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Screen Printers Must Take Advantage of the New Creator Economy

Here are three steps you can take to capitalize on a clear economic opportunity.

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RECENT YEARS HAVE seen a stark rise in the popularity and viability of alternative economies – many of which rely upon new technologies as their base. One of the leaders of this new wave of economic opportunities has been the creator economy.

Built around various content platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok (and many others), the creator economy is composed of creators of all kinds, with varying levels of subject matter and content type, and the number of people partaking in it is growing rapidly every year. According to the most recent estimates in a report from SignalFire, the multibillion-dollar creator economy is made up of approximately 50 million people today, with many of those looking to monetize their content and brand.

There are many avenues for creators to monetize their content and brand – such as garnering income from ad placements on content on YouTube or leveraging sponsorship opportunities from relevant brands – but there is one area of monetization that has provided the greatest opportunity for creators: selling branded merchandise to their audience.

Countless creators have already found a way to leverage this avenue of monetization by successfully selling their own branded merchandise – such as T-shirts and other apparel items or alternative merch options like keychains or mugs – that have been designed to connect them and their brand identity to their audience and its specific interests.

This has created a significant opportunity for printers and other merchandise manufacturers to leverage the creator economy to generate new streams of income.

If printers and merchandise manufacturers can engineer a way to connect with creators who want to monetize their content and brand through the sales of merchandise, and provide them the printing and merch options they are looking for, it can result in a very lucrative opportunity for all.

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One example of a company who was able to tap into the creator economy to great success is TeeSpring (since rebranded to Spring), who were one of the very first companies to capitalize on the trend of creators branding themselves and monetizing that brand through merchandise.

TeeSpring was founded in 2010, and while they initially pivoted a few times in the services they provided, they eventually found their place in the market in 2012 by providing a process for creators to start crowdfunding campaigns for their own customized merchandise. Due to their heavy influence in the gamer community, TeeSpring eventually became the official merchandise provider for streaming platform Twitch in 2014, and have enjoyed massive financial success in the years since then thanks to their strategic movement into the creator economy.

And this type of success does not need to be limited to selling branded T-shirts, as even TeeSpring diversified their offerings in recent years to provide a much larger range of merchandise products, leading to nearly $50M in sales of non-apparel product offerings as recently as 2020.

Obviously, not all printers and merchandise retailers can expect to reach the levels of success of TeeSpring, but the opportunity is there for those able to take advantage of it.

Another major area of opportunity for merchandise sales in the creator economy is custom sticker printing, which has gained significant momentum in recent years. A great example of a company who has taken advantage of this trend to provide custom sticker printing services to creators of all kinds is StickerYou, among many others.

So as merchandise printers and manufacturers look to emulate this success in their own way and tap into this economic opportunity to stake a claim to the business available within the creator economy, it is important for them to try to understand creators, their needs, and the best places to connect with them.

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First and foremost, printers and merchandise retailers need to ensure they are providing quality products, both in terms of the quality of printing as well as the quality of the item that is being printed on.

Secondly, to capitalize on an ever-diversifying creator economy, they need to provide a wide range of merchandise options that goes beyond just T-shirts.

While some creators will only be looking for the basics – like shirts, hoodies, mugs, etc. – there will be many others looking for merchandise options that align more specifically with their content and their audience. For example, a YouTube creator who makes videos about traveling may be looking for branded travel planner books or document carrier bags, or a content creator who makes videos about winter sports might be looking for branded toques or mittens.

Covering every type of merchandise that a creator could possibly be looking for is a near impossible task, but providing as much diversity in your product offerings as is financially feasible for your business model, can be key in attracting business from the creator economy.

And lastly, they need to arrange a way to meet creators where they are – which is on a variety of digital channels including social media like Twitter, streaming platforms like Twitch, and in online communities like Discord – to promote their printing and merchandise services. Making the investment to diversify promotion and marketing efforts through digital channels like this can be a key step in capitalizing on the creator economy.

So, with a clear economic opportunity ahead of them, and major demand in the market for their services, merchandise printers and sellers who can find a way to meet this need can set themselves up for success now and far into the future as the creator economy continues its meteoric rise.

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Matias Colotuzzo is the co-founder and CEO of Vexels, a graphic design company focused on merch, print-on-demand, and unique designs. He is a born entrepreneur, launching his first web design company at 19. His business intelligence and interest in development propelled him to join the Uruguayan Chamber of Information Technologies (CUTI), a non-profit incubator that helps businesses and mentors entrepreneurs. He served as both a director and board member at CUTI.    Matias has overseen the considerable growth in Vexels, which started with seven teammates in 2016 to more than 100 employees today. He is constantly looking for new ways to combine technology with daily tasks while improving the web experience. 

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