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How Flexible Pricing Can Help You Sell More Merch

This article originally appeared on CD Baby’s DIY Musician Blog.

Why the Value of Your Merch Changes Every Day

Let’s say you just started a hot-sauce business. The price of your product probably changes depending on the buyer; lower-end grocery stores, shi-shi markets, restaurants, and direct customers on your website will all pay a little something different for the same mouth-burning sensations— to say nothing of the folks who will try free samples at the store.

Musical products aren’t that different; the value of your merch changes from gig to gig, and should (or could) be priced accordingly. This is NOT “Name-Your-Price,” but an alternate system where the band and manager keep the context of the concert in mind when setting today’s “market price.” And unlike fish, your music won’t grow stale,… right?

Every audience is unique, and every concert is not created equal

If you’re one of those folks who thinks, “Hey, I spent a lot of time and money on my recording; I say it’s worth $12— for everyone, everywhere, all the time!“— well, I understand that attitude. But consider the possibility that you might sell more music if you thought of your merch items as mementos from an event that will never happen again.

As Tom Jackson says, the art of live performance is all about “creating moments” on stage, moments that stick with the audience so much that they want to take a part of that concert home with them. And if that’s the case, your merch is worth only as much as the memories you created.

Most people will pay a lot more for a Mickey Mouse hat from DisneyWorld than they would for a keychain from the Darryl’s Texas Ribs in the back of a gas station in El Paso. Similarly, your latest CD is “worth” more when you play a 2-hour concert at a beautiful venue with amazing acoustics than it would be if you played on a 5-band bill at an all-ages club in a warehouse. It’s worth more if you add something extra to the show— choreography, videos, fancy lights, special guests, etc. Merch is worth less if you’re just filling in last-minute at the local bar.

 Consider 3 things when pricing your merch

1. Demographic of audience- Think about the economic means of the folks in attendance. The point is to get your music out there, right? Sometimes lowering your price to encourage sales can actually result in larger earnings overall.  Conversely, there are some venues and communities where raising your price above normal will have no adverse effect on sales. If you feel like you’ll give them a show they’ll remember, go ahead and raise the price.

2. The show- How unique is the event? What was your energy expenditure? Production budget? Crew? Again, the better the show— the richer the memory; the richer the memory— the more valuable the memento.

3. The merch itself- How many songs are on the CD? Are the T-Shirts made with the most comfortable materials? Are the posters limited edition? This is perhaps the most obvious consideration, but the better your merch, the more it’s worth; and that gives you even more leeway with your prices— whether you’re adjusting up OR down.

Have you tried selling merch with flexible prices? How’d it go? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Robley is a songwriter, producer, poet, blogger, person, and marketeer for independent music distributor CD Baby. The LA Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Examiner, and other fine publications have used nice words to describe his music. NPR says: “Dark, romantic strains take flight. This gothic, orchestral indie-pop is sure to leave heads spinning with its unique and haunting sound.”

Reader Comments (9)

I actually have been waiting for someone to post about this. I think it makes perfect sense to be flexible with merchandise prices. Another consideration though that I think every band needs to address is convenience. A lot of bands still do not use credit cards and honestly I don't think people want to take out their credit cards to give to some musician for a t-shirt so bands rely on the hope that they have cash on hand. So, what is the problem with that?

For one, people now do not carry a large amount of cash on hand and if so it is usually in the form of a $20 (that is what people get from the ATM). Secondly, they would honestly much rather spend their money on getting into the show and buying alcohol. The solution is: tailor your prices to those priorities.

Ex. Since most people use $20s we can assume that the person has at least one $20. The entry fee is $5 so they have now $15 they then want a drink, which the band needs to ask the bartender what the average price for a drink is. Let's assume it is $7, so now that means the person has $8 maybe $7 if they tipped the bartender a dollar. That means the band should sell some form of merch for $7. Then you know that the person has enough money to buy it and maybe even have exact change which will make the person feel even better (wow, exact change it must be fate!)

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterCarson

I agree.
In fact, I believe that artists should make a concerted effort to have good sales persons work their merchandise tables. Failing that, at least have the plan that one's merch sell cheaper if buying the music, since its the music you want them to buy most.

When I sold merch for Tupper Ware Remix Party, I sold tshirts for 5 bucks cheaper if they bought the shirt and cd at the same time. It went awesome.

Get creative with selling merch; afterall, you want people wearing your advertising for you.
Nike, Keith's, and JohnDeer shouldnt be the only ones getting advertising that way...

Find my interviews with artists/performers on YouTube: "The Viking's Van", where we discuss stuff like this, and many other issues in the local music scene. Also: follow me on Twitter: @L3Viking

I'll see you around.
<3 }C;{D>

Carson, I agree. But I still think bands should be accepting credit cards at shows in order to capture the most amount of sales. (I don't think you were arguing against that, by the way.) CD Baby has a hand-held credit card swiper that is great for venues with bad wi-fi or cellular signal. Just swipe the card, mail in the carbon slip, and we handle the processing.

And another obvious solution is the Square Card Reader for iPad, iPhone, or Android. With an iPad, you can even list out your products in a nice looking "store" and just have the people touch the items they want to purchase. Then the checkout process is usually painless (unless, of course, the signal is bad... then it's nightmare-ish).

April 5 | Registered CommenterChris Robley

Chris, yeah I wasn't arguing against accepting credit cards I think every band should have every option possible I was just meaning that merchandise sales should be adjusted to the surrounding prices, such as alcohol sales, entry fees, parking lot fees.

April 5 | Unregistered CommenterCarson

Agree 100%. I thought this was common knowledge/practice but maybe not. I do this on a daily basis and it definitely increases overall sales and revenue. If you can get 10, take 10, if they've only got 7, take 7!


April 5 | Registered CommenterZuby Music

Another key thing is talking to the other folks with merch about their prices. You can't sell your disc for $15 when everyone else is going for $5! Also tons of people spend almost all their money on booze & have a single dollar left, so have something available for that single dollar like a button or sticker!

I agree with changing prices per event but this part is wrong
"Similarly, your latest CD is “worth” more when you play a 2-hour concert at a beautiful venue with amazing acoustics than it would be if you played on a 5-band bill at an all-ages club in a warehouse."
People paid more for the beautiful venue and also paid more for drinks. Yhey won't pay higher for merch. All ages where they paid a lower cover and you have kids with disposable income who aren't spending money on alcohol will pay a higher price for merch.

April 6 | Unregistered CommenterV

Great Article. For the credit card issue.... GET A SQUARE!!! They are free, and only charge 2.75% a swipe. It's fast and easy and we are so relieved we don't have to deal with those awful manual swipers with the hard to read slips!

April 9 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Brems

I agree with this post completely. Being aware of what type of show was given and what the demographic is extremely important. I have even picked songs that get the biggest ovation and do small promo's from the stage (I've only tried this on crowds 100+) to get people at our merch table before the set is over. We've been hand making some of our merch lately & people not only get a kick out of it but are willing to pay more without us really asking so that's cool.

@Jeff I just got a square last month and it's awesome!

April 10 | Unregistered CommenterFloco Torres

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