The Devastator/Beat Convention Exhibitor Survey is out: which cons are loved, which are hated

The Devastator/Beat Convention Exhibitor Survey is out: which cons are loved, which are hated

convention-survey-zine-2014-1

Last fall, we here at The Beat teamed up with the awesome folks at The Devastator to put together a survey for convention exhibitors. With all the controversy over who is spending and what cons are con games, it seemed like time to seriously upgrade this survey. And you responded, with more than 100 people taking the survey, giving results on the top cons and CAFs that revealed average sales and average amount of satisfaction with each show.

In case you’ve never heard of them, The Devastator is a humor/comic magazine based in LA that features sharp satire and art by founders Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows as well as people from The Onion, the Daily Show, Adult Swim, Marvel and more.

The result, as crunched by the Devastator’s staff, has some eye-opening statistics. You can read the entire report right here, and see some of the Devastator team’s own comments below, but here are a few of my own eye-openers:

  • 6-9 years is the sweet spot. Exhibitors who were in this experience range did better than newbs or veterans. I’ve never seen this quite laid out in such a visual fashion but it does tend to back up our intuitive grasp of the rise and fall of an artist’s career, and also rampant ageism of the comics industry,
  • People with bigger booths made a lot more money, but they may have needed bigger booths because they made a lot of money. So not sure what that one means.
  • PR to other outlets, meaning TV and radio probably, leads to bigger sales than just social and The Usual Comics Suspects
  • This was a bit of a shock: Average sales for APE, which most people think of as not being the top show on the CAF circuit, were actually higher than SPX and MoCCA and right behind TCAF. I understand that APE has a lot of maker booths, however, and these do better than comics only booths overall.
  • Just about all the major cons on the circuit are mentioned, and some get very low ratings…while having high sales, reinforcing the idea that comics people often value mood over moolah.
  • Despite widely reported “con burnout” more people are doing more shows in 2015. Only 1% are going home for good.

Anyway that’s me done. Read on and discuss!!!

convention-survey-zine-2014-3 convention-survey-zine-2014-4 convention-survey-zine-2014-5 convention-survey-zine-2014-6 convention-survey-zine-2014-7

Huge thanks to Amanda Meadows and Geoffrey Golden for putting this resource together.

Comments

  1. says

    is it ageism? Or is it just that 6-9 years are the sweet point when it comes to inventory. Newbies obviously don’t have a lot to sell. And veterans have spent years selling the same stuff over and over. I mean, you can only sell the same old beat up collections and left over minicomics for years.

  2. says

    Tiz (and everyone else reading this! Hi!):
    The survey included a long list of major North American conventions. The Wizard World cons, and most Canadian shows such as the Fan Expos did not yield enough responses to pull data. A survey is only as good as its responses, so if we don’t get enough Fan Expo exhibitors to anonymously share their gross sales, there won’t be Fan Expo data. Did you exhibit at those shows? Do you know creators who did? Please send this to them and remember to fill out the 2015 survey, which will go up in November! If you do, you’ll have data for next year. We are fellow creators who started this as a community effort, so let’s all help each other out.

    Zach: Sploosh.

    Steve: While we hear about older exhibitors having a harder time selling in recent years, we can’t really *prove* ageism. There are so many reasons someone’s work may not sell. We also hypothesize an “inventory sweet spot.” In the 6-9 year mark, you’ve cleared the novelty stage, grown an audience, and you’re hopefully cranking out enough new work to warrant exhibiting at many conventions in one year. In our experience and as the survey bears out, growth begets growth in small business. Trying new stuff on the regular should keep your audience interested.

  3. Jim Higgins says

    Nice work, Amanda, Geoffrey, and The Beat. Glad to see this expanding.
    I’m with Heidi — the fact that APE, which *always* ends with a fiesta of groans about how bad the show sales were, had three times the average sales of SPX and Mocca is incredible. So if the makers may account for a lot of this disparity, what makes an exhibitor a “maker”? Are the people at APE at all those booths selling manga and anime fan art prints makers? Are the illustrators and companies like Eidolon who rep artists and sell prints makers? It’s true that there are lots of tables at APE with crafts and handmade items, many more than at SPX or MOCCA. Maybe another category can be what types of items are sold. The genre section is interesting but without more detail much remains a mystery. Does humor really top the genre list of what sells at conventions? That was a surprise to me (unless all the sales were of The Devastator. THAT would make sense….)

  4. says

    Jim: Thank you, keep sharing this with all your students! Some clarifying details to answer those questions…

    On Categories: In the zine it was difficult to spell out the boundaries between the genres and the seller categories, but rest assured — those definitions were built into the survey questions. If you filled out the survey, these were your category options:

    Artist (You sell your artwork as prints and/or 1-shot comics)
    Cartoonist (You sell books and merch based on your regularly updated comic)
    Maker (You sell handmade jewelry, toys and/or other goodies)
    Publisher (You sell a variety of books, minis and/or zines)
    Designer (You sell a sizable line of merch based on your artwork/designs)

    In the wild, these categories have overlapping traits, and everyone’s got different stuff to sell, so it’s impossible to tell someone they are 100% one category or another. It was up to the anonymous exhibitor to self-identify.

    On Genres: Exhibitors could select up to 2 genres to describe their work, and as you can guess, most exhibitors selected 2 genres to describe their work. Humor was tops because it was the largest overlapping genre. For example: An artist who draws Star Wars characters as cats might classify their work as “fan art” AND “humor.” We think the humor acts as a “value-add” to another genre that’s already in-demand at a convention.

