More Than Half the T-Shirts Sold on Amazon Are Counterfeit…

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(Amazon’s publicly-posted anti-counterfeit policy)


If you’ve purchased a band t-shirt on Amazon, there’s a good chance it’s fake.  According to research conducted by Andy Young of merch-focused startup Tunipop, more than half of the band t-shirts floating around on Amazon are complete knock-offs.  Young surveyed 100 of the top US artists, and discovered the following:

  • 51 artists had merchandise available on Amazon.
  • Out of those, 47% had products that were only available as counterfeits.
  • The other 53% had a mix of authentic and ‘questionable’ items available.

Frankly, the list of artists doesn’t matter. Just pick one,” Young told Digital Music News.  “The problem is almost across the board inside Amazon.”

“So, where is the outrage from the industry?  How can artists, suppliers and management be so quiet when millions of dollars are at stake?”

Part of the answer, according to Young, is that most merchandise (including t-shirts) are sold on the road.  Young estimates that 80% is sold at venues, in usually controlled environments (ie, at a stand at the gig).  The remaining 20% is sold online, so it’s harder to dedicate resources to policing it.

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Maybe that makes sense, though it’s similar to what the recording industry thought about MP3s in the 90s.  But physical piracy is becoming easier and cheaper, especially with inexpensive raw materials and screening technologies now available.  Enter more sophisticated 3D printing and technologies, and this will become a growing headache for bands across all merchandising items.

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Wall Street Journal, May 11th: Do You Know What’s Going in Your Amazon Shopping Cart?

Actually, this is already a headache for everyone, not just artists.  A number of Amazon sellers and buyers are growing frustrated with fakes, a potential by-product of Amazon’s ‘co-mingling’ shipping system that combines Amazon’s mainline service with third-party suppliers.

But when it comes to bands, the problem could be awareness and policing: either bands don’t know about it, or if they do, they don’t have the resources to do anything about it.


7 Responses

  1. UrSongSucks

    Do bands really even profit from merch sales anyway? From what I understood, venues and labels are the ones who benefit from these sales. I could care less about supporting the label of a band who doesn’t even put out any of their music anymore or only cuts the band a check of a fraction of a percent of sales.

    • Tunipop

      Unless an artist’s has a “360 Deal”, which is rare, the labels do not participate in merchandise revenue. Merchandise is a completely different deal. For the acts that license their merchandise to a 3rd party like Live Nation or Global, these artists are paid a cash advance for the right to sell their merchandise into certain geographies (global, USA, Europe, etc) and sales channels (concerts, retail, wholesale, etc.). Once the advance is recouped, the merch company will then split net profits with the artists through the term of the deal.

      The merch company takes care of design approvals, cost of manufacturing, logistics, staffing to manage concert sales, and fulfillment for online retail. Typically driven by a tour, not all artists meet the threshold in terms of number of shows and ticket sales to be interesting to a licensing house to take the risk on an advance. The vast majority of Indie and less established artists, do not license their merchandise, they simply do not have the pull to make licensed deal workable, which is similar in some respects to a record deal.

      Many artists (including some very big ones) choose to manage parts of the merchandise business themselves, either the concert sales, online sales, or both. If managed efficiently concert merchandise sales can be very profitable and there applications like atVenu that are providing needed visibility into what used to be a fairly “loose” process, with a lot of cash transactions and inventory slippage. Depending on the venue and other factors, there can be concession fees paid out for concert sales, which increases the cost of goods, and part of the reason we have $50 t-shirts.

      That said, the point of the article is about the convergence of digital content and commerce, where consumer products are being injected into the digital experience to drive incremental new revenues. The problem is there is no way to know what is authorized or fake in Amazon’s product feed, and that is a very big problem, not just for musicians, but all copyright/IP owners.

      • 3pm Shield

        We did a similar study for a high profile license. Happy to discuss findings and solutions.

        3PM Shield is a full service marketplace solution for consumer product companies. We will increase your sales while protecting your brand from 3rd party sellers who infringe upon your copyright or trademark.