When we talk about commercial enterprises on the web, we’re usually talking about two different types of websites with two very different approaches to generating revenue.
The first type is ecommerce websites—businesses that sell products and services online.
The second type is content-driven websites—businesses that either create or curate content on the web, such as news sites, blogs, and even social media spots like YouTube and Facebook.
For content-driven websites, or even content in print, for that matter, monetization is typically limited to advertising—the selling of ad space. This model, however, leaves businesses at the mercy of a fickle advertising market, which has been in a substantial recession since last spring. What should a content provider do?
The New York Times plans to move toward a subscription-based model soon for its web content. But what if you’re not a big shot like The New York Times? Sure, millions of readers may be willing to pay a flat fee to read its content, but what about your blog?
This all brings me to an interesting panel discussion I attended at South By Southwest Interactive last year called, “Merch—The Other White Meat of Monetization.”
The panelists, including Mikhail Ledvich of BustedTees.com, discussed the benefits and challenges of content-driven websites moving toward a merchandising model as a source of additional revenue. For those of you who may not be familiar with BustedTees.com, this website actually began as an effort to further monetize its sister website, CollegeHumor.com.
If your content-driven website has a dedicated or passionate audience, selling merchandise can give your readers a way to be active “patrons of the arts,” so to speak, for your content, in much the same way fans actively support CollegeHumor.com by purchasing funny T-shirts from BustedTees.
So if selling merchandise, or merch, seems like something your content-driven business would like to do, here’s a quick checklist of things to consider.
1. Have something worthwhile to sell. If you have a comedy blog, selling funny T-shirts makes sense, but if your blog is about, say, food culture in Southern California, you may want to consider regional cookbooks or something that is naturally connected to the content of your blog.
2. Add a shop page or shopping cart to your site. BustedTees.com might be a separate website from CollegeHumor.com, but that doesn’t mean you’ll need a new, separate website just to sell merchandise. Call your webmaster to see how you can add a shopping cart to your site. It can be as easy as installing a shopping cart application to your hosting account.
3. Get a low-fee merchant account to process payments. If this is your first stab at ecommerce, you’ll want to minimize your cost by going with a payment solution that doesn’t kill you with fees. Avoid solutions that come with annual or startup fees.
So, what do you think of “merch” as an option to bring in additional revenue for content-driven websites? If you’re already selling products from your content-based site, let us know about your experiences.