Autoptic is new indie arts festival with a comics component (or a CAF, as I like to call them, or comic art festival) that was held last weekend in Minneapolis. (It has a groovy tumblr here.) It was by all account splendid, but the account that matters the most to us is as always the one by Secret Acres. The show provided entry into a vibrant local scene, a gathering of the best and the brightest of the indie comics movement, and everyone had the road trip/good friends/fun adventures. But is that enough from a business sense? Or is business the question? Secret Acres Barry Matthews sums it all up:
1) The space. The space. The space. Probably the single-best convention location I’ve seen. Yeah, even better than the Toronto Public Library. One could easily even hose down the ARIA building at the end of the day to remove the exhibitor-stink, if necessary. The ARIA building seems like the sort of place where elegant vampires would congregate. That’s a good vibe for comics, music and art, I think.
3) The collective pleasantness of Minneapolis cartoonists. They want you to love Minneapolis as much as they do. I’ve never received as much attention from local comics folks and show organizers as I did at Autoptic. Is Jordan Shiveley charming? Jordan Shively could charm the white out of a blizzard. Everyone associated with the event was accommodating, pleasant and professional: Zak Sally, Tom K., Raighne Hogan, et al.
But not all CAFs are crated equal, and as great an experience as it was, it was a costly one:
3) Limited sales. There was a perfect recipe for a lucrative show: a large crowd, great weather and free admission. Attendees seemed very interested in comics and graphic art, but most of our sales were to local folks that were already familiar with our books. New customers seemed curious, but unwilling to make a purchase. I would say that a similar customer at BCGF would be much more likely to buy a book and check out something new. It seemed like prints and posters were the top sellers at Autoptic. From our standpoint, sales covered one leg of our flight out to Minneapolis, which is not good sales for us. Autoptic is not specifically a comics show, so that could also play a part in why our sales were so soft.
Later in the piece Matthews confronts the problems—socially and “culturally” a small press like Secret Acres has every reason to attend Autoptic—or really any of the many CAFs springing up around the nation. But you have to balance the fun aspect with the hard nosed business reasons. He concludes:
It’s difficult to say what the right balance is between the two and whether or not participating at an economic loss is the right answer when Secret Acres needs to be smart about staying afloat and funding more and more great books and artists. Fortunately, it looks like the next Autoptic is in 2015, so we’ll have sufficient time to think on it and maybe squirrel away some funds so we can go again.
While going to cons is a fun break from “reality” sometimes, it has to be profitable.
On a related note, this Graeme McMillan piece from the Hollywood Reporter on the cost of attending cons has been much linked to, and it references this piece by First Second’s Gina Gagliano, which has a much more nitty gritty breakdown of the cost of going to shows, just in terms of time lost, let alone money. And when you look at the list of shows, you can see why choosing is important:
We go to (sometimes with our parent company) about eleven conventions a year (ALA MW, Winter Institute, ComicsPro, TLA, IRA, BEA, ALA Annual, NCTE, ALAN, AASL, and PLA).
Consumer shows? We do three — and two of them are local. Here’s the list: MoCCA, SDCC, and NYCC.
That’s not to say that we don’t participate in a lot of consumer-facing shows with author spotlights! This year we’ll have creators at the LA Times Book Festival, the Rochester Book Festival, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, the Decatur Book Festival, the Brooklyn Book Festival, Litquake, Wordstock, the Miami Book Festival, Books by the Banks, the Southern Festival of Books, the Sheboygan Book Festival, the West Hollywood Book Festival, and a few other book festivals I’m sure I’m forgetting, as well as TCAF, MECAF, CAKE, SPX, Stumptown, and APE. But we don’t exhibit at those shows — we just send authors.
As cons and CAFs proliferate, these kinds of decisions and consideration will become more and more common, and as we noted yesterday, may eventually become a worldwide consideration.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.