I am actually on the fence about merch cuts, for the following reason:
Ever since Brexit, probably 90% of bands of 'bigger than just a van' size (or any band doing fly-in dates) are having merch printed and shipped directly to venues in order to avoid paying customs fees etc. In Ireland, most of these acts are also leaving unsold merch at the venue to be picked up by a courier at a later date.
All of this really does require someone at the venue to be on top of dealing with courier companies and arranging for deliveries and pick-ups, Anyone who has ever had a courier company come to pick anything up to be shipped will know just how much of an absolute fucking pain in the hole they are to deal with - they are an absolute fucking nightmare.
I was working at a gig recently, where the merch guy for the band had arranged for a delivery to the venue on the day of the gig. No merch cut on this gig, band looking after it themselves, arranged in advance. Delivery company was told not to try delivery before 11am, as there would be nobody there to receive it until that time.
Day of the gig, courier company turned up at venue at 9.30am, left delivery slip saying it would be returned to sorting office or whatever, and would have to be picked up from there. Merch guy gets to venue about 11am, immediately has to ring them to ask what the fuck, and tell them he is on his way out to collect it. Company tells him "it won't be back there until 5pm" - so come 4.30 pm, off merch guy goes in a taxi, expecting to get back about 6pm with just enough time to be ready for doors open at 7pm.
Merch guy gets back to venue with merch about 7.45 pm, 45 minutes after doors, has to organise his merch shit with a crowd standing waiting for him. Turns out he got to depot at 5pm, and the merch didn't arrive back into the depot until about 7pm – after they told him it would have been 10pm. Except that he was there himself and went fucking mental threatening to sue them for lost revenue, he wouldn't have got that merch in time to sell at all, and the whole cost of printing etc would have just been down the drain.
So basically, if you're getting your merch shipped to a venue and expect the venue to deal with delivery etc., absolutely the venue needs someone in charge of that shit so taking a cut is fair enough.
If on the other hand, you're travelling with the merch or dealing with the merch shit yourself, and have your own person in charge of selling etc etc, then yeah merch cuts are a load of bollox then - but like I say, since Brexit a huge amount of acts aren't carrying the merch themselves to avoid customs and carnet shit.
I remember hearing about this absolutely cursed practice and being under the impression it was something that was growing but mostly something you'd come across in the US etc.
I was working on an startup idea a few years back before companies like SumUp etc. (which still have some limitations for touring bands) were more freely available. The idea revolved around mobile based ordering/payment of merch. Everyone has a mobile phone after all. I did a lot of merch related research at the time.
I was pretty shocked to learn that it happens here! For example, if I recall correctly, the Opera House here in Cork takes a pretty staggering 20% of your merch sales, and they provide zero additional service for this. They give you a corner, but that's it. Maybe they give you a fold up table? A 20% tax for the privilege of selling your own merch.
I can't remember who it was, but I heard a story about some well-known band who ended up selling their merch outside the Ambassador, or at least threatening to do so, as a fuck you to the promoters, who were trying to charge them.
My understanding from my research is that a lot of large venues, and especially festivals, will take a cut — but usually this is because you hand over your merch and they'll actually sell it for you. I mean, in that case they are providing a service, maybe it's worth the money, especially if you're a big artist who's going to sell a lot of shit.
But I cannot see how to defend taking a cut for nothing. It's going to happen to smaller bands, who have no leverage in the situation, and who are certainly not getting a cut of the bar — so it feels a bit like "this is a shitty thing to do but we can do it and there's nothing you can do about it... so we're doing it. Fuck you".
It feels like merch is the final frontier for artists, it used to be a way to make a few quid on the road — but increasingly it seems that labels and venues are looking at this and saying "here's another transaction point we can inject ourselves into and extract value".
If you're going to target smaller bands, at least provide some service for it... I've noticed a lot of smaller bands are often too disorganised or understaffed to have their merch game together
Pretty intrigued to learn about this practice of bands sending their merch to venues in advance of shows. I've heard of merch management/fulfilment companies, and I guess they're playing a part here. I mean, it's a different kettle of fish, and sorta shitty in its own way.