E-Commerce Nation – Exploring Other Seller Platforms and Finding Your Niche

We can no longer deny what is happening to our world – everything is going online!  We have online everything – colleges, shopping, movie rentals, grocery shopping, even virtual doctor visits are the way of the world today. Like it or not, e-commerce marketplaces are going to be where we do our shopping more and more until brick and mortar shops are the eyesores of the retail world.  Think about bookstores, nearly instinct – Barnes and Noble and BAM books being the exception – Nook and Kindle killed their prosperity.  This, personally, saddens me, but it is the advancement of technology. Most educational institutions will be moving to e-book only formats within the next 5 years and online classes will soon replace in-seat classes.  My point?  E-Commerce seller platforms are taking over the retail world, so if you have an online business you need to get to know these platforms in order to increase your business opportunities and expand the places where you sell your merchandise!                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Currently, there are 29 known e-commerce seller platforms: eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Shopify, BigCommerce, Volusion, WooCommerce, Weebly, Zibbet, Selz, LemonStand, Tictail, Squarespace, Cratejoy, Symphony Commerce, Magento, Alibaba, Jet, Ebid, Bonanza, Depop, Folksy, Rakuten, Vide Dressing, FlipKart, eCrater, Big Cartel, Style Lend, and CustomMade.

Niche platforms are for selling specific types of products – for example, Vide Dressing deals with high-end fashion only, or Cratejoy which is for designer “crates” (the new trend where you get a crate full of specialty or themed products, usually sent as gifts).  Therefore, if you have a specific “niche” product, you should look for these types of seller platforms. 

Certain sites specialize in handmade items, Zibbet and Etsy are the two most notable ones, that tout handmade or original-designed items of a more artistic nature.  Similarly, Folksy is the U.K.’s Etsy, and will hopefully soon be branching out into the U.S.  CustomMade is handmade jewelry, leatherwork or woodworking, so slightly narrower as to the types of items available to sell.  So, if you are a crafty person with a unique take on something handmade, you may want to explore these avenues.

Social media and e-commerce are inexplicitly linked, and some seller sites are capitalizing on this big time.  For example, BigCartel is for the artistic “hipster” who has a huge social media following, and they tout that they cater to the special needs of sellers with an “artistic edge.”  Depop is unique in that it is more mobile-friendly and allows you to sell via a variety of social media sites with their online app in which you take pictures of your wares and then sell them across many social media sources at once.  Social media may save the world!                          

A new and emerging platform is the “rent-for-fee” e-commerce site.  These sites, like StyleLend, allow you to charge to rent a dress, shoes, and accessories for a fee for a short rental period; think, Bag, Borrow or Steal, the site that allows you to rent designer handbags (and later purchase them) for a fee.  This takes e-commerce to a different level, as you are not always “making” anything, just renting items you may already have, or that you buy specifically to rent, therefore making back the money you spent on the original item at a profit.  Totally ingenious idea.

Some platforms are not based in the United States, but instead are run in foreign countries, so if you are expanding to other markets, these would be good options to explore.  Alibaba is the Chinese version of Amazon (starting to branch out to the United States) and they sell goods AND services as well.  Similarly, FlipKart is India’s leading marketplace and it is huge! So, if you are really looking to expand your e-commerce offerings, consider looking into these platforms as well.

To be a successful entrepreneur it is absolutely essential that you not limit yourself.  Sure, you have to start slowly and build your business, and also remember that it is never a good idea to jump into more than you can handle.  However, being apprised of the various e-commerce seller platforms is an important part of being successful. Depending on your specific products, there may be a perfect platform to sell your items that is currently undiscovered to you.  Or, you can think about selling your items on more than one platform – a general platform like Amazon FBA along with a more tailored platform like Etsy – therefore doubling up your chances to sell your products.

Think of your business like a garden:

Let’s say you have 3 plots of land in your yard.  One plot is shady, gets barely any sun; the second plot is half sunny, but there are roots from a large tree that may make planting difficult; the third plot is in full day sun, afternoon shade, and has a nice, rich soil to plant in.  You may think that planting all your seeds in the full sun, rich soil plot is the best choice, however, what if that plot gets too much sun?  What if things don’t grow as well because you planted TOO many seeds?  What if you had planted some of your seeds in the half sun plot and they thrived despite the roots? Or, what if some of your plants are meant for shade?

The lesson?

Don’t ever plant all your seeds in one plot.  Spread them around and see which ones thrive and which ones don’t, then replant more where they thrive.                                                                                                                 

This is the lesson of living and selling in the e-commerce nation!  Find the plots that help you to sell the most product.  Trial and error may be your best friend. Do not limit yourself to only one seller platform if you can expand and try others.  Take a chance; spread your seeds!  Go all Johnny Appleseed on e-commerce’s ass!

 

Let’s Talk Numbers – What Do You Really “Make” Selling On Amazon Merch

Are you a bottom line guy / gal?  Meaning, before you invest your time and energy into anything you want to know – what is the bottom line, how much effort will this take, and, ultimately, how much money will I make?  This seems to be the most common question anyone endeavoring in any entrepeneuriship wants to know – because in our materialistic (and, realistic) minds – more money = more success = worth our time and efforts.  It is a simple equation, really.  So, when you deal with Amazon Merch then, how do you figure how much money you can actually put into the bank? What are the real numbers?

