Commentary

Can Publishers Profit From High-Growth Podcast Merchandise?

Publishers looking for more ways to mix content and commerce may want to test the waters for merchandise inspired by their podcasts.

The market for podcast merchandise is said to be doubling every year as listeners  show their allegiance to their favorite shows by buying T-shirts, mugs and hoodies, The Wall Street Journalreported this week.

A variety of publishers have started podcasts to broaden their reach outside of their core print and web properties. Those podcasts from traditional publishers range from The New York Times' "The Daily" to National Geographic's "Overheard." Podcasts are a portable format that audiences can consume while doing other things, like commuting, exercising or doing household chores.
Podcast merchandise has "no parallel in traditional media," differing from New Yorker tote bags and ESPN the Magazine fleecewear that publishers give away to incentive people to subscribe, the newspaper reported. That may be so, but publishers traditionally wanted to boost their rate bases to sell advertising space rather than merchandise.
Of course, the dynamic has changed radically in the past decade as advertisers move their spending to digital platforms, which include not only publisher websites, but also search, social media and retailer media networks.

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The shift has pressured publishers to expand their efforts to increase revenue from readers, either through subscriptions, affiliate marketing or direct sales of merchandise.

If there are any lessons from the experience of podcasters in their merchandising strategies, products that are quirky and meaningful only to the most devoted listeners sell the best. Podcast network Stitcher, which sells merchandise through its Podswag.com site, offers T-shirts with phrases such as "Cheese Side Down" or "Don't Be An Irony" that make sense only to listeners of the "The Sporkful" or "The Murder Squad" podcasts, respectively.
The biggest challenge with a merchandising strategy is making it scalable, which is what publishers seek in distributing their core media properties. Boosting scale is difficult when merchandise is too niche-oriented, but that's what makes exclusive items most appealing to devoted podcast fans. Those listeners are most likely to respond to any appeal to support creators by buying their merchandise.

It's less clear whether readers will feel the same attachment to their favorite publications.

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