Value is a subjective matter: what is expensive to me might seem cheap to you. Many YouTubers have faced criticism over the prices they charge for their merchandise, or merch. But is it so expensive? And if it is, why?
Is merch really expensive?
Part of the criticism is because of comparisons to totally different retailers. It is easy to take a YouTuber’s T-shirt or hoodie prices and find cheaper alternatives. PewDiePie, for example, charges $35 for a T-shirt when you could pop into Walmart and get three, and over $20 change, for that price.
That argument also fails to acknowledge that there are many high-end labels which charge several hundred dollars for a T-shirt. But it’s in these comparisons that we can start understanding how and why YouTuber merchandise is priced at the level it is.
Comparison to Retailers
Most importantly, we aren’t actually comparing like-for-like. A YouTuber’s exclusive shirt is not a Walmart or a fashion label shirt. Clothing retailers are often huge organizations with teams to design, buy materials and make the clothing. Shipping and distribution is needed and the stores also need managers and customer service staff.
Your favorite YouTuber may be talented, but their talent is in making videos. They simply would not have time to make videos if they had to manage clothing retail.
How YouTubers sell merch
Instead, many YouTubers rely on on-demand manufacturers, like Printify or Sellfy. These businesses essentially make and sell the product which the YouTuber has advertised. However, unlike retail giants they do not take a risk on what will sell. Instead of producing thousands of items that need to be stored, they make each item just as it is purchased. This eliminates waste but removes any economies of scale that come with mass production.
They also need to make their profit which adds to the final cost. That T-shirt already costs significantly more than the Walmart multi-pack before it even gets close to a YouTuber’s logo or catchphrase.
The YouTuber gets to decide the final price, but by that stage even a basic T-shirt will be around $20. To keep the price reasonable the margin can be tiny. For any except the most popular YouTuber, it’s unlikely they would get more than a dollar or two per sale. In most merch sales the manufacturer likely makes more profit than the YouTuber.
What you are really buying
There’s one other important factor when considering the expense of YouTube merch. If you just wanted the function of a shirt, you could just buy a T-shirt from Walmart. With YouTuber merch you are paying for something else.
First, you are showing you are a fan of that YouTuber by buying their exclusive products. Second, you are also giving them your practical financial support. For many YouTubers having the additional income stream from merch is what makes having a YouTube channel possible.
Merch may seem expensive if you compare it to a big retailer, but you aren’t just buying a shirt or a cap to wear. The production of merch is expensive when compared to normal retail because you are not buying a normal retail product.
YouTuber merch is different because it tends to be made to order. Perhaps most importantly, you are also paying a little towards the making of the next YouTube video you’ll be sharing and hitting the like button on.