Merchandising Your Characters

Building a Cartoon Entertainment Website for Fun and Profit

Part Four — Transforming Success Into Dollars

Merchandising Your Characters

Throughout the history of Hollywood, cartoons have generally made more money in character merchandising than from their earnings in movie theaters. The recent history of DVD sales has surpassed that, but that’s almost irrelevant to our discussion. The main point is that even if we, as independents, have to give our cartoons away for free on the internet to attract a large audience, we can still make money in character merchandising — which involves selling characters’ images on T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters and a wide variety of other items.

In the past it was necessary to invest a lot of money in the manufacture, storage and shipping of these items to retailers, who in turn would keep half of the retail price, which was most of the profit after all the initial costs. But today all that has changed.

There are now at least two main companies in the U.S. that specialize in manufacturing such products for anyone on an as-needed basis: Cafe Press and Zazzle. These companies also display the product images for you on their website, take your customers’ orders, handle the billing, and ship the items directly to the customers, bypassing the retail stores, and pay you a royalty on the items sold. Anyone can set up an account for free with either of these companies. In my case, I just paid Michael Caroff, who built my website, to set up my account for me — we went with Zazzle, but both companies are quite similar — and I have heard from various people that Cafe Press and Zazzle are set up in a manner that should be easy for a newcomer to navigate, to establish an account.

More specifically, they work like this: You send them a picture of your cartoon (or logo, or whatever) and indicate what types of items you expect that people might want to purchase, such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, caps, sports ties, posters, etc. — and both companies have literally thousands of items to choose from, that your cartoon or logo or photo can be printed on — and they will set up a separate page (or pages) for you on their website, showing pictures of how your image will look, positioned on the items that you select — plus additional pages with ordering information — including, for example, pictures and prices of all different styles and sizes of t-shirts, and in several different selections of colors of cloth (such as black t-shirts, white t-shirts, grey, brown, red, etc.). (In my case, I’m using a picture of Viagri in full color, with gradational colors, to be printed on such t-shirts. And she looks fantastic in her red dress on a black t-shirt!)

Typically, you make a prominent mention of your character merchandising on your blog or website and when people click on that, they are linked to your page on Cafe Press or Zazzle. Your customers place their orders with these companies — even if they just order a single item — and the company collects the payment in whatever form the customer chooses — credit card, check, PayPal, whatever — and manufactures in one day the item(s) ordered, and ships the item(s) to the customer. The customer also pays whatever relevant sales taxes and shipping. Then at the end of each month the company mails a check to you, which is a royalty payment for each item sold. (As a royalty payment, you don’t have to fill out endless tax forms to pay sales taxes to your county or state, because you are not the retailer.) The amount of royalty payments vary depending on the types of items sold and their specific retail prices, but it approximates the profit margin that you would probably clear if you were doing all this yourself. Typically, for example, a t-shirt sells for about $25, and your royalty on that item is about $5.


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