Report: T-shirts Will Save Ailing Media Companies

tribuneshirt120808 Report: T shirts Will Save Ailing Media CompaniesWho needs fancy Chief Innovation Officers (or their imaginary sons)? Wired‘s Clive Thompson just might’ve come up with the solution to all of the big media companies’ problems. As Mr. McGuire counseled young Benjamin Bradock in The Graduate, we have just one word—are you listening—for the Tribune Company, The New York Times Company, CNN, and everyone else: "T-shirts."

Mr. Thompson’s begins Tech Biz column recounting how the creators of Red vs. Blue, the so-called "machinema" series he wrote about in The New York Times back in 2005, went legit through apparel sales:

Increasingly, creative types are harnessing what I’ve begun to call ‘the T-shirt economy’—paying for bits by selling atoms. Charging for content online is hard, often impossible. Even 10 cents for a download of something like Red vs. Blue might drive away the fans. So instead of fighting this dynamic, today’s smart artists are simply adapting to it.

Their algorithm is simple: First, don’t limit your audience by insisting they pay to see your work. Instead, let your content roam freely online, so it generates as large an audience as possible. Then cash in on your fans’ desire to sport merchandise that declares their allegiance to you.

It’s an idea just crazy enough to work!

Just so media companies don’t flood the market with tens of thousands of shoddy T-shirts, Mr. Thompson cautions (via Wired editor Chris Anderson’s long tail theory) that, "As you might expect, the T-shirt economy is a long tail phenomenon, with comparatively few people making a full-time living while millions earn only a few hundred or thousand bucks a year."

So, let’s say you’re the Tribune Company and you just filed for bankruptcy protection (sorry), it’s time to add some more shirts to your online store. (Also, it’s probably time to stop pushing "distressed" anything.)

Or if you’re The New York Times Company and you’re about to use your headquarters to borrow $225 million, you’re gonna need a lot more T-shirts than your store currently has. (And when it comes to offering tips on making your own Keepsake T-Shirt, you’d better tell buyers more than, "Please keep in mind that important events usually hit the paper the day AFTER the date of the event.")

Finally, if you’re CNN, and you recently cut some staff positions, you might want to rethink your whole approach since, seriously, who wants Giant mutant potato weights [sic.] 22 lbs. and Santa freaks out screaming toddlers shirts?