ACCOUNTING TERMS 101 – To begin, we need to actually define some basic accounting terms, because if you are anything like me, you don’t just know this stuff, and will have to learn it and attempt to understand it.  Plus, I honestly thought that some terms meant the same thing – such as “revenue” and “profit” – and let me tell you, they are definitely not the same.  Let’s begin!

  • Revenue: the income generated from the sales of goods / services associated with the main operations of an organization or business before any costs or expenses are deducted. Also known as “sales.” Can be monthly, yearly or even daily.
  • Royalties: the monetary compensation given to an owner for use / sale of intellectual property (i.e. your Amazon Merch designs) minus the royalty fees assessed.
  • Costs: the monetary value of (1) effort (2) materials (3) resources (4) time and utilities consumed (5) risks incurred and (6) opportunity forgone in production and delivery of a good or service.  All expenses are costs, but not all costs are expenses.
  • Profit: the surplus (extra) that remains after all costs are deducted from total revenue / the number that taxes / dividends (money paid out to shareholders, etc) are calculated from.
  • Expenses: money spent or cost incurred in an effort to generate revenue. In short, the cost of doing business.
  • Gross Income: the amount of sales revenue which exceeds production costs
  • Taxable Income: gross income from which standard deductions and other allowances have been subtracted
  • Income: an excess of revenue (money from sales) over expenses for an accounting period. Also called earnings or gross profit.
  • Net Income: the total revenue in an accounting period (month, year) minus all expenses during the same period.  Also known as earnings or net profit or net loss.
  • Net Profit: the amount by which income from sales is larger than costs. Also called profit after tax. [1]

So, in a nutshell:  Revenue (sales) – Costs (expenses for production) – taxes = net profit

Are you feeling less confused now?  Probably not. Many of these words defined above seem to be the same thing.  Net Income / Net Profit – same thing, right?  No, because profit means an excess over costs and taxes, whereas net income could be negative, as in a net loss as opposed to net profit.

Let’s give a simple example to see if we can clear this up.

  • You sell your shirt for $20.00
  • Amazon listing fee of 15% of price – $3.00
  • Amazon printing costs per shirt – $9.80

Royalties (after costs) per shirt – $7.20

Now, let’s say you are pretty successful and end up selling 5,000 shirts in a year.  Go you!

Your sales are $100,000.   However, your royalties are only $36,000.  Still not too shabby.

You have made over $30,000 in a year!  Or, have you really?  What about all those lovely accounting terms I defined above.  How do those factor in?  What is your actual net profit? Or, do you have a net loss?

So I said that net income means the amount of revenue (sales) [$100,000] minus expenses (costs).  What are expenses?  Well, for Amazon Merch, some of the aforementioned costs are irrelevant because Amazon supplies them and already deducts it from your royalties.  For example – materials and production. 

So what expenses are possible to incur when selling on Merch?

  • Additional Content Creators: If you are on a higher tier (more than 100 different   designs) you may need help creating and, obviously, these people get paid for their     Let’s say you have one partner who wants 20% of sales.  His take from sales is then $7,200.
  • Design Software: You will most likely have some design software needs, especially with multiple designs.  There are monthly fees associated with this type of software, so let’s say that you have to spend $30.00 / month.  This will equate to $360.00 /
  • Accounting Software: Entrepeurs often have accounting software fees in order to manage their sales (especially if they sell on multiple sites.)  This is usually also a monthly fee, so let’s say it is about $100.00 / month.  This equates to $1200.00 / year.

OK, here is the moment of truth.  After all of this, what is your actual profit?

$36,000 (royalties) – $7,200 (creator fee) – $360.00 (design software) – $1200 (accounting software) = $27,240 = profit (pre-tax profit / gross income / taxable income)

Wow!  You have made almost $28,000 selling shirts on Amazon Merch!

Nope.  Not exactly.

Huh?  What now?

What have you forgotten?  I’ll give you a hint, Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain , except death and ________.”

Oh yeah, taxes.  *sad face*

Uncle Sam needs his cut because after all is said and done, you have actually made money, and turned a profit, so you need to pay your dues (literally).  How much tax you have to pay depends on a variety of factors including how much money you have actually made and where you live (in country or out).  While you will be able to take some deductions when filing your business taxes (such as for home office supplies, your accounting software, your design software) you will still have to give the good ole’ government it’s fair share.

However, even with paying taxes you will still have a net profit with the above scenario which would make it all worthwhile!  So, now that you have a basic understanding of the numbers game, how can you save on expenses and maximize profits?  We will delve into that one soon!

[1] Business Dictionary Online (2017)

Enthusiastic Entrepreneurs – Double Dipping

If you are already selling on Amazon Merch and are finding it to be – what I told you it would be – fairly “easy” – and, are turning a profit, then good for you!  Contratulations!  Mazeltov!  Felicitations! In short, great job!  So, is that it then?  Are you done?

Drop the mic . . .  walk away.

Hell no you aren’t done!  Listen, entrepeneurship is much like anything in life, what you put into it is what you get out of it.  Therefore, if you put up 20 t-shirt designs and just leave them without following up, assessing which are selling and which aren’t, tracking your sales, or otherwise maintaining your products in an attempt to maximize revenue, then you are not likely to get anything out of it besides minimal sales.

Minimal sales = booooooooo.

However, if you are attentive to your sales, continually revamp and re-deisgn your shirts, and build your business with purpose, then you are more likely to be a successful entrepeneur and make more money. That is the goal, right?  To make more money over time.

So, how else can you be an enthusiastic entrepenuer?  Double dip!

What?  Isn’t double dipping bad or illegal even in some cases?

Not with Amazon Merch!  The glory about Amazon Merch (and other free selling sites) is that there is no restriction as to other places you can sell your designs!  This means you are perfectly free to sell your exact designs on Amazon FBA, Etsy, or Shopify, to name just a few.

But what ARE these things? I have never heard of FBA or Shopify.

FBA = Fullfillment by Amazon.  Ok, wait, is this different than Amazon Merch?  I’m confused.  Yes!  Amazon Merch (at the moment) deals only with t-shirts that Amazon prints for you and handles all the shipping and such for those shirts.  FBA is different in that Amazon doesn’t “make” your items, simply houses them, sells them on Amazon.com, and ships them (along with handling all the returns and customer service issues.)  Therefore, you have to have “e-commerce ready” items to sell. 

I know, I know – another term you may not know.  What, exactly, is e-commerce ready?

Basically, an e-commerce ready package is your item packed in a general box (usually just plain cardboard) that is ready to be mailed out to a customer.  It has the product UPC on it, is properly labeled with the product name, is packed securely to avoid breakage, and is taped closed. If you need supplies for this, Amazon even has a whole section to purchase them on their Seller Central page, where you can purchase everything from a laser printer, to a UPC maker, to bubble wrap and boxes.  Easy peasy.

Therefore, you can take your successful Amazon Merch designs and put them on other products and sell them through FBA!  In a way, this is like taking the training wheels off of your business by branching out and exploring other product options.  Imagine the possibilities!  Your designs on pillows, cups, hoodies, wall art, posters!  Plus, if you have other products that you want to try and sell that don’t have any connection to your Amazon Merch stuff, you can do that too.  Cool, right?  All with the powerhouse e-commerce giant Amazon doing your advertising and grunt work for you.

SHOPIFY:  Shopify is different from Amazon Merch or FBA because it allows you to have your own little online storefront instead of being a seller on a larger e-commerce site like Amazon (although, they do offer shipping and fullment through FBA).  So, you have your own company name, logo and information on a separate online store from which you sell your products. Shopify helps with setting up this virtual shop, accepting and processing credit card payments, tracking orders, and, sometimes, with shipping.  Or, you can handle shipping yourself much like with Ebay.

All this sounds great, but how much does it cost?

Currently, Shopify offers 3 different tiers of the Shopify experience – Basic Shopify ($29 / per month), Shopify ($79 / per month), and Advanced Shopify ($299 / per month).  Depending on which tier you pick, you will receive different benefits.  For example, in the 2 higher tiers you can use digitial gift cards and have a digitcal cart recovery service for customers who abandon their cart prior to purchase.  So, Shopify is a great way to expand your business as well.

And, finally, the last of the big 3 . . .

ETSY:  Etsy is another online seller site that allows entrepenuers to peddle their wares online. However, Etsy’s distinctive edge is that the items are all handmade.  What?  Handmade? Before you start assuming that this means that every time you sell a beanie hat on Etsy that you have to hand make it from scratch for that customer, let me assure you, you can pre-make your items and then put the options you have available online to sell.

No, you do not have to employ all your relatives to knit and sew and stitch and bedazzle 24 hours a day.  Releived?

Also, handmade doesn’t mean literally ONLY made with your hands.  Etsy has expanded its policy to include items that are made by approved manufacturers, as long as you have designed the item origninally.   Etsy has 1.9 million sellers who handmake and design everything from cookies and teas to beanie hats and shoes. Hell, even handmade UGG boots are sold on Etsy.

Etsy doesn’t charge a monthly fee, but they do have a modest listing fee of .20.  If you sell an item, they take 3.5% of the cost of the item as a transaction fee and 3% plus .25 as a payment processing fee.  Items can remain listed for 4 months or until they sell.  So, depending on what you are selling, Etsy can be a great way to expand your online business, most especially if you have a unqiue handmade item!

So, as you can see there are plenty of options (and more pop up all the time) to sell your products.  Each has its pros and cons, but if you are serious about expanding your business and being truly successful in e-commerce then you should consider double dipping and placing your products on multiple sites to see which is the most profitable for you.  Most of these e-commerce sites are low cost to no cost to try.  Being an enthusiastic entrepenuer means not settling to have your product in one place.

Think about it, if you could only buy Tositoes at one grocery store do you think that they would sell millions of packages a year?  Of course not.  Learn to double dip!  Just don’t double dip your tostitoes into the salsa, that is gross, man!

Be The Best – Amazon ‘Merch Best Practices

It is pretty obvious that if you are endeavoring to sell your t-shirt designs on Amazon ‘Merch that the ultimate goal is to, you know, make money!  In order to do this, Amazon has provided some wonderful ideas on how to use best practices to create merchandise that will bring in some revenue.  The brains at Amazon know what it takes to be successful, so heeding these suggestions seems like the logical thing to do. So, let’s sing it together:  Be – your – best, be your best, put best practices to the test!  OK, not feeling it?  That’s OK, just read on for some helpful hints, suggestions and information that will benefit you.

USE YOUR PREFERRED DESIGN SOFTWARE:  There is obviously more than one way to design a shirt, and Amazon makes it easy to accommodate your design software.  They provide a standard shirt template that will help you to format your design properly, with all the necessary parameters.              

Image specs:  15”W x 18”H @300ppi (i.e. 4500×5400 pixels), sRGB, less than 25MB.

They also have downloadable templates for these 3 popular design formats:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • GIMP

RGBCONTEMPLATING COLOR:  Do you know the difference between RGB and CYMK color space?  In short, RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue and CYMK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. While you may be designing your shirt using RGB color space, the shirts are printed in CYMK color space. This means, some of your more subtle colors, such as a pastel color, may not render true when converted to CYMK. So be aware of this possible shift. Pick colors that are going to look their best in CMYK and also consider the color of the shirt on which you are printing, as you can use the shirt color as negative space when designing your artwork. However, be wary of colors that may blend into the shirt color or cause a halo effect which could disrupt the design. Finally, watch your transparency rate – as those less than 20% may be lost or turn out as a solid color.

SUPER SIZING:  If you have ever blown up a small image to a larger size and the entire thing got distorted, that is because of the resolution change which will cause it to become pixelated and not representative of the actual image.  For this reason, it is important that your design be in 300 DPI resolution (not blown up to this resolution).

PERFECT PLACEMENT:  Amazon realizes there are many ways to design a shirt, but wants to stress that you should always consider where the artwork or wording is going to fall on the shirt.  Here’s a tip: women have boobs.  This means, you may not want to print a design in the upper / middle margin of the printing space for a woman’s design.  This could result in an awkward or ridiculous looking rendering of an otherwise great design.  Similarly, if you are printing on kid’s shirts, you would want to adjust for the smaller sizes.  Also, keep in mind that filling the entire 15” printing space may make the design appear blocky and unbalanced.  It is best to truly visualize what this design is going to look like on a shirt, which will move and fit customers differently.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE FUGLY:  The gurus at Amazon ‘Merch know what is likely to sell and what is likely to flop, and so they have made some gentle suggestions on the Good, Bad and Fugly from past creator content.

Here is a summary of some GOOD design elements:

  • Logos                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • Funny / Inside jokes or ironical humor
  • Character driven designs (keep in mind, not copyrighted characters only original designs)
  • Larger designs which are easier to see in a thumbnail representation
  • Bold, high contrast colors
  • Distressed designs
  • Colored shirts sell better than white or off-white

Here is a summary of some BAD design elements:                                           

  • Simple white shirts with small or minimal designs
  • Overcomplicated designs or designs that do not make sense
  • Big, rectangular, solid designs that look like a color square from a distance
  • Odd or badly drawn characters

Here is a summary of some FUGLY design elements:

  • Too much color for the space makes it look like a crayon box threw up
  • Stick figure drawings (that are not MEANT to actually be stick figures)
  • Writing or text that you can’t read or that blends into the design

Since there really is no guarantee that your design will be a hit, Amazon ‘Merch suggests doing a little design sampling to your intended audience.  Meaning, don’t go ask your Aunt Liza if she would buy your shirt (#pityforfamilyneedsmoney), but instead print up one design for each type of sub-genre (humor, logos, designs, characters) and see which one gets more general interest.  Try to get a wide variety of possible buyers – different ages and genders.  Then, tweak your design based on some of the complaints or suggestions.  Hopefully, these best practices will help you design a successful design to sell on Amazon ‘Merch.

“Tiering” Up – Understanding Amazon ‘Merch’s Tier System

Understandably, everyone who tries their hand at selling t-shirts on Amazon ‘Merch has waited anxiously to sell, sell, sell in order to make money, money, money!  Logically, the more designs you can place in the marketplace, the more you can sell, and the more money you can make.  Therefore, shouldn’t you just design 50 cool, cutting-edge and unique designs and watch the money roll on in?  Sure, that would be great, but you can’t do that.

Huh? But why?  I have countless ideas to print and sell that I know will be a huge  hit, why can’t I just download all of them?

Well, because Amazon won’t let you until you tier up.

Ugh.  What the hell does that mean?

Amazon has attempted to control the amount of creator content on ‘Merch by limiting the number of designs you can download to sell by putting a tier system in place.  In this way, ideally, content creators who are, well, creative (i.e. successful) with their designs are rewarded by being able to download more designs.

Currently the tiers flow as follows:                                                                                                        

  • 10
  • 25
  • 100
  • 500
  • Pro (by inviation only)

 

So, to decode this, you can download 10 designs (that is, either completely different or mildly varied designs) to sell on Amazon ‘Merch once you have been approved to sell.  Then, to tier up you would need to sell 10 shirts (not 10 of each design, just 10).  This means you can sell 5 of one, and 5 of another, 10 of all one design, or even just one of each.  It matters not how you achieve your goal of selling 10 shirts, just that you sell them.

Then, once you have you sold this amount, the gurus at Amazon ‘Merch will literally hand pick those content creators who will get to tier up to the next level of 25 designs.  Back in the baby stages of ‘Merch this was not necessary, you were just allowed to tier up.  Now, however, to more properly guage the products being offered, and to stay away from, well, crap, the team at Amazon wants to put in their few cents. This also helps to deter those persons who may be trying to cheat the system by buying up all their own designs in order to tier up more quickly.

Yeah, I know…a few bad apples ruin it for the whole group.

However, that is not necessarily a bad idea.  Meaning, if you are eager to tier up, you CAN buy your own designs, solicit your friends, boss, or whomever you can think of to purchase your designs so that at least the Amazon ‘Merch peeps can take a look and decide if you are ready to tier up.  The deciding factor, ultimately, will be whether your designs are seemingly “good” and not just being bought by your family out of pity.  #pitypurchase

This will, obviously, cost YOU money.  You will still have to buy your shirts, so then your once free, no-up-front cost adventure has now cost you around $230.00 (depending on tax and price point) so you will have to decide whether you really think tiering up is that important.

But I digress…

So, once your 10 shirts have sold (no matter how that is done) and if the mighty power-wielding Amazon gods and goddess have deemed you worthy (YOU… SHALL …. PASS….) you will get to go to the next tier where you can download 25 designs!  The same rules apply, and you will need to sell 25 shirts (in any combination) before you have a chance to tier up again.  It goes on like this until you get to the pro-level tier, in which you will have to be invited by Amazon to sell more than 500 designs.  Let’s be real though, that is like, a LOT of designs.  Conceivably, being able to design maybe 25 or 100 shirts would be cool.

So again, logically (and mathmatically) the more choices you have for consumers the more you should sell and the more money you should make (providng you designs aren’t crap).  Therefore, the goal is to tier up and to filter out the non-selling designs, keep the good selling designs, and come up with MORE great selling designs.

Make sense?  It is all so optimistic and hopeful. I think I am tearing up…

 

 

Clever and Creative or Crap? How To Decide If Your ‘Merch Design Will Sell

By now you have weighed the pros and cons of selling on Amazon ‘Merch and have decided that you want to give it a go.  You went through the rigamorole of the invitation process, and have been accepted, so now all that is left is to upload your design. You firmly believe that you have the creative chops to design something that people will want to buy, but what if they don’t?  What if you put your best stuff out there and no one buys anything? How do you know that what you design is clever and creative and not crap?

I’m sure you wish there was an easy way to figure this out without actually putting your design into the marketplace and watching it flop, but the truth is, there isn’t any guaranteed way to know what will or will not prove to be popular.  Trends change and there really is no way to guess what will be the next “big” thing.  I mean, who would have thought that the “poop” emoji would be so successful that you can find it on everything – t-shirts, mugs, stuffed items, hats, Halloween costumes and even slippers!  My God, it’s POOP for heaven’s sake!  Talk about stepping right into your fortune with that idea!

The point is, it is, literally, a crap shoot (see what I did there?) as to what may be popular.  However, there are a few basic guidelines that seem to hold true in a general sense, so perhaps these will at least help to guide you in the general direction of success:

 

Funny Sells.  People seem to like clever or witty sayings, puns, plays on words, or amusing pictures.  The thing is, what you think is funny may not be “make my millions” funny.  Plus, if you think you are funny, but really, well, aren’t, then you may be looking to fall on your anti-funny face.  Therefore, the general rule here is if you know you are funny, trend toward funny. If you are not sure, then do a test drive on your idea with a wide group of people (including strangers).  I searched “funny t-shirts” on Amazon and I can honestly say that the first page or two did not appeal to me as funny, proving that funny is subjective.

Clever Sayings Sell:  Whenever I see a shirt with a new saying on it, I always wonder where it came from.  Nowadays, you can see young people wearing shirts that simply say – “Yaaaaaaaaass.”  This is not even a word, how did it become so popular?  What does it even mean?  Does it have to have a meaning?  Who came up with this?  Or how about all the different plays on the word “Haz” which is millennial slang for “has.”  Picture of an adorable kitty cat with the caption, “I haz tacos.”  This is HUGE right now, who’d have thunk that bad grammar sells.  Back in the 80s there were shirts with “Frankie Says RELAX” on them.  Who is Frankie and why do I have to relax?  You know what, I had one and I didn’t know the answers to those questions. My point, these catchy phrases come out of nowhere and attack our culture like a rapidly spreading virus, so if you think you have the next “on fleek” saying, give it a go.  And yes, I am not even sure I used that saying correctly.

