board games, and The Movie.
- The 2011 series of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here features hosts Ant and Dec plotting to make a bit of cash on the side by flogging Merch featuring the contestants... like Anthony Cotton buds and the Little Willie mug ("Oh. That's... that's not the picture we were thinking of." "We can't show that!")
- Kiss is probably the only rock band with their own line of caskets. The late Pantera guitarist "Dimebag" Darrel Abbot was famously buried in one, at his own request, though this one was provided free of charge by Gene Simmons himself out of respect for the man and his work.
- Psychopathic Records is known for their "Hatchet Gear" line.
- MC Frontalot himself is totally not driven by this, but his collab with MC Lars, Captains of Industry, claims otherwise.
- WWE tag-team D-Generation X, during their "reunion" years, was the subject of a Running Gag in which they would find ways to plug their merchandise, whether it be their action figures, T-shirts, DVDs, or even their new book (now available at WWEShop.com!) in the most blatant, forced, and incongruous way possible, with Cheshire Cat grins on their faces the whole time. Pretty much every wrestler has Merch, mind, and will plug it in more subtle ways (like wearing their latest T-shirt as they come down to the ring), but D-Generation X raised parodying the practice to an art form.
- ECW constant money problems led to this in spades. Rather hilariously most of the merchandise was designed by wrestler Taz, with other wrestlers like Dreamer and Richards involved in sales.
- Cats was to live theater what Star Wars was to movies when it came to exploring the potential of merchandising: not just programs and soundtracks, but T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.
- The Phantom of the Opera has such licensed merchandise as music boxes, jewelry, figurines, and snowglobes on top of mugs and tees. Available soundtracks include ones for the original London cast, original Canadian cast, and the movie -- and then there are the foreign-language recordings. The sequel Love Never Dies is already pushing jewelry, key rings, magnets, etc.
- Any Disney live show, be it the latest Disney On Ice tour or a legit musical like The Lion King, will have tons of merch.
- Most Cirque Du Soleil shows have a soundtrack album, DVD (either the actual show or a making-of documentary), T-shirts, program, ornaments, keychains, masks, hats, drinkware, etc. Then there's the merchandise representing the overall company, which includes all of the above items plus stationery, coffee table books, toys, salt and pepper shakers, jewelry, lip balm, etc., etc. (That merchandise is now brought out in new "collections" every few months via the online boutique.) The non-touring "resident" shows all have dedicated gift shops, and the big top tours feature a large entrance tent that includes the souvenir stands.
- Merchandizing is apparently Older Than Steam: There's a Yuan Dynasty (14th-century Chinese) wine jar in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (catalog number 37.292a-b) which depicts a scene from The Three Visits of Prince Liu Bei to the Hermit-Scholar Zhuge Liang, a play popular at the time. Art historian Wu Tung described it as "apparently created for commercial purposes -- to capitalize on the popularity of the play."
- Airship Entertainment/Studio Foglio had a lot of stuff for Girl Genius -- such as insignia appearing In-Universe, or generic Gaslamp Fantasy / Steampunk stuff such as pen looking like a mini-wrench.
- Megatokyo is sometimes (jokingly!) accused of being nothing more than a front for the sale of novelty T-shirts and fashion accessories.
- There's been somewhat more truth to this in recent years, as the comic has suffered severe Schedule Slip, but new merch continues to come out on a regular basis and the store is, apparently, still decently successful.
- Penny Arcade mercilessly savaged Merchandise-Driven properties in the character of "The Merch". Of course, they have no small line of merchandise themselves, which ironically includes the character The Merch in its lineup.
- Although, given that the Merch has evolved into an unofficial store mascot, they seem to be quite aware of this.
- When the first few strips involving the character of The Merch were compiled into a book, Tycho lamented that the concept was handled in such an obvious and heavy handed manner. Accordingly, over the last few years The Merch has only appeared in the background on shirts and the like, rather than being an active joke in the comic.
- Wicked Powered is a Merchandise-Driven webcomic, created for the purpose of selling "Wicked Lasers" laser pointers.
- This comic from Stickman and Cube parodies Merch, by giving the Stick Figure Comic not only a T-shirt, but also action figures and its own breakfast cereal. Fortunately, the author was joking.
- Questionable Content: webcomic or front for a t-shirt business? You decide. One of the few self-sufficient Webcomics, as the author makes his living by selling said t-shirts, many of them Defictionalizations of shirts worn in-comic (Marten's TEH shirt comes to mind). Luckily, he doesn't throw it in anyone's face, but back in the day, you'd see a new t-shirt pop up on a character, then Jeph would talk about it in a newspost, then he'd have it available- nearly every other month.
- Scary Go Round is also a self-sufficient Webcomic, due to The Merch. The earliest T-shirts were worn by characters in the strip (Shelley's "Eggbert" T-shirt was revived for Christmas 2008). These days the characters still wear quirky T-shirts from time to time, but the shirts available to the public tend to have a tenuous connection to the strip. They're pretty cool, though.
- Loserz (when it was still running) sold pictures with the characters from the comic as computer wallpaper. The erotic ones were more expensive than the others.
- Zebra Girl has "Joe Does Something!" -- for every $500 in donations that Joe racks up, he posts a funny little animation involving his Author Avatar... err... doing something.
- The title bar of Diesel Sweeties asserts that its full name is "diesel sweeties: indie rock robot romance webcomic and geeky t-shirt blogporium"
- Order of the Stick sells trade paperbacks of the comic, with additional bonus content available only in print. Two of the paperbacks out so far are prequels, the content of which has never been published on the web. And, of course, T-shirts.
- Attempted subversion in Sam and Fuzzy with the in-universe creation of Skull Panda, a character that "will appeal to alienated youths and wannabe social outcasts" by being simultaneously edgy and cute. The subversion failed because the character was legitimately appealing; Skull Panda currently has two t-shirts for sale.
- Aside from various typical merch fare (T-shirts, prints, anthologies, etc.) pop by Mookie's booth at a convention and you can even pick up a Dominic Deegan scarf. Those are typically the first thing to sell out of.
- Brian Clevenger of 8-Bit Theater has a question on his site FAQ that essentially asks "Why did you sell out?", he claims (humorously) that there's no legal way to make money on nothing but his good looks.
- Sluggy Freelance was one of the first webcomics and one of the first to become a full-time source of income for its creators. It is currently supported through merchandise, book sales, and subscriptions to exclusive content.
- Ctrl+Alt+Del offers t-shirts, printed comic collections, refrigerator magnets, posters, maquettes, plushies and more based on the comic.
- An early Planet Karen strip suggested a possibility for The Dark Tower merch.
- MSF High: While not directly merchandise driven, Trading cards check, table top RPG rule books check, commission's and reward points check.
- Topatoco is a company that makes and distributes the merch for webcomicers, founded and run by a webcomicer. Almost all of their merch is reproduced hipster tee shirts worn by webcomics characters, but almost none of their merch has any webcomic logos, characters, or dialog on it. It's like they're ashamed of it.
- VG Cats is getting to the point where Scott Ramsoomair is putting out more t-shirts than new comics a year.
- The Adventures of Dr. McNinja has spawned such a thriving T-shirt business for creator Chris Hastings that, in a recent interview, he mentioned that he sells his merch (at Topatoco) under the name "Raptor Bandit Industries" so he can draw in customers who don't read his comic.
- Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki only updates once every 2 months at best. But watch every other week to see updates on the author's newest merchandise, and what newest conventions she will be selling said merchandise at!
- Shadowgirls has the Shadowchild figure and most recently the Merv Hat.
- Appropriately enough, Yehuda Moon and The Kickstand Cyclery sells Yehuda's cycling cap.
- There is a fair amount of Merch available for Grey Is, including cups and bookmarks with chibi Black and White on them
- Homestuck has evolved into something of a small-scale merchandising empire, to the point that it spans two online stores - Topatoco and its own, WhatPumpkin. In addition to the standard webcomic shirts and jumpers (of which there are plenty, including a full set of twelve troll shirts and plans for a full set of twelve God Tier shirts/hoodies, most of which haven't even appeared in-comic), there are a sizable array of lapel pins, prints from the art team, a 2011 calendar, and the series' utterly enormous discography of eighteen music albums. And that's just Homestuck alone - add in Problem Sleuth and you've got several more shirts and prints, plus two books.
- Fark, despite being already self-sufficient thanks to its traffic generating scads of clickthroughs, has recently started offering T-shirts with the joke headlines and tags for stories featured on the site.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series sells shirts with their more popular memes on them.
- Homestar Runner sells T-Shirts, posters, action figures DVDs, an album and other merchandise. It has become so successful, that the store is basically the creators' jobs.
- Until Television Without Pity affiliated itself with Yahoo several years ago (before it was sold to Bravo), much of the costs of the site were provided by Merch. Available Merch included Tubey (the site mascot) in close to fifty designs (each evocative of a particular show that was recapped) on virtually anything CafePress would imprint, as well as open stock and limited edition t-shirts.
- Shortly after The Simpsons debuted, Bart Simpson was on virtually every product conceivable, to the extent that many people assumed the name of the show was "Bart Simpson". The show mocked this on several occasions, for example when Bart said to Krusty "I'd never put my face on an inferior product".
- A tragic subversion occured with Sym-Bionic Titan- the show had all the potential of a successful, marketable toyline, having Super Robot Genre elements, but failed to strike a deal with toy companies. Guess what? The high-quality cartoon is royally Screwed by the Network in response to this.
- PBS has been doing this for decades, during their fund-raisers - even back when they were NET rather than PBS. Coffee cups and tote-bags go all the way back, but now they've branched out to include special-edition DVDs and CDs of "the program you just watched", companion books, and sometimes t-shirts.
- CNN lets you buy t-shirts with a tasteful (and sometimes not-so-tasteful) selection of their headlines on them.
- Museums also went The Merch route long ago, with gift shops in the museum itself, and mail-order catalogs containing reproductions of paintings, statues, and jewelry, as well as stationery, scarves, and toys "inspired by" works they hold. Tote bags, coffee cups, t-shirts, and magnets with the museum logo are also old standards.
- BBC Worldwide exists to sell merchandise for BBC programming. It has been rumored that the new Dalek designs in Season 5 were done to provide new merchandise to sell for Doctor Who. There is definitely a new sonic screwdriver available for sale in the US and UK.
- The David Willis-run wiki for Transformers has a page entitled To Sell Toys. Because everything in Transformers revolves around it, including the cartoon series.