I know you thought the “con kerfuffle” had faded away, but I think it’s definitely an ongoing burning issue for the industry, in a rapidly evolving field, and Chris Butcher, retailer and a show runner himself for TCAF, as well as booth runner for Udon, has posted a brilliant summation that puts all the eggs in one basket and then hits that basket out of the park:
Butcher identifies several trends, which I’ll list for argument:
1. The make-up of the attendees of comic book conventions is changing.
We got that.
2. The make-up of comic convention organizers is changing, too.
I’ve been covering that quite a bit here; people are getting into comic cons just to make money not because they like comic cons.
3. Professional Fans & ‘Personalities’, which is to say Youtubers, Professional Cosplayers, etc.
I alluded to this here with the news of Wizard’s “Social Con” concept. YouTube and Vine stars like the homophobic Nash Grier are coming to Wizard Worlds and drawing huge audiences of teenaged girls who are not there for comics. Sure these Justin Beiber-lites will be delivering Little Caesar and the anger to trivia questions in a few years but for now they are the biggest celebs at shows for a very young demographic.
4. Comic Conventions Are Filling Up And Selling Out, Earlier and Earlier
Again, something The Beat has been harping on and watching for years.
While we may know all this is happening, Butcher goes ahead and ties a ribbon around the home run basket with this graph – emphasis his.
The changing convention landscape is inherently shitty for people who make comic books. Art comix, indy comics, mainstream comics, whatever comics, the changing makeup of conventions is hostile to people who want to make and sell comics at comic conventions. And let me be clear, this is comic books and graphic novels, as opposed to ‘prints’ or crafts or whatever manner of tchotchkes makeup most exhibitor tables these days. Basically, comic book conventions are aggressively attracting an audience who don’t necessarily value books, or comic books.
And here is the real problem. I had a long post set up that covered all the late breaking posts in the Denise Dorman affair, but I’ll forego long analysis for a simple but brutal truth: people who call their event a comic-con, invite comic book people to spend money on tables and then do not promote the comic aspect of the show are basically strangling the comics part for the equation.
I don’t mean to suggest that your average cartoonist calving away over a Howard the Duck commission is as big a draw as Norman Reedus, but unless the cartoonists in artist alley and elsewhere get some kind of promotion that includes them in the modern comic-con, they are eventually not going to want to go to shows any more.
I don’t propose that show runner who have spent a six figure guarantee on William Shatner promote him in the same breath as Dave Dorman. However, show runners need to give comics some play! I’ve seen too many con websites that only mention celebrities and don’t even throw the name of a comics guest up on the slider. PEOPLE, IT’S FREE, IT’S ADDITIVE.
As evidence of what I’m talking about, I’d like to point to this very very typical local news story about the recent Wizard World Nashville.
The focus is on a typical local news human interest story—a nice one about an autistic lad who contemplated suicide finding a superhero persona to give him hope—but not ONCE in the entire piece are comic book makers mentioned. Collectible card games, video games, the Green Power Ranger, cosplayers, everything EXCEPT ACTUAL COMICS AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THEM. Like, that’s why they call if COMIC-CON!
And to be brutally frank that’s most stories I see about cons that have a “media mix.” Costumes, celebrities and a cute kid or two. Actual comic book creators are not mentioned or else shuttled off to the side. (Occasionally a topical superstar like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman will get a call out, or someone else with a movie coming out. But that’s the exception to the rule.)
I’ve seen Wizard World’s PR man call out comics creators in his news blasts, and I realize that local news anchors are going to go for the most obvious stories—Captain Spectrum—but would it really HURT to introduce a telegenic or quotable comics creator to the press as well? Is it entirely impossible?
Cartoonists are being written out of the comic-con story at a very fast pace, and unless something is done, the entire culture of cons is going to be completely shifted to a “remember when there was a broadcast involved in broadcast TV?” narrative.
AND NOW just for the record more links, on the Matter of Selling at Cons:
• Denise Dorman clarifies she and husband Dave don’t hate Cosplayers
• And another follow up: How to Exhibit BETTER at Conventions
Denise and I went back on whether nerdlebrities and high autograph charges were ALSO impacting sales. Aside”Totes maggots!” should be the answer to every question ever.
@Comixace Totes magotes.
— Denise Dorman (@WriteBrainMedia) September 25, 2014
@Comixace Also, the saturation of Cons, as you noted in your article.
— Denise Dorman (@WriteBrainMedia) September 25, 2014
@Comixace 1 fan bragged to us that he bought 3 $150 autographs from Mark Hamill. He spends a LOT of time @ our booth & has NEVER spent $$.