Graphics / Pictures Alone: How many variations do you think there is of the “Smiley Face” graphic?  Winking, laughing, frowning, angry, sad, tongue out, barfing, crying – just to name a few.  You wanna know what?  I am sure there is a t-shirt out there with each and every one of them!  This goes to show that with the right design or graphic, you may not need any words or clever sayings to make your design a hit!  However, how do you come up with a completely new picture?  Furthermore, are you artistic enough to design it?  This is where you really roll the dice on the possible failure or success of your ‘Merch design.  Therefore, you need to know whether you are going to need to partner with or hire someone to do the actual drawing for you.

The lesson learned here is that there is no guarantee, no magic ball that can tell you if your design will sell.  However, you must take on this challenge with seriousness.  If you do not have that amazing idea yet, but still want to try your hand at ‘Merch, perhaps consult an artist or someone who can help you.  Amazon actually sells books and resources for designing your ‘Merch, so take a gander at those too.  Do some research to see what happens to be a hot seller right now.  Pay attention to trends (while also being wary that you can’t steal another person’s design), because trends often spark ideas for an off-shoot design.  This is an investment and a chance to have a successful online ‘Merch business, so give it your best shot!  And remember, one day many years ago someone thought of the saying, “Shit Happens” and it became uber popular and appeared EV-ERY-WHERE.  This is your chance to make some shit happen – now go forth and create!  You haz ideas, right?

 

 

To Sell or Not To Sell – Are You Meant For ‘Merch?

I once read a quote on one of those “Make-Your-Millions-By-30” websites that said:  “Ambition is the first step to success; the second is action.”   So, the first question on whether you are meant to sell on Amazon ‘Merch is – are you ambitious?  If the answer to that is “yes,” then it is time to take action.  No one accomplishes anything in this world by sitting around and waiting for it to happen.  Nope.  We must make our own fortune (literal and figurative).  Before this starts to sound like a page from a cliché-a-day inspirational calendar, I am going to get right to the nitty-gritty and try to help you figure out if you are meant to sell on ‘Merch.

Are you a creative person / know creative people? Since ‘Merch is all about selling      unique and creative t-shirt designs (rumor has it there will be other merchandise options soon), it stands to reason that you would need the creative bones – or know someone who does – to produce what people want to buy.  If you have ever shared an idea with people who have said, “That is AWESOME, I would sooooo wear that!” then there is a possibility that you are creative.  If you are absolutely not a creative person, are not clever or witty, or furthermore, have no desire to be, then ‘Merch is probably not for you.  Take a pass.

Do you give up easily?  Let’s take a bath in the honesty pool, shall we?  The chances of you hitting it big on your first design (or your second, third . . .) is pretty slim.  Unless you hit on something extremely on-trend or find that new, hot thing everyone wants, then you may experience some disappointment and rejection.  This is OK.  Trends come and go and there is really no way of knowing what will be hot and what will not.  The key is if you are willing to keep on trying, then ‘Merch is for you. Eventually, you will have that shirt that flies off the proverbial shelves!  However, if you are going to go suck your thumb and pout in a corner because no one liked your ‘Merch Is Sexy t-shirts, well again, take a pass.

Do you already have a successful business on Etsy or some other site?  This is important because Amazon ‘Merch is non-exclusive. Meaning, you can sell your clever design here, there or anywhere!  So, if you happen to have a design that is already selling pretty well on another site, perhaps you would like to expand that with all the great benefits that Amazon ‘Merch offers.  Many other sites do not help you produce your products, will not ship your products and, let’s be honest, do not reach the consumer audience that Amazon does.  ‘Merch is definitely for you if you want to expand your sales of an already popular design on a larger marketplace.

Do you have a desire to operate a business?  While ‘Merch is certainly “easy” in many aspects, the truth is, it is still an online business.  To be successful, you do have to tend to it.  You will have to check your designs and adjust if necessary, pay attention to customer feedback and demand, track your expenses, sales, taxes and royalties (and yes, there are great software programs that can help with this.)  In short, you have to be a parent to your little ‘Merch child.  If you have the “list it and forget it” attitude, then ‘Merch (or business in general) is probably not for you.  Take a pass.

Do you want to make a lot of money very quickly? If you answered “yes” to this one, then ‘Merch is not for you.  I know, trick  question.  My bad.  CAN you make a lot of money on ‘Merch?  YES!  YES!  YES!  Are you likely to do it quickly?  NO!  NO!  NO!  The chances of you making mucho dinero (much money) right away is pretty slim though, so if this is your expectation you will need to adjust it or take a pass.  Since there is no way of knowing what designs will become popular and which ones will bomb, it is best to take a realistic approach when selling on ‘Merch.  You should hope for the best; but prepare for the worst.  That way, if your design sells – good for you!  However, if it doesn’t, well, at least you tried and you won’t want to go throw yourself off a bridge somewhere.

There you go.  The gist of whether you are a good fit for ‘Merch.  Since there are no upfront costs or fees, you can definitely try out ‘Merch and see if it is right for you.  To be a successful ‘Merch entrepreneur, you have to do the work – no ifs, ands or buts about it.  Nothing in this life worth gaining comes easily, but so much of what we work for has value – both monetarily and in the sense of pride.  ‘Merch is a fantastic opportunity for those creative persons who feel they have a design that people would love to wear on a t-shirt.  As long as your expectations are reasonable and you are willing to put in the effort, then you are definitely meant for ‘Merch.

