Why Merchandising is Important pt. II
If you don't exercise a modicum of control over the conversation you practically forfeit your claim to the intellectual property (note: I said "practically" not "legally".) It's not necessary to bring down the iron fist of copyright lawsuits to "protect" your claim, although a fertile fanbase can still grow up around tightly controlled properties (Star Wars for instance. Lucas protects his property like a backwoods Southerner with a shotgun, yet Star Wars fanfilms set the standard for all other fanfilms.) What's necessary is giving the fans something to have, and letting them contribute back.
Sometimes it's as simple as selling the t-shirt.
A friend of mine, a guitarist for a punk band, once told me that his band would never sell t-shirts, because they didn't believe in profiteering off of their fans. I told him it's not profiteering if you sell a good product at a fair price. I told him "maybe your fans want to buy the t-shirt. Maybe they want to give something back to you in the form of money for the shirt and free advertising around town." They eventually started selling shirts for a very modest price. Around the same time they released their first cd , a 42 track disc that sold for $8.49. How's that for a marriage of capitalism and punk?!
The point is merchandising doesn't have to be crass and opportunistic. It can be a part of the greater conversation artists should be having with their audiences. It is a chance for fans to own a piece of what they love.