Would you bid in an auction where your favorite author’s pen is up for sale? Would you buy a T-shirt from a cool scribe? How about paying five dollars extra to get a signed book?
As writers, would you offer such items for sale in an attempt to make a few extra bucks?
If the answer is no you would not do such a thing, then the next question is, why not?
I’ve spent the last year immersed in interactions with rock musicians. These are guys that, while not necessarily huge stars, are quite well-known. They may not fly on private jets but they do tour the globe and have fans all over.
For virtually every one of these musicians and their bands, there is merchandise to buy. Visit their websites and you can get T-shirts, guitar picks, posters, bandanas, books, and other gear. On top of that regularly available merchandise, these musicians often provide special items for auction. The tour ends and somebody puts up their stage outfit on eBay. Or a recording session ends and the guitarist offers his pedal board for sale.
As fans, no one thinks twice about the opportunity to purchase this merchandise. In fact, some people make the argument that it’s band’s obligation to the fans to provide merch.
So why do writers view it with such distate?
I recently looked at the websites of 32 writers on the lower rungs of the The New York Times besteller list. I didn’t bother with the highest entries on the site because those J.K. Rowling type folks are relaxing on their yachts right now so they don’t need an extra five bucks for a signed book. But presumably many of the writers at the lower reaches of the list could use additional funds.[As a side note, while looking at these 32 writers, I’m amazed that four of them had no website whatsoever. I’m assuming these people don’t care about their work. Even if you’re not interested in building your career for financial or other personal reasons, surely if you’ve published a book, then you want people to read the damn thing, right? So even if you’re trying to stay above the oh-so gauche business of making a living and building a career, you still have a website.]
Of the 28 author websites examined, only four of them had any sort of merchandise. Most of it was Cafe Press type stuff consisting of coffee mugs and T-shirts. A couple of people offered signed books for sale.
Now, most people will say that writers don’t have the audiences necessary to support such merchandise. Other people will say that “Sure, a fan will want the guitar that a rockstar played on stage. But how many people want a keyboard that a writer used to type his novel?” But surely there has to be something that writers can offer to their fans.
I have some thoughts on why writers don’t offer merchandise or other things for sale on their websites. But first, I’d like to hear your opinions. Why do you think writers don’t try to cash in and make a few extra bucks? Why do you think book fans don’t seem to want to purchase merchandise?