  5. Rob J. says

    Seems to me that a more optimistic interpretation of the age issue should be considered: Namely, that when you’ve been in the biz for a decade, you’re established enough that your audience has already picked up even your most recent work from their LCS by the time of the given convention. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your product line is wrong or too old, it’s just that where your customer base on the convention circuit intersects with your customer base in the LCS market, it breaks in favor of the LCS. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does suggest that veteran artists might want to rethink why they’re going to conventions, changing from looking at it as a primary source of income and secondary source of socialization to a primary source of socialization and secondary or tertiary source of income best thought of as a way to defray the cost of socializing.

  6. Kisai says

    re: Fan Expo’s

    Fan Expos’s dedicate half their floor space to celebrity meet and greets, and good luck getting statistics from them. Fan Expo Vancouver is worse in this regard, as they keep shrinking the Artist Alley… which in itself may reflect the lack of interest/costs-not-justified. It may also just be that more artists decided to exhibit at VanCAF instead which was held the following month.

    Toronto Fan Expo is probably hemmoraging some of the artist alley space as well due to TCAF, but Fan Expo always has been about celebrities first. So you shouldn’t expect to make much money from Fan Expo unless you do all your own advertising in advance.

    Most importantly, get the convention map early, and post it on your website with your booth circled.

    Also seeing “Fanart” being #2 for sales is immensely disturbing. I’m assuming this was mainly from the Anime conventions, or the conventions with a high level of anime presence, but I’d be disturbed if it was unlicensed fanart for entities that are also at the convention.

  7. says

    Kisal:
    Thanks for the observations on Fan Expos… ideally, we would have survey data to interpret!

    On “Fan Art”:
    Check out the full zine — we received data on very few Anime cons, so the “fan art” trend mostly reflects exhibitors at non-Anime specific conventions.

    Whether or not this is a good thing is another conversation, but our guess is that some exhibitors use fan art as a necessary part of doing business at pop culture conventions — where the attendee base might be more interested in enjoying their current fandoms than learning about new stuff.

  8. gg says

    Great data! I’d guess that makers charge more on average, but do they really earn that much more? Handmade items like jewelry or knitted goods might cost more than printing a run of minicomics, for example, in terms of both time and money spent.

  9. Dwyane says

    I’m not surprised on a lack of info for Fan Expo, I’ve exhibited there a few times and it’s a nightmare. Loading/unloading is chaotic at best. The average crowd there are cosplay fans who certainly haven’t been supporting the comics industry lately, my and my friends tables were blocked due to the cosplay girls with tables in our aisle, no amount of asking or complaining would convince those at Fan Expo to clear them or come up with a better situation.
    After all the costs to get in and frustration with the massive lineups involved with the Toronto fan expo we found many were there to browse or just to be seen. I made very little in Toronto for the last 2 years and have chosen to stay away from now on mostly due to the cosplay crowd and terrible management.

  10. Nik says

    I’m gonna have to start picking up devastator. This is really good info.
    La zinefest is a relatively new one here in Los angeles but I seems really popular. I’d like to see what kind of numbers sellers are making at that one.

  11. says

    Anyone looking for a good creator oriented con should look up Memphis Comic Expo. We are a creator first show and the response from our guests last year was great. To a man or woman, they all want to come back, if that says anything. We would love to get rich from this thing, but we are trying hard to be an actual comic convention and not a media platform. There was tremendous buzz from everyone at the last show and we are looking to build. June 6th & 7th if anyone is interested in making money and feeling appreciated.

  12. Boogy says

    I can’t help but wonder if the “ageism” observation might be a little off. Like, it makes a lot more sense that older fans might not make it out to conventions — they might be getting their monies to the creators in other ways.

    If anything, it seems like the folks with the most longevity are winning the Patreon race.

  13. says

    GG: Thanks! That’s a great question. Our survey data is based on gross sales, so the answer won’t be in the results. Our hypothesis: regardless of overhead, makers and designers might have more flexibility in pricing, whereas comics are expected to be cheaper (and, these days, printing is quite expensive, especially if you can only afford to POD). We would love to learn how pricing theory effects makers and cartoonists/publishers differently.

    Dwayne: Yikes, sounds like a barf carnival.

    Nik: Thanks, and LAZF was on the survey but did not get enough respondents. Share this with your zine friends and help us spread the word when the 2015 survey goes live in November!

    Captain: HeroesCon was also on the survey and did not get enough respondents. This is a community effort that’s only as good as its word of mouth. Round up your Heroes Con friends and have them fill out the 2015 survey this November!

    Donald: Thanks for sharing!

    Boogy: Yeah, Rob J. observed earlier in the comments that the more established a comics veteran, the more likely their income is probably coming from other sources, like local comics shops. In the context of our survey data, the important takeaway is that 10 years of experience marks a big shift, and what that means probably varies by individual. We’d love to get more Comics Veterans to fill out the 2015 survey to learn more!

  14. Ramone says

    Hard to take the info seriously when there a HUGE typo in all caps at the beginning of the infographic: “inroduction”.

    Didn’t check the rest, but I’d have sent it to a proofreader before publishing.

  15. says

    This was a great read so a huge THANK YOU to everyone involved in making this happen. I’ve been doing comic conventions since 1992 and last year was the most shows I’ve done in a year (I hope I got in on the survey, but I don’t remember). It was a fun experience and experiment, but this year I’m scaling back on the shows so I don’t get behind on actually making comics.

  16. says

    great information. so interesting to someone like me who just started thinking about this stuff relatively recently. thanks so much for doing this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *