The 4 Reasons Fans Buy Your Merch

I was on a recent panel in Memphis, TN, for The Recording Academy called “Grammy GPS:  A Roadmap for Today’s Music Business.” The topic of my panel was Direct-to-Fan (DTF) commerce.  In preparation, I pored over data (anecdotal and empirical) from the last 3+ years of working with Artists, Labels and Managers, including recent data from our online DTF product Reverb Store that launched in January of this year.

The first thing that dawned on me was how much DTF commerce is already taking place, offline, in the form of the ubiquitous merch table at virtually every concert on the planet.  The Artist Revenue Survey we conducted in 2008 revealed that more than 50% of our Artists total revenue came from playing live shows and selling merch and music at those shows.

It seems logical that we should consider the principals behind the merch table (offline DTF) if we’re going to be properly equipped to maximize DTF online.  Core to that is understanding why fans buy products.

The following illustration is an attempt to visualize four types of fans that buy for different reasons. Any given Artist may have fans in any or all of the buckets, depending on where they are at in their career. You’ll notice that I added a ‘value’ arrow that increases as you go up the illustration. This value arrow is based on a combination of the price each type of fan is willing to pay multiplied by the number of potential fans in each group. Your biggest supporters are willing to pay more than some of the other groups, but there will likely be fewer of them, especially as you tour farther from home:

Let’s unpack this illustration a bit more by looking at each type of fan in detail. First up is the Supporter:

Supporters are people like your friends and family. These are the people who know you and who come to your show to support you – they want you to succeed, and will wear your shirt or don your bumper sticker to help you.

When Supporters buy your merch, they view it as a donation to your cause. If you have a lot of fans in this category, consider removing the prices from your merchandise and let them pay whatever they want for it. Displaying prices may actually limit the amount of the ‘tip’ that these fans will leave for you.  Stock your merch table with a variety of simple, low cost items — the cheapest t-shirts, hats, CDs, stickers, and buttons that you can buy. Remember, these ‘patrons’ are likely going to give you a $20 bill no matter what you give them in exchange, so maximize your margins here. By providing a variety of items, they can buy different pieces at each sequential show ($20 over and over again). Print your band name in one color (saves cost), and print it big and bold. These are the folks that want to advertise your band to the world to help you. Let them.

While they are huge supporters, forcing them to an online store may lose a big portion of them. They came out to support you, so make it easy for them to donate to the cause by having the merch items on site. There are lots of folks who can supply you with merch to sell, from local shops to online wholesalers.  ReverbNation can make your products for your merch table as well.

Next up is the Local Entertainment Seeker

Once you get past playing at coffee shops to your cousins and start playing out at larger venues, you’ll start getting this group of fans. These are people who just happen upon your show because of the date/time/place combination. Maybe they’re celebrating a birthday or spring break at the bar you just happen to be playing at, or they’re local music fans who go to that venue every Friday — no matter who’s playing — because it’s their favorite spot.

These fans are going to buy your merch because it’s a commemoration of a great night they had — a souvenir. At this level, merch should be event-specific (if possible) so that people will want to buy it so they can remember the experience — even if that experience, such as a birthday, has little to do with your band.

“Spring Break 2010 at Bubba’s with Scotty and the Reverbs”

This one takes a bit of planning ahead, because these fans most likely won’t go online to buy your merch either. They want something right at that moment, so you need to get them before they walk out of the building. Consider making a special t-shirt or sticker just for that event.  The Reverb Store was designed with this use in mind. Use it to create event-specific merch and buy it in low quantities for each show (it costs nothing to create an event-specific item). Follow up with an e-mail to the fans that live in the area where you played (our FanReach email system lets you target emails to specific geographies).  If that is not do-able, consider making special stickers or even having a ‘Spring Break Deal’ on your merch that makes it fee special to them.

General Public

The next group is the General Public. These are people that go to your shows specifically because they saw you were playing locally and wanted to see you. They want to shop your entire catalog. Maximizing the DTF to these fans requires a real shopping experience at the merch table. Lots of product, packaged well, credit cards accepted. These folks may consider shopping online for your stuff, so make sure you give them your Reverb Store URL (or whoever your e-commerce provider is) printed on a sticker, receipt, or thank you note.

True Fans

The final group is True Fans. These are the ones who mark their calendars when you come to town. They are already in the Supporters category, but instead of coming to see you to help bolster your identity as a band, they believe that affiliation with your band helps define their OWN identity. They will buy whatever you put out, and they are willing to pay to get it. This is where you release really special, super limited-edition merch, such as box sets or lifetime passes to shows, signed by members of the band.

This kind of merch is the kind of super-exclusive stuff that you only want to sell online, with maybe a couple of copies at the merch table. This stuff should be as special as possible — hand numbered, signed — and priced as high as you’re willing to go.  The examples that you bring to the merch table are about making them aware that they can buy even more.

Once you have enough of this type of fan (the true fan) you are in a good position to make a viable career out of your music product.

In summary, selling directly to your fans is the oldest form of merchandising for Artists.  Learn why your fans are buying from you, and make it easy for them to realize their goals. You will make a lot more money in the process.

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KevinThe 4 Reasons Fans Buy Your Merch


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  • PeerGum - April 22, 2010 reply

    Thanks for the advice. Good to know 🙂


  • Evrim Baykal - April 24, 2010 reply

    Ya gotta love charts.



  • Jan Taylor - April 24, 2010 reply

    I found this blog after searching the Limited Sight blogs. This band is from Springfield, MA. I think a lot of bands/artists make a substantial amount of money on music memorabilia. In addition to the money fans invest in to buy tickets, they want to purchase something to make them remember the event they attended. I like the table that you included since it mentions that true fans buys souvenirs from music concerts. True fans are the people who want to remember their experiences forever.
    One thing to remember though, is you do not even need to attend a concert to purchase music memorabilia. All you have to do is shop online. However, like you mentioned in your post, some people do not experience the ultimate shopping experience unless they buy merchandise in person.

  • MTZKI - April 26, 2010 reply

    – thats a great help


  • Chris - April 26, 2010 reply

    Thanks for the post. I have been looking at remodeling my merch structure and this is really helpful.

  • Gestire al meglio Fans e Merchandising | Indie Riviera - April 28, 2010 reply

    […] Ritenedo interessante il post, e in qualche modo applicabile anche all’italia, ho preso a prestito qualche spunto, aggiunto le mie considerazioni e adattato l’immagine, esplicativa più dell’intero post probabilmente. In alcuni casi ho corretto il tiro, adattando i suggerimenti anche ad un tipo di produzione DIY e low budget, adatta alle realtà Indie. Ti lascio al mio post, ma per avere un quadro più completo ti invto comunque a leggere l’articolo di Jed Carlson. […]

  • dialashop - April 29, 2010 reply

    I think it is interesting that the real money will be made by real fans and okay you can charge a slightly higher price to them, but they would get great stuff because they are worth it as fans. I think as small time fry I have is trying to get decent photos and graphics for my site. I also think by having exclusive goods these can get write ups in magazines online and offline. At the end of the day two most important things the music and the fans.

  • MTGray - April 30, 2010 reply

    internet buying is a slippery business. like a ghost nobody can
    see the real monies in the overall economy of who gets what
    and how much. it is still better for artist to face the public direct
    and get paid in real cash.

  • Stephen Francis - May 2, 2010 reply

    I find this article very informative. I had always known this but never thought to categorize it. There are supporters that cross all planes. If you pitch each piece of merch in a very specific way it could appeal to more than one part of the ‘buyers food chain’.

    We did a tour poster for this past tour and a limited edition 7″ vinyl that has a song only available on the b-side. We sold more of those than expected just because of that ‘limited edition’ tag.

    In addition we sold more tee shirts in 3 weeks than we had last year because we had 3 designs and 7 colors. That always helps too.

    Thanks for the reinforcement of these ideas and sharing your thoughts!

  • Man of Rain - June 8, 2010 reply

    I found this site after 3 unsuccessful attempts.

    I am ecstatic to have access to such huge amount of valuable information, which can be used to improve and develop my business and music career.

  • Michael j. Climaxx - July 30, 2010 reply

    You’re bored. Tired of what you do. You’re not even close to where you hoped your business would be by now. You feel like you’re losing ground and don’t know how to get energized and ready for the next round.

    It happens to nearly everyone. Even though we know it takes most people two to four years to get a business off the ground and making money, we somehow believe we will be the exception to the rule. Or we just forget how long two to four years actually is. It doesn’t help that every time we turn on the news, echoes of the declining economy ring in our ears.

    Plenty of people are thriving, even in this economy, and you can, too. More important, you can regain your passion for what you do. Follow some of these suggestions to boost your flagging enthusiasm:

    1.Become an industry insider. Take the next step to becoming savvier about what’s going on in your field. Buy a subscription to that industry magazine you considered a luxury. Become a presenter or simply attend a conference you’ve always wanted to go to. You can always become more involved, whether it’s helping at a local event, writing articles for publication or lobbying for a cause your industry cares about.

    2.Sharpen your skills. You may be good at what you do. But someone else in your field knows more than you do, has more skills than you do or has that extra edge. Nothing chases away a slump faster than learning something new. Government agencies, businesses and schools all offer tons of e-learning opportunities at low cost. Look for training sessions at local universities or interest groups.

    3.Find a mentor. One of the best ways to insulate yourself against business failure is to find and work with a mentor, someone with business experience who can guide and assist you. One place to begin is, a free website with a database of mentors and apprentices–a safe community where people can find support for achieving their desires. Find the right people to give you advice at the right stages in your career, be it one person or 20. Nothing is better than having a go-to person with whom to discuss your business ideas and concerns.

    4.Grow your network. You know you need a professional network of people to help you open doors, get you in someone’s office or help you close a deal. But there are other advantages, too. When you find the right group of people and you click, it can be fun. Group events, socializing one-on-one and even commiserating about similar situations and feelings can remind you that you aren’t alone and that a new day is just around the corner.

    5.Dealing with naysayers. Most of us deal with some clients or customers we can’t seem to please, no matter what we do. Take their comments in stride and see if what they are saying is honest. If it is, take measures to improve your business. If it’s not, focus on the positive testimonials you have gotten. Remind yourself how many people you are helping. Keep a folder of those positive comments and revisit them often. Better yet, add those testimonials to your website. They’re great for attracting new clients and are a real mood booster when you’re having “one of those days.”

    Check out my music at ( and ( Thanks for your time & attention. It means so much to me

  • Reggie MaGee - September 15, 2010 reply

    This is real meat and potatoes stuff that we artists/managers/publicists/booking agents need to know. It is certainly a process that requires focused, persistent, and patient striving to attain certain goals. This info is building block material to help us get there. Glad I read this blog.

  • Dujon - November 16, 2010 reply

    This is quite possibly the greatest article ever written on artist-fan relations. Keep it up.

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  • Winston - January 4, 2016 reply

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!

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