Selling ad space getting a little tough? Sell T-Shirts!

Courtesy of Flickr user quartermaneWhen we talk about commercial enterprises on the web, we’re usually talking about two different types of websites, with two very different approaches to generating revenue.

On one hand, there are ecommerce websites—businesses that sell products and/or services online.

And then you have content-driven websites—businesses that either create or curate content on the web, such as news sites, blogs, and even social media spots like YouTube and Facebook.

For content-driven websites, or even content in print, for that matter, monetization is typically limited to advertising—the selling of ad space. This model, however, leaves businesses at the mercy of a fickle advertising market, which has been in a substantial recession since last spring.

So what’s a content provider to do?

The New York Times will be moving towards a subscription-based model for their web content next year. But what if you’re not a big shot like the New York Times—the paper of record? Sure, millions may be willing to pay a flat fee to read Times content, but what about your blog?

This all brings me to an interesting panel discussion I attended at South by Southwest Interactive last week, called “Merch – The Other White Meat of Monetization.”

In a nutshell, the panelists, which included Mikhail Ledvich of BustedTees.com, discussed the benefits, and challenges, of content-driven websites moving towards a merchandising model as a source of additional revenue. For those of you who may not be familiar with BustedTees.com, this website actually began as an effort to further monetize its sister website, CollegeHumor.com.

If your content-driven website has a dedicated or passionate audience, selling merchandise can give your readers a way to be active “patrons of the arts,” so to speak, for your content, in much the same way fans actively support CollegeHumor by purchasing funny t-shirts from BustedTees.

So if selling merchandise, or merch, seems like something your content-driven business would like to do, here’s a quick checklist of things to consider.

1. Have something worthwhile to sell

If you have a comedy blog, selling funny t-shirts makes sense, but if your blog is about, say, food culture in southern California, you may want to consider regional cookbooks or something that is naturally connected to the content of your blog.

2. Add a shop page or shopping cart to your site

BustedTees.com might be a separate website from CollegeHumor.com, but this doesn’t mean you’ll need a whole new website just to sell merchandise. Contact your web master to see how you can add a shopping cart to your site. This can be as easy as installing a cart application, like the Newtek Cart, to your hosting account.

3. Get a low-fee Merchant Account to process payments

If this is your first stab at ecommerce, you’ll want to minimize your cost by going with a payment solution that doesn’t kill you with fees. Avoid solutions that come with annual or start up fees. Check out our NewtPay & NewPay Pro merchant solutions.

So what do you think of “merch” as an option to bring in additional revenue for content-driven websites? If you’re already selling products from your content-based site, let us know about your experiences.

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