Selling swag (promotional merchandise) is a time-honored way for independent bands to make a little money while also spreading the word about their band. This practice was picked up early in the podcasting world with many podcasts signing up for accounts at the different t-shirt and merchandising sites.
If you have the time and energy, you can find a place online to print up your shirts for a low price. Then you can sell them directly from your site. The problem is you have to put up the initial money to fund the purchase of the t-shirts. You also have to handle the transactions, collect the money, and ship out the t-shirts. Most people do not have the time or the desire to handle this end of the business. Luckily, there are online sites that will do everything mentioned here and more.
CafePress and Other Services
One of the main online sites podcasters use to sell their swag is CafePress (www.cafepress.com). Both of usMur at www.cafepress.com/geekfu_ag and /isbw and Rob at www.cafepress.com/podcast411have CafePress store pages. The reasons so many people choose CafePress is that there are no up-front costs, and CafePress has a wide variety of items beyond t-shirts. You simply upload the image(s) you want printed on a t-shirt, sweatshirt, coffee mug, or even a light switch cover (no joke), and the folks at CafePress do the rest. They build to order, then ship out the product and even collect the money. All you need to do is let your listeners know about the page where your items are for sale. We do need to warn you, do not expect to generate lots of income from these types of sales. In all of 2005, Rob only made about $50 from his CafePress store.
Other sites offer similar services to CafePress, including the following:
We should point out that CafePress is by far larger and much more popular than the other sites mentioned, which may mean those other sites may be hungrier and more willing to offer a different customer service experience or at least a slightly better cut.
CDs of Old Shows and Other Items
Another method podcasters use to generate revenue is to sell old episodes. You might ask who would be interested in buying old episodes of a podcast that you initially gave away for free. That was the same question people asked when Apple included a few TV shows on iTunes. But everyone quickly learned that people would purchase these older shows. Not all your listeners have been listening from day one. By offering up the old episodes, you are giving them a way to catch up on your show.
You have a few different options for selling your CDs. Chances are any PC you can use to create a podcast also has a rewritable CD (CD-RW) drive. If so, you can buy some empty jewel cases ($9.99 for 80), blank recordable CD-Rs ($7.99 for 50), and a CD-labeling kit ($9.99 for 40) from the local CompUSA. This will run you about $0.54 per finished CD, plus your time. As with the t-shirts, you will also have to handle the issue of collecting the funds and shipping out the CDs.
If your show is a music podcast, where you are featuring independent music, you will not be able to resell that music. Most of the licenses give you the right to rebroadcast the music, but not to sell it. If you fall in this group, skip to the next section in this chapter. You can only sell what you own the rights to. If you try to sell music owned by someone else, you will have legal trouble.
If you do not want to deal with this issue, you can create a master CD and send it off to CafePress.
The base cost from CafePress for the data CD is $8.99. So for that extra $8.45, CafePress will handle the production, distribution, and then collection of funds. If your main goal is more about promotion of your show and you want to offer the CD at the lowest cost, you are best off producing it yourself.
Make sure you choose the "Data CD" option and add your shows in MP3 format and not Audio format. This will allow you to put on at least 700 minutes of audio versus only 80 minutes for an audio CD. However, a "data CD" will not play in a standard CD player, only in those that can handle MP3 files and the CD players in computers.
Another avenue for selling CDs of your shows that will also give you access to many avenues of distribution is CD Baby (www.CDBaby.com). This is a service that both Dan from the Bitterest Pill (http://cdbaby.com/cd/danklass) and Grant from The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd (http://cdbaby.com/cd/drfloyd) have used, along with a number of other podcasters. Using CD Baby, you can also back door into iTunes to sell your CD, but not your individual podcasts. If you want to sell individual shows, you should go to Audible.com (see the "Premium Feeds" section later in this chapter).
We talked with the folks at Apple and they stated that they do have a relationship with CD Baby where they refer independent artists to CD Baby so that the artists can get their music in the iTunes store. That said, they were very emphatic about the point that this does not allow someone to charge for their podcast. It simply lets them sell their album (collection of past shows) in the music store. They also said 100% of podcasts on iTunes are free and there are no pay-for podcasts.
CD Baby also will place your CD collection of older shows on Napster, Rhapsody, MSN Music, and many other online sites, along with the iTunes music store. However, you need to sign up at CD Baby, and there are some small upfront fees to pay. The following are the steps you need to take to sign up:
The podcasters we talked with who are using this service did not report large salesusually just a few sales a month, which is barely enough to cover the costs of doing this. They actually talked more about this as a way to increase awareness of their shows than as an actual moneymaker. There are many more people out there who know nothing about podcasting than there are that do. So this makes your show available to those people. Plus, you never know, your show might be that one show that takes off on CD Baby or in the iTunes music store. We would guess short comedy skittype shows would do best in this medium and offer the best value to the listener.
The reality is that most podcasts that are over 20 minutes long will find it hard to sell a CD of just three or four shows for $10. That is why selling a CD with 700 minutes worth of MP3s on your site or through CafePress makes more sense and offers better value to the listener than going with CD Baby. CD Baby's real advantage is that your CD gets listed in iTunes and on other online music sites. If you are looking for someone other than CafePress, one good alternative is Lulu (www.lulu.com), which offers a store-front-type service for print-on-demand media with a base price of $5.50 (which compares favorably to Cafe Press's $8.99).