Over the years we’ve published links to many an analysis of convention sales — what works, what doesn’t, what is the real economics. But here’s an interesting take from Tony DiGerolamo, writer of JERSEY DEVIL and several issues of BART SIMPSON for Bongo, and a webcomic called SUPER FRAT, among other things. His blog runs on The Webcomic Factory, a joint effort by DiGerolamo and Christian Beranek that publishes various webcomics. I couldn’t find DiGeralamo’s other writing credits easily on the site, but we hope it’s fair to say he’s one of those small publishers you see in various artist’s alley who have small press genre books — the kind of stuff that doesn’t get as much attention as mainstream or art comics — sometimes justifiably, sometimes not.
We don’t mean to pigeon hole DiGeralomo without knowing his work — although it doesn’t look like the kind of stuff that appeals to me, personally — so let’s move on to his comments on selling at conventions. Basically, this year’s New York Comic Con was so crowded and expensive that he’s questioning whether the economics make any sense at all. We’ll quote quite a long bit because it’s a long column and we don’t think we’ve ever seen convention economics presented quite this way before. DiGeralomo doesn’t have any problem chatting to his fans and readers, but it doesn’t break even:
With the press of people in NYCC, you’d be lucky to talk and sell to a fan in under three minutes. Very lucky. Let’s say I am amazing and I can do just that. Add up all the hours over three days and you get 22 hours. One fan every three minutes is 20 an hour or 440 fans IF I’m lucky.
But realistically, I have to eat lunch and go to the bathroom at some point. So on two of the big days, I’d have to carve out a total of maybe an hour. that’s 420 fans. Some fans like to talk and talk and if they’re your fan, you can’t just brush them off. So let’s average out the 3 minutes to five. That’s 12 an hour times 21 hours is 252. The last two hours of the show, people start to pack up and if I’m in a row and everyone around me leaves, that really slow things down, so eliminate the last two hours. That’s 228 fans. And the mornings are slow too. Even in a place like the Javitz Center, it will take the fans a while to make it to Artists Alley and most will just look in the first half hour. That drops it to about 210 fans. And then you have “fans” who aren’t really your fan. Maybe your pitch sounded good initially, but they change their mind and leave your table promising to come back. Let’s just call it an even 200.
So if I do a big convention in New York, about the best I can hope for is to sell to 200 fans. At $5 a pop, that’s $1000. I have done this exactly ONCE in my 15 or so years selling comics. (Chicago Wizard World 2009 and that’s with some product that wasn’t even mine.) My second best show was Pittsburgh, 1999 I think. New Dimension Comics bought out my table at the end of the show. Back then, my comics were more like $2 and $3 and, of course, they got a discount on the 100 or so books they bought. Combine that with the books I sold to fans over three days and it was about 200 books total. Cashwise, it worked out to something like $375 gross.
But those numbers were gross profits. I had to get a plane ticket to Chicago ($400 because I booked late), ship the books via UPS (around $110), hotel for three days ($325 or so), food ($150) and incidentals. Plus, I had to split some of that money with my publisher and other creators. After that, it was all gone.
For well-known artists and small press folks with strong, passionate followings, show sales are a very important part of their economy. For someone like DiGeralomo, they seem to be an example of diminishing returns especially as shows get bigger and costs rise.
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.