How online stores rallied to sell products featuring images from the James Webb Space Telescope

The world had the opportunity this week to peer 13 billion years into our past after the James Webb Space Telescope took deepest infrared image of the universe.

“Webb’s image is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, a tiny piece of the vast universe,” NASA said.

The JWST, considered a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, captured the galaxies shown in Webb’s first deep field in 12.5 hours.

In what seems like an equally short period of time, the images taken by the telescope pushed on neon signs, sweatshirts, fanny packs and mugs. Other renowned spatial images, such as the Pillars of Creation, have also become essential on products: puzzles, pillowcases, jewelry and all sorts of other trinkets.

Retailers are free to use these images as they are in the public domain. NASA images — as well as video, audio, and other content — are generally not copyrighted, according to the agency’s website.

How changes in manufacturing have changed online stores

On-demand manufacturing, a production model, has allowed some online sellers to become more nimble than ever, building listings in days. They don’t have to worry about how many items to pre-order or if they’ll be able to sell all of their inventory.

Within 48 hours of unveiling Webb’s First Deep Field, the online store Stem Cell Science Shop listed a fanny pack and a sweatshirt with the image. He also announced that he would be giving away free Deep Field posters with every purchase this week.

“Just as a magazine might jump to the latest gossip news, or an app might jump to the latest software update, it’s our responsibility to jump to the latest scientific observations,” said Terry Mudge, owner of StemCell ScienceShop. , a five-employee operation that also has an Etsy store.

Mudge opened her store in 2015, inspired by her love of science. Growing up, he remembers being captivated by a book full of images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

A sweatshirt and fanny pack featuring Webb’s first Deep Field. (Courtesy of StemCell Science Shop)

The store uses a make-to-order manufacturer called Gooten, named after the inventor of the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg. Gooten is one of a series of companies that offer these services, including Printful, CustomCat, and Prodigi.

Companies like Gooten print the fabric, cut it, assemble the product to order, and then ship it directly to customers.

“It’s been really great for companies like mine that want to offer apparel and stuff without it being our main income. It’s just kind of a fun thing for our customers,” Mudge said.

Gooten, he explained, allows him to do this without requiring his store to pre-purchase large amounts of merchandise in advance. They don’t have to guess what sizes people will want and it creates less waste.

“Products ship as soon as they’re assembled, which usually only takes a few days,” Mudge said. “Everything is made in the United States, and that saves us from having stagnant inventory. It’s a win-win everywhere.

Anna D’Elia, who sells merchandise featuring images from the James Webb Telescope, also uses on-demand manufacturing to fulfill orders.

A view of the Carina Nebula.  The James Webb Space Telescope
A view of the Carina Nebula. The James Webb Space Telescope “reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars” in the region that could not be seen before. (Photo credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)

This week on her store, ProductiveSlacker, she put lists for mugs, leggings, yoga mats and Bluetooth speakers that feature both First Deep Field and the Carina Nebula, which was also captured by the James Webb Telescope. (The Hubble Telescope also took images of the star-forming region, but recently released images show it in more detail.)

While some online sellers may use on-demand businesses, others may have the ability to create products in-house. It’s now easier than ever to own a high-quality printer or other equipment needed to produce these products quickly, said Lorynn Divita, associate professor of apparel design and merchandising at Baylor University.

“That’s why so many small sellers can exist in this market,” Divita said. “Now anyone can have a store.”

How lucrative is this market?

While a method like make-to-order is convenient for sellers, it’s not necessarily cost-effective.

Mudge said the store was roughly breaking even for Webb’s Deep Field products. Their team actually makes bigger profits on items that aren’t made to order, like their subscription boxes, periodic table element samples, and fossils.

“But it’s always fun to have additional trending things, like the Webb Deep Field, available,” he said.

D’Elia, who just launched her shop last year, said it hasn’t been that lucrative so far. The New Jersey resident works as a school counselor and runs her shop as a side hobby.

So far, she has raked in around $2,500 in profit. “I would love to do this for a living. But I don’t think I could live off Etsy,” D’Elia said.

A yoga mat with the image of the Carina Nebula captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. (Courtesy of Etsy Shop Productive Slacker)

It’s not the most profitable business, but online sellers who use public domain images avoid the risks of inappropriate use of copyrighted material.

“It’s definitely a safe market,” Divita said. “If found guilty of copyright infringement, they may have to pay damages as well as attorneys’ fees and court costs. And for a small seller like an Etsy seller, that could put them out of business.

There will be many more images from space to come – this is just the start of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Astronomers, having seen the capabilities of the telescope, will likely have “more difficult or impressive targetswrote Brett Tingley for Space.com.

“Perhaps the greatest immediate source of value will be for scientists and science in general – it will propel the careers of some scientists and universities and help us discover important new facts about the universe,” Abhishek said. Nagaraj, assistant professor in the organization management group at the University of California, Berkeley.

And that is priceless.

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