Price merch to increase sales and profit

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Merch sales can bring in a good chunk of income, particularly for musicians who are heavy into gigging and touring. But if your pricing isn’t carefully thought out, you could be limiting your revenue potential.

Fact is, when bands come up with prices for their merch, they're often just modeling it after what other musicians are selling for. Understanding fair market value and pricing your merch competitively is important, but it's just one factor to consider if you want your merch to be really profitable.

Use these steps to determine the prices for merch items you're producing and to reassess your overall merch strategy.

Some factors that affect cost

Let’s look at a few elements that affect the cost of producing merch items.

When designing a T-shirt, the number of ink colors you use can have a big effect on the cost. Generally, designs with more colors cost more to print, and printing a design on both the front and the back of a shirt will cost more than a single-sided design.

When it comes to just about anything in manufacturing (shirts, posters, pins, buttons, stickers, etc.), you'll get a lower price per unit if you order a larger amount. Anything you can do to determine what quantities you can sell through will help you determine your ideal quantities and hopefully keep costs per unit as low as possible.

Finally, there's the quality of the item. It shouldn't be a surprise to learn that a higher-quality shirt will cost you more than a cheaply-constructed one that will fall apart in a few washes. Even though you want to keep your costs low, quality usually isn’t something you should skimp on.

Return on investment and pricing basics

The best way to figure out what price your merch should be is to figure out what kind of ROI (return on investment) you want. The basic equation is to decide how much profit you want to make from each item and add that to the cost to manufacture it. Remember: the quantity you’re ordering, the kind of merch you’re ordering, and the quality of the item will factor into the price-per-unit you pay.

Let’s say you’ve determined you want to make a $10 profit on a t-shirt sale. If you order 50 colored shirts with a design that has a lot of different colors (we used six for this example), your costs on might be around $11.70 per shirt. If you want to make $10 profit you will need to charge $22.

If, however, you order 500 white shirts with one color design, you’ll be able to get them made much cheaper, maybe closer to $4 per shirt. Which brings your sale price to $14 if you want to make $10 a shirt.

If you just picked a number out of thin air based on what other bands are selling for, you’d end up making a much smaller profit on your full-color shirt. That’s totally fine if you’re willing to make less money and have a more intricate and colorful design: just make sure it’s a conscious decision.

Price competitively

After you’ve done your ROI calculations, look into what other musicians are charging for similar items as a way to double-check your prices.

If you’re selling shirts for $35 when the band next to you is selling a similar item for $20, fans might take issue – unless you’re offering an exclusive limited-edition item or something. If costs are driving your prices way up, it may be worth rethinking your design or reevaluating the amount of profit you can reasonably expect to make on an item.

Develop merch at multiple price points

Different people have different budgets, and every fan will have a different capacity to support you and your music. If you have nothing but $25 shirts, you’re not giving fans with lower budget thresholds a chance to support you. You’re also not providing your superfans – and anyone who can spend more – the opportunity to support you to their full capacity.

You will make more money if you have an array of items ranging from $3 to $100 than you will with 10 different t-shirt designs.

On the low end, buttons and stickers are good options – they can range anywhere from $1 to $5 depending on the size and quality – and you could offer enamel pins for anywhere from $5-15.

In the mid-range, CDs are a must-have merch item at $10-15. You can sell hats, posters, and t-shirts for anywhere between $20 and $30.

Hoodies are a great option as a higher-priced item. Limited runs, exclusives, and signed merch are also great ways to create higher-priced merch items.

Merch bundles

If you’re just starting out, it can be hard to hit all those different price points, and that’s where bundling comes in.

The idea is simple: take the individual prices of two or more items, then offer them as a one-purchase bundle for less than they add up to. For example, if a T-shirt is $20, sell two for $35. This is a great way to get people who came as a group to buy more than one shirt.

Another option is to bundle two different items together. If one shirt is $20 and one CD is $10, sell them together for $25. This is a great way to increase the average sale amount. For your customer, it’s only $5 more, so it’s a good deal. For you, that’s an extra $5 you might not have made otherwise.

Of course, you have to take per-item pricing into account and figure out your profit before getting carried away with discounted bundle pricing. Yes, it's more math, but that's what it takes to be in the music business!

Dave Kusek is the founder of New Artist Model and Berklee Online. Over the years he’s worked with tens of thousands of musicians around the world across every genre imaginable and in many different markets. New Artist Model is an online music business school designed especially for indie musicians. Learn how to turn your music into a career, understand the business, and start thinking like a musical entrepreneur.