There’s a reason why every big YouTube creator has gotten into the business of selling merchandise.
I’m sure you’ve seen it. Take for example SimplyNailogical’s Halo Taco brand, a line of premium nail polish in gorgeous finishes and colors. Or Chamberlain Coffee, which started with cold brew bags and has expanded to apparel, matcha, and coffee accessories. On the Mythical store you can find items including shirts, hair products, and kitchen towels.
These creators know that they’re running a business, and a successful business finds ways to diversify its revenue.
Relying on advertising and brand deals can be fickle—it comes down to the whims of third parties and algorithms. And, as we know, there’s a history of platforms simply disappearing overnight (RIP Vine).
More than ever, YouTube creators are also realizing that selling merchandise and other products can bring big returns while also energizing their fan base. And the best part is that the creator is in full control, including designing the merch, running the shop, and promoting their goods. No algorithm required.
You don’t need millions of subscribers to start selling—in fact, starting early can help grow your channel. Read on to find out why you should start selling merch and how to get started.
How to make merch—and money—as a YouTuber
As a creator, you already have the skills to get your own merch shop up and running to support your business. Read on to learn how to make merch for YouTube.
Why you should sell merch as a YouTuber
From the outside looking in, being a content creator on YouTube sounds like the ultimate way to achieve career freedom. But the truth is more complicated.
Creators on any platform are too often beholden to other people or companies, whether that’s pleasing YouTube’s requirements for becoming a partner who can run ads, or courting brand deals. Making money as a creator this way means playing by someone else’s rules.
The traditional way to make money on YouTube is through the partner programs, but that has requirements.
Currently, to join the partner program, you need at minimum:
- 1,000 subscribers
- 4,000 valid public watch hours in the last 12 months
- No active community guidelines strikes on your channel
- To be compliant with YouTube’s monetization policies
- To live in a country where the program is available
Only then can you apply, and even then, admission isn’t guaranteed. If you are accepted, YouTube is free to suspend your ad revenue or even suspend or remove your channel if it decides you’ve broken a rule.
Getting into the program requires clearing a big hurdle and then leaving your fate in the hands of YouTube’s automated moderation, which has in the past been accused of wrongly demonetizing creators.
What’s become clear is that YouTube creators who make it big know how to protect their independence.
Truly owning your business as a creator means taking back control from YouTube, and merch is one way to get there.
Creating and selling products is a revenue stream that you have full control over, which means you also reap all the rewards. You can set up a store on your own without negotiations or contracts while retaining full autonomy of your brand and values.
For fans, it also offers a way to support you while getting something in return that also has the added bonus of promoting your channel.
By selling merch, you maintain a revenue stream that is protected from these issues and that you can start without needing to be in the partner program. That means you can start making money even with a lower subscriber count.
Truly owning your business as a creator means taking back control from YouTube, and merch is one way to get there. It even has the possibility to surpass what you make from ads.
What to sell as a YouTube creator
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of items you can consider selling as a YouTube creator: fan merchandise and products that you create. There are pros and cons to each approach, and a long-term strategy is to consider how to sell both.
Selling fan merchandise
Creating traditional merchandise is the classic way to offer products to fans. Think of the shirts you can buy at a concert or a branded water bottle. These are items that carry slogans or images associated with your channel that fans can wear and use to show support for your work as a creator.
These can include:
- Enamel pins
Basically anything you can print with your branding is a good candidate for merch.
Scott Walter is the creator behind Miniac, a channel with 303,000 subscribers that focuses on the miniature figurine hobby. On his channel, he posts about table-top gaming and the intricate art of painting miniatures. He’s successfully carved out a niche on YouTube and has a store to go along with it that sells both merch for fans and products for fellow miniature enthusiasts.
His offerings include shirts and hats inspired by both miniatures and his love of metal music.
The benefits of this sort of fan merch is that it’s generally easy to create, especially with on-demand printing options (which we’ll talk about later). This also means the merch can be very cost effective—with so many options out there for printing merch, you don’t have to worry about sourcing original products, keeping an inventory, or even dealing with shipping if you use an on-demand service. All of that saves you both time and money.
There’s also an established market for these products. Fans already know to look for these items and probably have already bought them in the past from other creators or media that they’re a fan of. Plus, every time a fan wears or uses your merch, it’s advertising for your channel to their friends and family.
The downside is that these aren’t the most unique offerings. But you can improve that by focusing on creating exclusive and interesting designs. These products are also typically lower-cost for fans, so your revenue per item may be lower than a product you’ve made yourself.
Selling products you create
Creating your own products from scratch have potential to bring in higher revenue, but they take a lot more work.
We’ve seen this in some of the other examples mentioned, like Holo Taco, Chamberlain Coffee, or makeup palettes. These are products that were designed, sourced, manufactured, and sold by the creator who owns them.
All of this takes time and money, which, as a small creator, you may be short on, but there are still ways to make it happen. Rather, you can start with something less complex. Think of what your niche is as a creator and how you can share that with your fans.
Creating products could be as simple as:
- PDF instructions for a craft or project
- Handmade items like jewelry
- Workshops or one-on-one lessons
- Art prints
- Audio tracks
- Digital recipe collections
All of these are valuable to your fans because they’re unique offerings that only you can provide.
How to make and sell merch on YouTube
If you’re just starting out selling products as a YouTube creator, fan merch is a smart and cost-effective way to launch a store.
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How to design your own merch for YouTube
The first big question you’ll have is what exactly you should put on your merchandise. The good news is you don’t need to be a skilled illustrator or graphic designer yourself to get your hands on unique, high-quality designs.
First, think about how the branding of your channel could translate into a design. You could use your logo, slogans you say during videos, or even illustrations of your face.
Let’s take a look at Mythical, for example. Their YouTube channel, Good Mythical Morning, is known for its two hosts, Rhett and Link, as well as the games they play involving whacky food creations.
Using that, they have merch that hits a variety of angles, such as:
- A simple logo on a tie-dye t-shirt
- Images of the hosts
- References to inside jokes
- Custom illustrations
Taking those as inspiration, you can probably already imagine what merch would look like for your channel.
You can design your merch if you’re a savvy designer. If you’re not, there are plenty of places where you can find artists who can create designs for you.
You can also try Shopify’s free logo maker if you’re just getting started with branding your channel.
By browsing through these sites you’re bound to find a designer whose style matches your vision for your own merch.
Set up your store
There are a variety of services available who court YouTube creators looking to sell merch. They streamline the process of selling merch, but the downside is that you have far less control over the look and feel of your shop, as well as what products you can sell.
Scott initially sold his merch on RedBubble, an on-demand printer, but ended up switching to Shopify so that he could sell apparel alongside products he created himself.
“We’re able to sell merch for the channel, but also product for the channel, on one website, which is nice for the buying experience. You don’t have to go to different places to get different things,” he says.
Scott also says Shopify offers the advantage of being able to create a more complex website for his channel, with a blog and other information.
Ready to start selling merch? Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify—no credit card required.
Using print on demand to make your merch
You’ll want to check out different printers and see what types of products they offer and where they ship to. All will offer a range of apparel, such as t-shirts and hoodies, as well as various materials, sizes, and colors. You can also look to see what other products they offer, like mugs, tumblers, mouse pads, or other home goods.
Once you choose a printer and add it as an app in your Shopify store, you can begin uploading your designs and placing them on products. You’ll then set a price and transfer the product to your store, where fans can start buying it.
The advantage of on-demand printing is that the printing service takes care of printing and shipping the orders, so your only job is to run and promote your shop. This takes away the hassle of sourcing items and printing products yourself, which means you don’t have to keep an inventory of items that may or may not sell right away.
How much do YouTubers make from merch sales?
Exactly how much money YouTube creators make is usually a closely guarded secret. Some creators are a little more open than others. Jeffree Star, for example, has often showed off his lavish lifestyle and alluded that his cosmetics line and merch business brings in millions.
On her SimplyNailogical podcast, Chrstine and partner Ben have said their nail polish business has a high volume of sales and is profitable, even with the cost of employees, warehousing, and designing custom bottles.
In fairness though, these are celebrity-tier creators with millions of subscribers. You’re probably starting from somewhere smaller.
Scott says revenue can vary, but he estimates that up to 50% of his overall revenue is coming from online store sales.
To break that down, he says the majority of his revenue comes from products he created himself, including an exclusive miniature he had manufactured that he sells for $49.99, along with digital instruction for how to paint it. This makes up anywhere from 30% to 40% of his revenue.
The other 10% to 20% comes from more straight-forward merchandise, like t-shirts and posters.
The rest of his revenue as a creator comes from a combination of ads on YouTube, Amazon affiliate links, Patreon, and sponsorships.
Scott says the key is being able to offer something unique. He said that, for example, someone who posts one video a week could make much more from product sales generated by a video than whatever it makes from ad placements.
“If you can create something that gives value to your audience, it’s a huge revenue stream,” he says.
It obviously stands to reason that the more you grow your subscribers and views, the more you can potentially make from merchandise sales. However, even a small creator has potential to have a significant portion of their revenue come from those sales.
How to promote your merch on YouTube
Once you have merch available, your fans need to know about it.
Many creators will post a video announcing the launch of a merch line to get fans excited, as well as announce it on other platforms, such as Instagram or Twitter.
Moving forward, you should include a link to your store underneath all your videos, in your YouTube bio, and in your bio on other platforms as well. And don’t forget to make announcements when you add new items to your collection!
Grow your YouTube channel with merch
Getting started with selling merch as a YouTube creator doesn’t require having a ton of subscribers. You already have all the tools you need to start making income independent of YouTube and its algorithm, restrictions, and partner program.
Making it as a YouTube creator means creating a sustainable business that can thrive through whatever the platform throws your way, and starting your own shop can help get you there.
Feature image by Gabrielle Merite