— Denise Dorman (@WriteBrainMedia) September 25, 2014
• An interview with Dorman that has more background.
• An exhibitor named Marc Alan Fishman has an excellent round up on the “new breed of conger.”
Allow me to answer in kind. The general population – those Instagram-obsessed fans – gives more than just a shit for those creators who take the time to reach out and communicate. I say this admitting freely I’ve never seen Dave Dorman. And we’ve exhibited at the same shows more than once. I don’t know how specifically Dave exhibits. But if he is like others I’ve seen over the last seven years… he may sit, smiling, awaiting those loyal regulars to come with cash in hand. In short, it’s not enough anymore. It hasn’t been that way in a long time.
• Months ago, Gene Ha also looked at how to sell at conventions and suggested some links.
To me, there are advertising shows where I set up and hope to break even, and selling shows, where I generate revenue. San Diego is definitely an advertising show. But by the article, it sounds as if the Dormans treat SDCC as a selling show. And she also mentions that they could make more money being in the studio rather than setting up at some shows. Let’s talk about that.
Using that paradigm, I’m shocked that San Diego would ever be a good show. If your setup costs are $7000, you’ve got to sell that to break even. So what would a good show have been? $10,000? $15,000? The amount of product you’d have to sell to generate isn’t something I can conceive of. I suppose it’s possible for someone with a body of work different than mine, but it still seems like a lot.
At San Diego, and shows in general, I do what I can to get my costs down. My booth is $2500, but I split it with someone to make that number more manageable. Same with my hotel. I go to Target and get a flat of water and snacks so I’m not living on five dollar coffee and three dollar pretzels. I even designed my own shelving system that would fit in my suitcase so I could save the significant cost of shipping racks to the show. The less you spend, the quicker you turn a profit.
So if the numbers don’t work on a show, or you’re not getting what you want out of it in terms of networking or exposure, it’s your duty as a businessperson to cut that loss. I do a hefty convention schedule, but there are one or two shows I’m dropping because the math doesn’t work. That’s my responsibility.
• Ryan L Schrodt has an excellent post on What is killing comic book conventions? that brings up what Butcher and I have been talking about.
3. SHOWRUNNER RESPONSIBILITY
PROBLEM: Personal responsibility for comic book creators is huge when it comes to making money at conventions, but it isn’t everything. Some responsibility falls upon the convention organizers. Prohibitive ticket costs will keep attendees from spending money in Artist Alley. Poor layouts could mean that some creators are completely missed. Scheduling your convention against another convention or a major local event will mean low attendance. And promotion? You damn well better have promoted your comic book show or no one is going to show up. Even the greatest creators ever will not make any money if they are guests at a poorly run convention.
SOLUTION: If you are running a comic book convention, keep these things in mind. Make sure that your ticket prices will cover your expenses and keep your expenses relatively low, especially in your early years. If you are charging Wizard World prices for your convention that only has 20 guests, you won’t make any money and neither will the creators. Likewise, if you have 100 creators and you are charging hotel ballroom convention ticket prices, you won’t make enough money to continue throwing conventions. If you place the biggest name at the show in the middle of the aisle, their line will keep the people next to them from making any money. Don’t put comic creators next to the bathroom or in the darkest corner of the hall. Make sure you promote your comic show at local colleges and comic book shops. Do you r research by attending other more successful comic book conventions and emulate what makes them successful.
Finally, one guy gives up on wizard.
• And FINAL PLUG: Tomorrow at the ICv@ conference I will be moderating a panel on comic cons with an ALL STAR LINE-UP!!!!!
The Con Explosion
The rapidly expanding con scene is an important part of the changing audience for comics, a place where potential new customers are mingling with more committed fans, and the opportunities are great. Who are these new attendees, and what does it mean for the medium? Our speakers have data and personal experience to help us find the answers to these questions.
• Christine Bohle, Sr. Category Marketing Manager, Eventbrite
• Patrick Bradley, EVP Digital Media & Entertainment, Wizard World, Inc.
• Shelton Drum, CEO, Heroes Convention
• Lance Fensterman, Senior Vice President ReedPOP
• Meg Lemke, Chair, Comics & Graphic Novel Committee at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and Contributing Editor at MUTHA Magazine
• Rob Salkowitz, author, writer of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture
• Moderated by Heidi MacDonald, comic editor and commentator from The Beat
TOTES MAGOTES YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WANT TO MISS THIS.
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.