What’s stopping you?

sita_ad_160x600“What’s stopping ME from selling ‘Sita’ DVDs and merch?” I usually get this question from slightly shocked artists and filmmakers after Sita Sings the Blues talks. I’m not stopping them, and the law isn’t stopping them. Yet for some reason, they don’t go out and sell Sita merch once they know this. Why?

I can guess the answer, of course:
expensive
big hassle
DVDs & merch already exist & are available
insufficient incentive to compete
have other, more important things to do

When one artist-filmmaker I know well asked the question, I boldly answered, “nothing – but you won’t.” I know she won’t because she has enough trouble merchandising and promoting her own work; and she’s a good artist, so I know she’ll remain more devoted to her own work than to mine.

That said, a few people (other than me and my Endorsed distributors) are selling Sita merch. One such is Drakar, who also distributed Sita on youtube and elsewhere online. He recently created a small CafePress online shop.

He didn’t ask for my permission or Endorsement*, but states, “This shop is not run by Nina but I will be giving her a significant portion of any profits I might make here (…if and when).” I actually prefer that to negotiating an Endorsement for small-scale projects, because it requires no lawyers or signed contracts. For small amounts of money, who wants to waste any of it on transaction costs?

*Full disclosure: he did email me for some design artwork he couldn’t find online, which I supplied, so the store wasn’t a complete surprise.

In general, I would much prefer you bought Sita merch from the Sita Merch Empire than from a CafePress store. Reasons include: I know the Merch Empire merch is high quality, I personally designed and like all the products there, and a much higher % of the money goes to me. CafePress merch tends to be overpriced for the quality, and CafePress takes almost all the profits unless the seller sets prices absurdly high.sita_ad_120x240

That said, Drakar’s store offers Sita merch that doesn’t exist at the Merch Empire. If I offered mugs, mousepads and stickers, he wouldn’t have needed to make a Cafe Press store in the first place. If he actually sells any, it will demonstrate there is demand for such products. Then I can offer the same or similar products at my store. Drakar is essentially providing free market research, as are any other “competitors.” If any of them do exceptionally well, I’ll know what merch I should be selling.

This is why old-school economists say competition is good for businesses. It is. Too bad there’s so little real competition in our supposedly “free market democracy”.

What’s stopping you from selling ‘Sita’ merch? Not me, and not the law. Yet almost no one’s doing it. Why? What really is stopping you?

6 comments to What’s stopping you?

  • Drakar2007

    This is about as good as an endorsement as I could have hoped for :)

    I’m also now offering something you said you can’t quite yet afford to design and produce: women’s plus-size tees, which I’ve seen requested here and there like in the Facebook group message boards. Of course my designs are far more limited, but at the same time I have the flexibility to change a design and temporarily offer something else if anyone requests it. Of course I have no idea what the quality will be, but at least it means we can have access to limited-quantity stuff.

    Also I do hope to get your official “endorsement” – or at least be allowed to display the CE stamp. (maybe I’m already allowed to? I guess i’d like to have your OK on it first).

  • I think “first mover advantage” is the term of art for this. That’s what’s really stopping most people, even if they don’t use that phrase to describe it.

    First mover advantage is what you have at the Sita Merchandise Empire (and by extension, you’ve given first mover advantage to the endorsed distributors in their respective marketplaces). It means anyone setting up an unrelated shop starts at a disadvantage — so they would need some compelling other advantage to overcome it. As you point out, Drakar has just such an advantage: he’s selling stuff that you don’t sell.

  • @Drakar – at this point, you gotta sign a contract to display the Creator Endorsed logo. It didn’t start this way and it may not end this way, but it’s the case at the moment. Friday is a QuestionCopyright work day, and we can use your case in our discussion about the CE mark.

    Thanks as always for your hands-on participation in the Sita free culture experiment!

  • Aayushi Jain

    Dear Ms. Nina Paley,
    This is Aayushi Jain, a student of Amity University, Noida (India). I am currently working on a research dissertation on the “CHANGING MODES OF FILM DISTRIBUTION AND FINANCING” and would like to request your opinion to some of my questions addressing the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License that you have used for the explicit distribution of “Sita Sings the Blue”. It would be very helpful if you could participate and be a part of this research paper.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Aayushi Jain
    jain_aayushi@ymail.com
    Amity School of Communication
    Amity University, Noida (U.P., India)

  • [...] Power to the Pixel 2009: Nina Paley (Youtube: A FREE DISTRIBUTION CASE STUDY: SITA SINGS THE BLUES: If its free, how do you make money? Seven months after the Copyleft release of her animated musical feature Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley presents the second round of hard data from the project. The more the audience freely shares the film, the more they purchase DVDs, theatre admissions and merchandise. See the ££ numbers that prove it.) See also Paley’s interview on FreeTalk Live on 7/28/10 (last 20 minutes or so); Understanding Free Content; and What’s Stopping You? (Competition as free market research) [...]

  • Nina and Karl,

    Nice going, you two. You have stood copyright on its head with your first-class workaround of a model. I love it.

    Nina, did you notice the commenter somewhere here who said she might still be able to negotiate lower fees with the copyright owners? I hope that can work out.

    Best wishes,
    Andrew

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