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by Bryon@miniworld

[Editor’s Note: Back in January we ran an op-ed by a veteran convention vendor called “Whatever Happened to Comic con” and it was one of the Beat’s most shared posts ever. Now Bryan@miniworld is back with some further thoughts on what may be a softening of the whole pop culture events space.] 

Please note that anything on this page is personal opinion, and anyone is free to disagree based upon personal observation, or thought. This is basically a bunch of thoughts thrown together from being on the road for a few weeks, and basic observations of the last year or so.

A few months back I made a post called “whatever happened to comic-con”. Many people shared this post, and many agreed. Some promoters went as far as taking credit for being the “only real comic con” but only one was correct in my thoughts. I will leave that to the individual whom I spoke to regarding it. I was very proud that the promoter in question knew I was speaking of them.

Over the past 12 months I have been witnessing troubling times in our industry. Some people choose to ignore it, some think it’s a passing thing. Many vendors have taken note and decided to take measures until the industry fixes itself again. This will take time, and may never be the same.

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Economic downturns:

With the incredible amount of comic and fan expo’ and conventions a time has come where the general dollar is becoming shorter at these events. It costs money to run these events, so the promoters have to charge customers to cover costs. Some conventions costs MILLIONS of dollars to run. That being said, after the common customer enters the building after paying for a ticket, parking, hotel (sometimes), and autographs and photos from their favorite guests, there may or may not be much money left for spending at artists or vendors tables.

With decreased spending, less and less vendors can afford to vend these conventions. Sometimes, a convention has to use “alternate” vendors to fill space because of this, or, because of basic table space not being sold (more on this soon). This is where sponsors or other forms of vendors appear. This may be an insurance company, or local roofing company.
The normal customers see these booth fills as “junk” or “xxx company is in trouble because they cannot sell space”. The only issue is promoters have been using this go to for as long as conventions existed. It’s just in the past year or 2 promoters have had an issue filling booths due to economic changes AND convention size overexpansion.

“The house that funko built”

Now, please leave your attacks out at this point, this is an important factor. When a trend hits (beanie babies, cabbage patch kids, etc.), a market increases and if there is a crossover to that said market, then we have an explosion.
Over the last 36 months or so, Funko dominated conventions and sales. It seemed that almost every booth at conventions was full or near full of funko products. Dealers were happy sales were great, and the industry was flooded with new vendors. As time went on, conventions expanded booth space to include these vendors, along with the normal pace of new and old vendors that normally apply for conventions.

As time went on, many of the new vendors that were “funko only” started to disappear. I’m not sure if it was a tapering off of the market as a whole, because I know of some major vendors whom still do very well with classic and new funko product.

This happens with many fads and trends, people burn out on the product, (pet rocks anyone?), and you fall to a common core of happy collectors. Unfortunately, many conventions planned expansion of floor space based upon a prior year’s booth sales. With some vendors choosing to stop selling at conventions (be it comic, toy, what have be, not just “fad dealers”), floor space has to be filled.

While the industry is in a state of “flux” with customers asking “where are all the comic books at”, we have to ask ourselves, what happened?

“Super Mega Wizardy things”

At this time, there are more conventions and fan expos than ever. Oversaturation is at an all-time high, and some vendors in the industry are pointing out the system is broken.
With many corporations buying up conventions and expanding the range of conventions that are available, and the incredible amount of “huge” conventions held once a year, and of course your mid-level (15k or less) super conventions, along with the normal set of conventions, the saturation point has gotten so high that vendors and artists alike are seeing smaller and smaller profits due to many fans trying to go to many events as possible.

“Fan dollars only go so far”

Not every fan has disposable income, and, they have to pick and choose where and when to spend the money they have saved up. The bigger issue is …. Where are the comics at comic con?

I only see about 5 or so regular comic vendors at the “non-mega” conventions, and they have good shows and bad shows just like normal vendors of toys, cards, etc. Could the factor that the term “comic con” has become so generic that its almost just a bland tag used to say “we may have a comic or 2 if you look close enough”?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

Many convention fans remember how great things were 1 year or 2 years ago. Some even remember a time when a certain convention chain dominated the circuit. Now, every show has to top its prior year or that company is the worst on the planet.
The industry goes thru ups and downs. Earlier this year I predicted that industry was starting to implode on itself. Is it happening? Maybe. I had someone tell me today that a renaissance is coming to the industry, and I believe it. Unfortunately, we have to survive 2017 first.

A few years back (a little foggy on how many) the industry dipped very hard. I witnessed some things that many would not believe. Vendors physically fighting at conventions, empty aisles at conventions that were normally busy, and many other things. Money changes people. When dollars come short, some of us forget the family we make. I just hope this time around people will take a breath and wait for the worst to be over.

