Get Innovative with Merchandise: Hold an Auction!

Merchandise has become an ever more important part of the making-money-from-animation pie. Services such as Redbubble, Society6 and Etsy have exploded the number of options available to creators and producers alike looking to profit from their wares. That being said, a good old fashioned auction is still a powerful draw for fans.

Via: Likely Looney Mostly Merrie
Via: Likely Looney, Mostly Merrie

Auctions have been a presence in commerce as long as commerce as a concept has existed. Selling to the highest bidder has a certain allure for buyer and seller alike. The latter obviously gets the most value out of whatever it is that they’re selling, and the former gets the dual satisfaction of acquiring an item they desired, and beating out everyone else in the process. It’s an efficient win-win process that has proven remarkably resilient down through the years and equally adaptable to new technologies.

eBay is the purest form of auctioneering that most people would claim to have an understanding of. You can find all sorts of animation merchandise listed, and plenty of artists will use the site as a means of hosting a charity auction. Lauren Faust and Tara Strong are two that make use of their fame and talent to draw the crowds for a good cause.

Where do auctions factor into animation merchandise?

There are a few factors that make auctions appealing when it comes to selling. They act as a magnet for buyers of a similar persuasion (think farmers at a rural auction), and they act as a focal point for those buyers to socialise. Both of these traits make them appealing to the budding animation studio looking to earn some revenue.

Attracting buyers is always going to be appealing. There’s simply nothing like getting a group of people, with money, in the same place at the same time, and have them interested in your business. The likelihood of them spending money is high, and if its your products that are being sold, well then, that’s always nice, isn’t it?

Having an auction act as a focal point is equally as important. Collating fans is not necessarily hard; especially in the internet era, but it can be difficult to do so in the absence of a solid reason. Ever wonder why shows see a lot of activity when they are broadcast that subsequently slows down when the season is finished? Home media releases used to suffice, but as they disappear, there is nothing to replace them.

Some believe that that isn’t necessarily a problem worth worrying about. Netflix’s House of Cards seems to do just fine as it lurches between it’s annual releases. For smaller productions though, there is little reason to leave fans hanging around for such significant lengths of time.

As I’ve discussed here on the blog before, merchandise has to be desirable in order to actually perform its duty. Special and limited edition products can help boost sales, but exclusivity is the ultimate goal. What it comes down to is bragging rights, and the knowledge that the item in question is not only unique, but highly unlikely to be reproduced in the future. Such items are highly desirable, and are prime candidates for auctions.

The Auction Model for Fans

They are not terribly innovative, however, auctions have become routine thanks to eBay and while there is always the excitement factor present, such sites do not provide any engagement for or between fans. The solution is to institute a service or platform of sorts for fans to bid on, and purchase, merchandise.

Consider an auction site where a very limited number of unique pieces of merchandise are up for winning. Fans are encouraged to bid, but as they do, a leaderboard of sorts appears with each fan identified in some way to the rest. As bids are entered, a cut-off amount is highlighted, so fans can see what the minimum successful bid is. As the auction continues, the bids rise until it ends.

There are a few traits of this kind of auction that make it ideal for fans. Firstly, it rallies them around something other than the content, it encourages discussion on forums and elsewhere on the internet about the auction and the content, and lastly, it gives fans something personal and appealing to acquire, while putting money into a studio’s coffers. The leaderboard feature not only lets fans know where their bids stand, but also reinforces the competitive nature of the process.

How many auctions could you hold? Theoretically, as many as you like, or as many as the fan base is willing to support. Ultimately, their success will depend on the quality and appeal of what is offered for sale.

How much could you make? That’s a variable that’s highly dependent on the size of the fanbase, but, the influence of the strength of the fanbase as well as their desire to support their favourite show or film shouldn’t be underestimated.


Getting creative with auctions is just one way where the approach to merchandise can be tinkered with rather than being given a complete overhaul. The benefits to the parties involved are obvious, and as an efficient form of commerce, it does not get the attention it deserves in animation.

1 thought on “Get Innovative with Merchandise: Hold an Auction!”

  1. Chris Niosi, creator of the internet series TOME, ran two auctions for fans to have an original character appear in small bits in a storyline. One bidder won with $1500, and another won bidding twice as much.
    I always felt that was really unique, and I think it’s definitely something future artists should do, especially indie creators.

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