FAC launches campaign against venue merch commissions, urges ‘100% Venues’ to sign up to new directory


January 19, 2022

The UK’s Featured Artists Coalition has launched a new initiative to identify and champion the music venues that do not charge any commissions on merchandise sales. It follows an online debate about those commissions last month sparked by a tweet from Tim Burgess of The Charlatans.

In his tweet Burgess said: “Big respect to those venues that don’t take a percentage of a band’s merch sales. This isn’t about The Charlatans, it’s about those bands who need merch income to survive. Some places take 25% – a quarter of the full selling price. Vinyl doesn’t even have that mark up to begin with”.

It’s generally larger venues that expect to charge a commission on merchandise sales that take place on their premises alongside an artist’s gig. Many of those venues actually enter into deals with merchandising companies, and its those third parties which then expect a cut of each artist’s merch money.

Merch commissions of this kind have been a bugbear for touring artists for years, especially those acts who are big enough to be playing the venues where such commissions are common, but for whom merch income is still crucial for ensuring that a tour is profitable.

Some of the third party merch companies that have deals with venues do provide a staff member to oversee the merch sales on which they are taking a commission. Though many artists argue that they’d rather have a member of their own team doing that work, as they are often better at engaging with fans and upselling other products.

Among the artists to follow up on the Burgess tweet on merch commissions was Peter Hook, who ran through the other costs of making and selling merch, arguing that any venue commission can basically wipe away the profit margin. “I have been arguing with venues (mainly larger ones) about this for years”, he said on Twitter. “Charging the band 25% commission on the gross of anything sold makes having merchandise for most bands a total vanity project”.

The FAC is now putting together a directory of all the UK venues that do not charge any commissions on merchandise sales, and is encouraging those venues to add themselves to said directory via its website. Once the directory is fully populated, both artists and fans will then be able to see which venues operate an artist-friendly policy when it comes to merch sales.

“The relationship between artists and venues in the music ecosystem is essential and inseparable”, says the FAC. “One of the key revenue sources for touring artists is the sale of merchandise at gigs. Often, that revenue represents the difference between a gig breaking even or losing money”.

Noting that it previously raised the issue of merch commissions via the gigging kitemark scheme it launched with the Association Of Independent Promoters last year, the FAC restates its opposition to “the imposition of punitive fees for selling merchandise, where those fees are not directly related to the cost of doing so”, adding: “When fans buy merchandise from artists that they love, they want and expect that their money will go to supporting that artist”.

Commenting on the new initiative, called the 100% Venues Directory, FAC CEO David Martin says: “These 100% Venues are leading the way, enabling artists to take home 100% of merchandise revenue. This makes selling merchandise at gigs worthwhile for artists, creating a fairer and more sustainable touring circuit, particularly for grassroots and emerging talent”.

The new scheme is also supported by the aforementioned Hook, who adds: “You’re treated like gods in the dressing room and then robbed blind on the merchandise stall. I fully support this campaign and have been very vocal about this injustice to artists and fans for years”.

Venues can add themselves to the new directory here.

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