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Which Messages Go Together? Ties in Liberal Political Gear from Zazzle

Because Irregular Times receives a significant number of readers for the tens of thousands of articles that have accumulated here over the last 18 years, just paying to keep the website going costs a significant amount. Because none of us who write for Irregular Times was born with a trust fund, we’ve got to get that money from somewhere other than a bank account in the Cayman Islands. Many other websites support themselves through advertising, but we’re leery of the effect of relying on advertisers’ approval for support. We think about talk radio stations that frequently leap, jump, skip and dance to the tune of listeners who get upset with hosts’ messages and threaten to boycott the products of those who advertise on their shows. The advertisers lean on stations, the stations lean on hosts, and the hosts are dragged kicking and screaming into making insincere apologies and pretending to change their positions. We want to continue to tell you what we see and hear and think, regardless of whether it makes you upset.

For that reason, we don’t allow any advertisers on this website and we don’t take secret payouts to write blog posts, either. Our model, instead, is to sell bumper stickers, t-shirts and buttons containing political messages we’re comfortable with; the proceeds help us keep writing without having to worry about the bottom line.

As we’ve watched orders come in over the years, I’ve often quietly noticed certain combinations of items that people buy together. Most people will just buy one button, sticker or other item at a time, but occasionally someone buys more than one. Which messages go together in someone’s mind? Our sales logs answer that question in an interesting way. This morning, I decided to take the sales records from our Zazzle store over the past six months (from September 2012 to March 2013) and look for overlaps in purchases. In the network graph you see below, when an item is purchased with another item at least once, this is indicated by a line drawn to connect the two items:

Network of Liberal Political Gear from Zazzle, Created with NodeXL for Irregular Times

As you can see, over the last six months people mostly stayed within one topic (elections, same-sex marriage, war or whimsy) and mostly within one camp (Green, or Democratic, or anti-Republican). Those opining against Michele Bachmann, for instance, rarely paired their purchase with another item for Jill Stein or Barack Obama. This pattern isn’t consistent with the notion that people come to us looking for generally liberal messages and pick what they like; instead, it appears that people have a very particular idea of the sort of message they’d like to express, then find what they’re looking for in our stock.

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