If there's one thing you can learn from the media industry, it's that people will always pay money to be entertained. Blockbuster films, binge-worthy TV series, captivating novels, addictive video games and acclaimed Broadway shows all rake in tons of cash for the creative minds behind them. But you don't need to be a member of the Hollywood elite to profit from popular media. These six types of pop culture-based businesses, many of which are started by fans themselves, make their money outside the spotlight.
Themed decor and furniture
How many people might want Dr. Who's Tardis in their home? Or how about a statue of Han Solo frozen in carbonite? Creating and selling themed decor and furniture to fans is something that will never go out of style. While it might take some significant startup capital to make high quality replicas of some of our favorite pop culture icons, there will always be sentimental demand for a piece of decor inspired by cult favorites. Just think of all those people out there just clamoring for a chance to bring the Iron Throne from "Game of Thrones" into their living room. There's nothing like having a morning cup of coffee like the King (or Queen) of the Andals and the First Men, after all. For some inspiration, check out this list of pop culture inspired furniture.
Art and merchandise
Wherever there's a beloved book, TV show or film, there are artists and crafters ready to create and sell their own interpretations of its characters and universe. A quick search on Etsy for popular titles like "Breaking Bad," "Game of Thrones" or "Big Bang Theory" turns up countless apparel items, phone cases, keychains, wall art and other handmade knick-knacks for fans to enjoy. Some truly talented entrepreneurs are even able to build a steady business from their pop culture art, like comic book artist and illustrator Chad Sell, who produces postcards and large prints of RuPaul's Drag Race contestants. [See Related Story: 5 Tips for Etsy Success]
For die-hard members of a pop culture fandom, the best way to immerse themselves in their favorite fictional universe is to dress up as the characters themselves. Whether it's just for Halloween or to attend one of the above-mentioned fan conventions, people are willing to pay top dollar for authentic, tailor-made replicas of character outfits. California-based Cosplay House, for instance, offers made-to-order cosplay costumes, wigs and accessories based on everything from Disney films and comic books to anime and video games. Many of these items sell for upward of $100, or more if the item is a special commission request.
Film-shoot location rentals
Live-action film and television is often shot on-location for a more authentic feel than sound stage and backlot sets. Individuals and organizations frequently rent out their land and buildings to directors looking for the perfect place to film. England's Highclere Castle, more commonly recognized as Downton Abbey, is a well-known example, but there are some stateside properties that generate revenue through film shoots as well. Sands Point Preserve, home of the historic Guggenheim Estate buildings on Long Island, New York's North Shore, has provided locations for numerous projects, such as HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," FX's "The Americans," NBC's "The Blacklist," Showtime's "The Affair," USA Network's "Royal Pains" and Paramount's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Jean-Marie Posner, executive director of the Friends of the Sands Point Preserve, told Business News Daily that in addition to funding the nonprofit organization, film shoots also help to showcase some of the features and buildings of the Preserve and encourage visitors to tour the property and its museums.
Production companies have long capitalized on the popularity of their media products with big-budget theme parks, studio tours and short-term exhibits for fans who want to go behind the scenes of the movies and shows they love. But some fans want to truly live the experience, and companies are willing to give them that. In the fall of 2014, New York City's Eight O'Clock Coffee Co. and Warner Bros. Studios temporarily set up a functioning replica of the famed "Friends" coffee shop, Central Perk, to commemorate the show's 20th anniversary. The New York Times reported that fans lined up around the block, waiting for an hour or more for a chance to drink free coffee, sit on the real Central Perk couch and purchase "Friends" gift shop items.
Another example is the College of Wizardry, a collaborative live-action role-playing festival based on the Harry Potter series to give fans the experience of attending a Hogwarts-like school. The multi-day events, which cost more than $300 to attend, are held at Czocha castle in Poland and include classes, social activities and other magical happenings run by fan volunteers.
Pop culture blogging
You might not be able to make a living, but if you've got a knack for words and a unique perspective on a particular series or genre, you might be able to make some spare cash in advertising revenues through a pop culture-based blog. For example, FemPop, which began as journalist Alex Cranz's blog about feminism and mainstream media, has grown into a full-fledged Web magazine with weekly podcasts, TV recaps and film reviews by a well-rounded staff of contributors. To elevate your publication above "side hobby" status, you'll need to post frequent, compelling content and know how to market it to build up a solid following, especially on social media. BND's guide to turning your blog into a business has some advice for doing just that.
It is important to note that any aspiring entrepreneur in this space should thoroughly research any potential intellectual property-related legal issues before starting up. While the Fair Use Doctrine can sometimes protect artists who want to use copyrighted materials in their work, do your homework to make sure the commercial sale of your products is legal. You can learn more about fan art and Fair Use in this Etsy blog post, or on the U.S. Copyright Office website.
Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko.