How JSTOR Merch Became an Obsession for Academics on the Internet
Some brands have enough draw that all of their drops sell out within minutes. The Supremes and Palaces of the world can just slap their logo on anything and it's instantly a hit.
Companies have been trying to emulate that exclusive hype model for a while now through limited releases and small capsule collections, but there's nothing like genuine exclusivity.
One unlikely brand has seen how much its customers want branded merchandise after its e-commerce platform went on hiatus. That brand is JSTOR, the online platform for academics and students to locate primary resources for their research and education.
JSTOR started selling branded products like T-shirts, hats, stickers and even a "future scholar" onesie in 2011 after seeing a college student's JSTOR tattoo, according to Input Magazine.
In 2018, JSTOR took its merchandise platform down to find a new vendor. That hiatus was extended by the pandemic. During that break, people took to resale sites to sell their JSTOR products, like the especially popular "dad hat," and knock-offs capitalizing on the hype started popping up, too. Some hats sold for as much as $200 on eBay.
i want nothing else in the world but the jstor hat that ran out of stock and never came back pic.twitter.com/DVDFgiy3Lz
— martin (@marsniv) April 16, 2021
What makes the JSTOR brand so appealing is that it's the go-to resource for people in academia, and thus becomes a signifier of a community. It's ubiquitous for a certain group of people, and can be used to appeal to others who are in that same group. As a brand, JSTOR isn't as well-known or as well-used as something like Microsoft or Apple or Amazon, but for those who use it, it's one of the most important aspects of their lives.
So, yeah, why wouldn't they buy a JSTOR hat?
"I can't think of anything comparable, which is why I think it's unique in terms of the college experience," one JSTOR merchandise bootlegger told Input. "There's only so many tools that are ubiquitous in American schools."
JSTOR not only announced last week that its gear store is returning, but also left some of the merchandise choices up to customers with a Twitter poll.
Is it possible? Can it be? Is JSTOR Gear really coming back next year? Let us know what you would like to get for yourself:
— JSTOR (@JSTOR) July 29, 2022
This will no doubt slow down the knockoff market, since customers will be able to buy the real thing for cheaper. But those knockoffs served a purpose: It made people think, "Hey, I would like a JSTOR hat." And now they can. It also boosts a brand that otherwise is only discussed in certain circles.
Will it become the new brand that Gen Z can't get enough of? Probably not. But, it's a good indicator that any brand, regardless of what it makes or does, can have a rabid fanbase if it is smart enough to appeal to them. As we know, branded merchandise is one of the best ways to do that.