Staying Lean Through Print-on-Demand

If you are an independent artist, you’re also an entrepreneur. Whether your goal is to make just enough from your music to keep creating, or if artistry is your career path - you operate your own small business. The sooner you accept this, the better.

Major labels have seemingly infinite money to develop and market artist merchandise. They have entire departments dedicated to exactly this. But what about you, modest independent musician? How could you possibly stay relevant in a world like that?

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Believe it or not, without millions of dollars at your disposal, you are actually at an advantage. By utilizing lean principles you can automate, optimize and efficiently manage your e-commerce, without the large overhead required in the past. Thanks to print-on-demand, you now have the tools to design products and test them out in the real world - with minimal investment and time from your end.

What exactly is Print-on-Demand?

POD is a service that allows you to design products and put them for sale online, without having to physically create anything. Whenever a customer completes an order, the item is printed, packaged, and shipped. In other words, print-on-demand companies also handle third-party-fulfillment. This makes POD an integral part of any musician’s automated store.

We’ll walk you through the process using Amplifier, however there are many print-on-demand companies that offer similar services. Amazon Merch specializes in branded t-shirts, but is currently invite only. Zazzle, Redbubble and Printful offer a variety of products to be printed on. Fine Art America and Society6 specialize in art prints. Before we dive into POD, let’s talk about what it means to be lean.

Lean Principles Applied

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As an independent artist, you’ll try many strategies that don’t work. It’s by going through this process continuously that you find your sweet spot - a place where your music, merchandise and fans’ preferences perfectly intersect. To operate leanly means to reduce your initial investment when developing new products, and instead get something up for sale as soon as possible. The ultimate goal is to quickly figure out what the customer wants and is willing to pay for. This underlying concept was made popular by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup, and discussed in great detail on his website and podcast.

Print-on-demand perfectly illustrates lean principles in action. Bulk ordering merchandise is no longer necessary. Never again will you have to guess the quantity you’ll need of each size. As we mentioned in our musician’s automated store intro, how to order the right sizes of t-shirts has been an unsolved problem for generations. Ordering 500 t-shirts is undoubtedly a nerve racking ordeal. For an artist just starting out with an online store, bulk purchases are risky.

Print-On-Demand in Action

When you subscribe to Amplifier’s Starter Plan, you’ll have access to their design studio. Select which product you’d like to create then decide how much to markup the price. Pick a starting color, upload your logo or art and position it on the product. Hit save and when you’re ready and upload the design to your Shopify store to start selling.

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Print-on-demand makes A/B testing easy and instantaneous. You can create 2 different designs and put them both for sale on your artist store. Keep what sells, adjust the price if you’d like, then take down what people aren’t buying. You can experiment with tons of products: t-shirts, hoodies, posters, phone cases, popsockets, and bandanas, to name just a handful. By avoiding a large upfront bulk purchase of merchandise, you are mitigating nearly all of your risk.

Amplifier offers print-on-demand service in parallel with fulfillment. Meaning… you can sell print on demand products and items that you’ve ordered in bulk side by side in your shop. Amplifier will handle the fulfillment of both.

Say you test out a print-on-demand product that ends up selling really well. You could analyze your store data and predict future sales of this specific product. Through the same Amplifier design interface, you can order this exact product in bulk, increasing your profit on each product sold. Take this as far as you want; you can do basic calculations for every product in your store to determine when to order in bulk. POD allows you incredible flexibility. Test away without drowning in overhead costs.

Be You.

Ultimately it’s up to you, the artist, to choose which tools that work for your music and career. If your goal is simply to keep making music, create few print-on-demand products and essentially let your store run itself. If you want to maximize the revenue of your business and create a lasting and identifiable brand, focus on analytics and adapt.

Print-on-demand services are generally built to be hands-off, or “set and forget”. For the first time, you as the artist don’t have to rely on a major label to have access to affordable design, manufacturing, and automation. You can set up various aspects of your business and continue doing what you love.

Up next in our Automated Store Series: The Musician’s CRM.

-Joe