As we reported a few days ago, the New Years Eye themed con Marvelous Nerd Years Eve had a lot of problems: people didn’t show up, fans didn’t always get what they came for, exhibitors didn’t make any money, and cost overruns left some of the celebrity guests with checks that may or may not clear. There are more reports of what went wrong in the comments in that link but I’ve heard from more exhibitors and it really was a weird event. For instance, after the hotel demanded all the money for the room block, they threatened to turn off room keys but on the Sunday of the show, as people were leaving, the gates to the parking lot were closed, and a hotel representative was standing at the hotel door questioning people as they left to see if they had paid.
I’m also told am emergency meeting of agents and the show promoters was held during the show to try to get things sorted out, but there were no guarantees made of people getting paid.
And now, some of the guests are beginning to speak out. I’ve seen a few tweets over the years from nerdlebrities about badly run shows, and vaguebooking from comics artists, but never anything like this post from SF writer David Gerrold, who paid his own way to the event, made no money, and is now out his $800 expenses:
In case that embed isn’t working here’s the important part:
The convention organizers over-promised, under-budgeted, over-extended, under-performed, and committed what I consider acts of “criminal incompetence.”
Why do I use the adjective “criminal?”
Because people were hurt. Not just by the incompetence, but by the deliberate incompetence.
Many of the guests — not necessarily the A-listers — depend on the sales of autographs and photographs as part of their income between gigs. They are not all millionaires. Many actors and celebrities, especially those from TV shows of yore, have some income from royalties and residuals, but often depend on convention appearances to give them a little bit of a cushion — or even cover the mortgage.
So when a convention signs a contract, makes a commitment — such as, “We guarantee that you will make $5000 in autograph and photo sales, or we will make up the difference” and then fails to provide enough attendees to make those sales and then fails to cover the guarantee as well — that’s criminal incompetence.
Gerrold is entirely right about this. It may seem funny at first when a Patrick Muldoon or Tony Todd complains about not getting paid to go to a show, but a lot of these people aren’t billionaires, or even millionaires. Gerrold certainly isn’t. Like comics artists, actors, wrestlers and personalities do these show to make a living and they deserve to be treated fairly.
The MNYE debacle comes after several other really bad shows this year, among them Rewind Con and Space City Con, perhaps the most bizarre event of the year, where the show ran out of money to pay for a Sons of Anarchy reunion, and Charlie Hunnam brought some muscle to get his money – resulting in the showrunner calling the cops on Hunnam.
I’ve heard reports of other smaller shows with similar troubles and even Wizard World seems to have run aground after expanding too quickly.
The Beat has been reporting on conventions since it launched, and for a while there, week after week I ran stories about cons selling out, crowds overrunning venues, and even first year shows drawing more people than anyone thought possible. That was all about 5-6 years ago, there are 12 shows every week and the people who jumped into the con business have not only killed the goose that laid the golden egg, they’ve pounded the body into fine yellow paste.
There are too many cons. Comics exhibitors figured this out a while ago and people have been cutting back on shows for the last few years. I don’t want to say that nerdlebrities are greedy, but many of them never seem to have gotten a show invitation they turned down. It’s easy money for a weekend of gladhanding, as THR reported , but only when the promoters know what they’re doing. Media guests and their booking agencies are getting wise to this.
Some of this is self correcting – bad shows are just not going to make it – but I expect exhibitors and guests to have less patience with obviously inflated attendance numbers, and first time shows are really going to have to prove that they have what it takes to get guests to commit. And that’s how it should be.
It should also be noted, bad cons are not a new phenomenon. People still talk about Extrosion, a convention in Las Vegas in the 90s that drew a few hundred people. Panels on Pages has a piece from a few years back about some bad cons of yore, including PonyCon and the legendary shenanigans of Rick Olney (although sadly the CBR thread that laid that out is gone to the wayback machine.)
In the comments on Gerrold’s piece, someone mentions Tentmoot, a Lord of the Rings show from 2003 that I had not heard of. It sounds like it was a doozy.
The planned Lord of the Rings conference had roped in Sean Astin, but folded into an eventual Department of Justice investigation into alleged fraud, and a strange odyssey of the multiple identities (and genders) of would-be festival organizer Jordan Wood, aka Mr. Frodo.
There’s a full account here, and it’s definitely hot beverage worthy (although you’ll need to hold your nose at the 2004-era discussion of gender fluid issues.)
And of course there’s the legendary DashCon with its bouncy castle and a similar tale of sudden unpaid hotel bills that necessitated an fund raiser during the show from attendees.
I’d like to end this with one word of advice to anyone who plans to put on a convention of any kind: You need to have access to enough money to pay the bills in case things go wrong — AHEAD OF TIME. At the very least. A lot of very successful cons lost money in their first year. That’s how you build a reputation, by INVESTING in your business. If you don’t have enough credit or investors to pay the hotel bill and the guarantees….don’t put on the show. There is too much competition from people who know what they are doing and you’ll end up in the annals of When a Con is Crap. And FINALLY, just to show that some people know how to do it, even though NYE is a tough time for a con, the very same weekend in Austin Texas, a very successful anime show, Ikkicon, was held. It’s been running since 2006 and though it’s for-profit, according to their about page “We are proud to be fan-run and fan-done, and will always put the community first to ensure we have the most successful convention possible.” That’s it in a nutshell. Cons are a labor of love, not a cash grab, and a lot of people are learning that the hard way.
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.