 

 

 

Understanding Copyrights© and Trademarks ™ – Why You Can’t Put “Deadpool” On Your Amazon ‘Merch Shirts

copyright versus trademark  So, you are interested in starting up an Amazon ‘Merch endeavor, and you are just bursting with ideas about what you want to sell!  Hopefully, you have a completely unique, new and never, ever used before idea or image.  That is the best way to go – something that no one else can claim as their own.  However, is anything in 2017 really “unique?”  Are there truly new ideas out there to be had?  Plus, will your quirky saying or hand-drawn cartoon image appeal to consumers?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to just put a recognizable image on your shirt with the clever saying?  If you want to sell a “‘Merch Is Sexy” t-shirt, wouldn’t it be better to add a picture of, let’s say, Deadpool along with it?  That would guarantee its success, right?

Wrong.  That will guarantee your shirt will never see the light of day because Amazon is not going to print it.

Why?  Don’t they know a good idea when they see one?  Sure, they do, and they also know that you have broken copyright AND trademark law, and they are not going to touch that with a ten-foot sword.

 

plus     Deadpool Love   equals =  No

In all honesty, it seems pretty stupid, doesn’t it?  I mean, we can Google “Deadpool” or “Batman” or “Mickey Mouse” and get thousands (and I mean thousands) of images with those characters.  Why can’t we just take a stock photo of our chosen character and slap it on our shirt?  If it is already floating around the internet, why can’t we use it?  Why can I put this Google-found image of Deadpool in this blog?  Does that mean I am breaking copyright or trademark laws?

Nope, not at all.  Confused?

The technicality lies here – first, my image is from the public domain (meaning, it is not a super-secret picture of Deadpool from the new movie that no one else has seen); second, I am not selling or otherwise profiting by using this image.  Now we are getting the picture, right?  Those people over at Marvel have taken the time to copyright AND trademark the name and image of Deadpool in order to sell products with this image. Show me the money!  Therefore, if you want to use Deadpool on your ‘Merch, you will have to get permission to use the image and all the notoriety that comes with it.  Sure, good luck with that.

In all of this I have still not told you what, exactly, copyright and trademark are and how you need to address images or sayings which hold these legal restrictions.  Both relate to the protection of (make way for legal term) Intellectual Property, which is, in short, “creations of the mind” or “products of intellect,” so, what you imagine and create yourself. [1]

Copyright:  Copyright law can be traced back as early as the 1600s – pretty much as soon as anyone started printing anything they wanted to “own” the rights to it.  This is the gist of copyright law.  Copyright law can get very complex and it encompasses many sections of the United States Code.  In order to get the main idea though, we can look at the language in 17 U.S.C. § 102(a):

Under the U.S. Copyright Act, any original work of art that is sufficiently fixed in a tangible medium of expression is subject to copyright. This includes literary works, pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, and motion pictures and audiovisual works, among other categories.

Simple enough, right?  The “art” you wish to copyright must be tangible (real, touchable, readable, watchable – it can’t be in your head).  Once you apply for this copyright, you own the rights to it “for your lifetime and for 70 years after” and there are other circumstances which can hold a copyright up until 120 years.[2] What?  Seriously, the copyright expires?  Yes, yes it does.  However, the likelihood that Deadpool’s copyright will ever expire is not likely, because it is owned by a larger entity.  They’re pretty good with that crap.

Trademark: Furthermore, there is this other legal protection entitled trademark that will ensure you will never get to use iconic images on your ‘Merch because trademarks do not expire as long as they are being properly used.  Think about all those childhood toys with iconic images from your youth. Yeah, still trademarked 40 years later.  So what, then, is trademark? According to the United States Trademark and Patent Office (USTPO):

A trademark is a brand name. A trademark or service mark includes any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.

So, you are thinking, “But Deadpool isn’t a word…oh wait…it’s a NAME…damnit!”  Yep.  As is bat mobile, Wonder Woman, Hulk, Thor…you get the picture, right?  Trademarks are tricky, tricky entities because they are sometimes not owned by the same person who has the copyright.  For example, with Deadpool he was invented (drawn) by Rob Liefield and Fabian Nicieza, [3] so it is safe to say they own the copyright.  However, the movies are produced by whom?  In this case, Marvel. The truth is, many of the characters in the X-Men world (of which Deadpool is begrudgingly one) are owned by different studios. So, trademarks and such vary in ownership.

But I digress.  All you need to know for the purposes of printing images on your Amazon ‘Merch t-shirts is that you have to do your due diligence and make absolutely sure that your image, logo or wording is not copyrighted or trademarked by anyone!

DeadpoolDeadpool is a registered trademark of Marvel Characters, Inc. (2015)

I will give you a clue, though, if you recognize it, if it is popular, if a movie has been made about it, most likely copyrighted and trademarked.  Deadpool, yeah, forget it, you’ll never get his smirking red visage on anything you want to sell.  So, follow the rule of thumb: when in doubt, search it out.

