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9 October, 2005

Rip off t-shirts

There was a time, long ago, when I thought that bands didn't do particularly well from the sale of albums, most of the cover price going to retailers, record companies and production costs, but that the real money was in touring and selling merchandise.  Foolish me.

Particularly in the USA, it's normal for a concert venue to take a cut of any merchandise sold by a band on the premises. Sometimes, the fees facing bands become extortionate. Sigur Rós, currently on their biggest ever tour (they played at the Hollywood Bowl last Wednesday) have become annoyed at the system, and felt they had to respond to an especially bad situation at Friday's concert at the Hard Rock Hotel, Las Vegas, by selling T-shirts for $1 each. A statement from Dean, their manager:

The venue tonight charge 30% of our gross. The sales tax is 7% and on top of this there is a new gaming tax of an additional 10%. We, the band, have to pay for the cost of the shirt, the shipping, the printing, our merchandiser etc from the remaining 53%. The obvious and usual reaction to extortionate venue commissions is to hike the price of the shirts which simply serves to hurt the fan and help the venue to earn even more. It's immoral for a venue to earn more from a band's merchandise than the band. We simply felt that by reducing the price of the shirts to a mere $1 the venue might rethink the wisdom of keeping their fees so high when the taxes here are higher than anywhere else on the US tour. 30% of nothing amounts to nothing. Tonight's protest will cost the band and the venue money but some of our fans will win in Vegas tonight... and that's why we are doing it. There will be a limit of 1 t-shirt per person and stock is limited.
This protest didn't include the special-edition Toothfaerie shirts, and some at the band's message board totally misunderstood ("buy lots and sell 'em on eBay! **** the band!"), but I certainly applaud the band's stance. One report suggested that the venue took offence and banned Sigur Rós from selling merchandise at all, but that's incorrect; the existing stock simply ran out rather quickly!

At least one person at the message board expressed my view: wherever possible, buy merchandise from a band's website, not at concerts (here's Sigur Rós' web store). It matters to me that the retailer's/venue's cut goes to the band themselves. I do the same for albums: I never buy from Amazon if a band has their own online shop, and I never buy from high-street retailers, period.

Of course, there are pressures within the industry, and bands mightn't always be able to set their own merchandising policies, but I'd urge bands to, wherever possible, include the web in their sales strategies from the outset.
I feel bands like Porcupine Tree get it entirely wrong. They take T-shirts, etc. on tour, then sell off whatever's left afterwards via the web store. If they were to allocate stock to the website from the start, I'm absolutely convinced they'd sell more, earn more from those sales, and get T-shirts seen in public before concerts, when the need for promotion is greatest.

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