Here are some helpful links:

To search for a current copyright, go to the:  US Copyright Office

To search for current trademarks, go to the:   USPTO Office

 

[1] Intellectual Property. (n.d.)  In Wex Legal Definitions Online.  Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/intellectual_ property

[2] How long does copyright protection last? (2017).  U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved from https://www.copyright.gov/

[3]  Rob Liefield Bio Page. (2017). Marvel Comics. Retrieved from http://marvel.com/comics/creators/571/rob_liefeld

What the hell is ‘Merch?

What the hell is ‘Merch?

If you have found yourself perusing Amazon.com lately, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t, then you may have noticed that they have a new, nearly hidden, section entitled “Merch by Amazon.”  A fairly innocuous webpage publicizes, “Sell your designs on the world’s largest marketplace with no upfront investment or costs.”  What?  No upfront investment or costs?  Have I stumbled into ecommerce nirvana?  But wait, I have questions.  What designs?  Who prints them?  What can I print them on? Can I print anything?  Does Amazon get a cut of my profits?  Seriously, what the hell is ‘Merch?

OK, so let’s start with the basics – ‘Merch is a new, up and coming, independent entrepreneur seller platform where, for now, anyone can request an invitation to sell their own, unique t-shirt designs on Amazon.  Once accepted, you upload your design, pick the color and type of t-shirt, decide on price, and viola – you’re good to go!  From there, Amazon will create a product page for your new, hip, and totally original t-shirts – and it will go live on Amazon.  Once a shirt is purchased, they will print them on demand and ship them to your eagerly awaiting customers.  They will even handle customer service issues.  All with absolutely no upfront costs.  So cool, right?

What about this invitation thing though, what’s that all about?  In an effort to accommodate the overwhelming number of new sellers, Amazon has initiated an invitation only system that allows them to respond to your invitation when there are available resources to support new sellers.  In short, ‘Merch may be a new Amazon entity, but it is taking off quickly.  Are you really surprised?  Everything Amazon does is ecommerce-a-maz-ing!

I know the real burning question you have – will I make any money?  Did you expect a yes or no response here, really? Listen, if Amazon accepts your invitation to sell and you have a good design concept that people want to buy, then sure, you will make money.  Everything is relative in the land of commerce, and how much money you make depends on too many variables to discuss here.  That cliché, “If you build it, they will come,” seems apropos, “If you design it, they will buy it” – at least that is the hope, right?

The truth is, no one really knows what will sell because trends change practically minute by minute.  If you do find people flocking to purchase your “‘Merch is Sexy” t-shirt (hey, I may have to market that…), then how much will you make per shirt? Amazon is going to get some of your money at some point, right?

The legal mumbo-jumbo.  Let’s throw out a basic legal term – royalties.  Royalties are what you, the designer, get paid after Amazon deducts their costs (materials, printing fee, packaging and shipping).  They also have a standard 15% listing fee to appear on Amazon.  Since you pick your price point (decide on a price for your shirt), how much you make can vary slightly.  Other variables include whether your shirt is printed on both sides or just one and what material (type of t-shirt) you want to print on.  So, if you have a t-shirt priced at $19.99:

  • The listing fee will be $3.00                                                                                                                                                                  
  • Costs will be $9.80 (single side printing on standard material)
  • Which makes your royalties $7.19 per shirt sold.

Is this, then, profit?  Well, yes and no. There are other considerations such as overhead, marketing investments, taxes – yeah,  all those things you need to consider when you sell more than a few t-shirts just for fun.  I suggest we not delve into that right now. However, there will likely be limited overhead in a ‘Merch endeavor.

Can I really print anything I want?  Again, yes and no.  Amazon reserves the right to deny printing of any design that they find offensive – use common sense here:

  • no pornographic, profane, hateful or discriminatory designs or language
  • nothing that that exploits children
  • nothing that capitalizes on a universal tragedy in a negative way

Furthermore, the image cannot violate (get ready, more legal terms) copyright or trademark laws.  Basically, your design must be YOURS, cannot contain a licensed, recognizable or iconic image (think Mickey Mouse) or name (President Trump, I know bummer) without the express written and legal consent of those who own the right to the name or image (and yes, there is legal precedent – not president – regarding “right of publicity” claims for public figures, but let’s gloss over that for now).  In short, if you want to print a shirt with the President’s recognizable face, he has to approve – and not in a Tweet, either.

Now your original design becomes your own intellectual property and it is also protected by these same laws.  This prevents other Amazon sellers from pilfering (fancy name for stealing) your awesome ‘Merch Is Sexy design!  If your design proves to be popular and you want to protect it, you may apply for copyrights and the like.

So far this sounds pretty simple – you have an original design you believe people would love to wear on a t-shirt, you have been accepted to sell on Amazon, you are ready to upload your design and start making your millions selling ‘Merch Is Sexy t-shirts.  Is that it?  Is that really all there is to beginning this ecommerce journey?  Pretty much, yes.

So there you go, the answer to, “What the hell is ‘Merch?” is that it is an awesome start-up opportunity on the world’s largest ecommerce marketplace for creative individuals who want to sell original, imaginative designs printed on t-shirts to eager customers with no upfront investment costs. Seems worth a shot, doesn’t it?  Are you ready to get your ‘Merch on?