2018 will be an interesting year.
-CCT

6 COMMENTS

  1. “Comic Con” means “consumer show aimed at geeks of many fandoms, including comics”, just as “comic books” means “sequential fiction of various genres, including humorous stories” and “graphic novel” means “a collection of comics, sometimes of original, fictional material, but also including other literary formats, as well as non-fiction”.

    Fandom and consumers define what these shows are.
    San Diego has its origins as a the science fiction convention.
    Dragon Con is an SF con on steroids.
    Younger fans don’t complain about linking comics to comic cons.
    I’m 47, and I don’t either… I want to find lots of cool stuff.
    Besides… if you need to fill the space, it’s hard to be mostly comics… the dealers will look similar ($5 trades! New comics for $2!) and people will be bored.
    Me… I’m happy if there’s a good artist alley, and a variety of dealers.

    While the market is crowded, the corporate side of it isn’t.
    ReedPOP has a busy schedule, but half of it is overseas.
    Wizard World has it down to a model… most shows are the same, aside from the guests. It’s like a car show… a nice day trip for the family to see something cool. Most of the market is aimed at geeks, but the general audience is important as well.
    Creation runs 19 shows, mostly focused on a particular fandom.

    I’d like to see someone take the CBSAs in the U.S., and see which host an annual show, and if the show is corporate, or non-profit/fan/local.
    https://www.census.gov/geo/maps-data/maps/cbsacsa.html
    That will tell you if the market is saturated.
    Is there a show in Rapid City, SD? Great Falls, MT? San Angelo, TX? Dothan, AL? Grand Island, NE?

    I’d say the calendar has been saturated since 2012:
    http://www.comicsbeat.com/to-do-this-weekend-comic-con-national/

  2. “let’s be honest who the draws are?”

    Without vendors, conventions turn into Standing-Around-All-Day-Festivals.

    Mike

  3. I think there is a bit of a lull happening, but it is region specific. I live in New Jersey where, for a very good stretch, you can go to a medium sized con every month. The people coming to these shows have x amount of dollars and usually come with family, so you have a process of elimination among them.
    – What portion of their money is for food at inflated prices inside the venue
    – What was their objective at the show (it’s usually a guest’s autograph or two)
    – What portion of their day will be in panels if they are even interested in that.

    After these questions are answered, you have their time on the floor, and what they buy is generally guided by how much the booth spaces cost, which effects how much the vendors have to charge for things. Is anyone in the family even a collector of anything in particular or they just there for the comic con experience?

    In New Jersey, we also have a great deal of smaller shows in between the larger ones, for comics and toys, and so, if you are a collector, you know a comic con is probably not the place to look for a killer price. I’ll also add that I see a great deal of new collectors that don’t collect any one thing in particular. You ask what they are after and they generally remark “I know it when I see it”. They like everything..and nothing..and since they don’t know what a lot of the collectibles are as they’ve not researched items they are hunting to complete a collection, they don’t value them. You can tell one collector an item is $100 and see them physically recoil in pain. They can’t get away fast enough, Another knows the value of the item and starts seriously considering it, often saying the price is very competitive. The casual collector makes it hard to know what to carry, and so it’s hard to prepare.

    I think the safest bet right now is to look for regions where there are no events nearby and service the fandoms there, or take a hard look at every event in your area and give the public an experience they haven’t had 10 times over already. Be imaginative..be unique…and above all else, try and pack more bang for your buck into your show. For too many, the experience is
    -Pay for tickets
    – Pay for travel
    – Pay for food
    – Pay for autographs
    – Pay for shiny things

    I like to focus on adding things to events that don’t cost anything. Let’s focus on helping fans create memories…not holes in their pockets. The cons that actually give a damn will garner fan loyalty and soon enough, you’ll see they are the only ones left.

  4. What I’ve noticed in the past few years is a growth of smaller 1 day conventions that is mainly dealers and back issues. This is in eastern Ontario, Canada. About 5 years ago there was only 1 person in this area running one of these in their city (Ottawa). Now they are all over the place. That’s where a lot of back issue dealers are going. They are no longer doing well at the big expensive shows that are difficult to get into with lots of other things to do, so they are opting for the cheap 1 day shows that is focused on primarily comic books and they’re doing them sometimes every weekend or every other weekend, depending on travel time.

  5. I’m a “Con-Wife”, but my husband is not a vendor; rather, he is a comic artist. Artist alley is where the true suffering has been happening recently – people come in, pay for their autographs and photo ops, hit up the vendors for crap they can buy at any local pop culture themed store, and *finally* get around to hitting up artist alley. They check out the tables, “ooh” and “aah” over everything, grab a card and go along their merry way, having spent all their money on toys and prints. They don’t want to buy an unknown comic, and don’t want to shell out the money for an original commission because they cost more than the prints. I have personally witnessed a steady decline over the past couple of years due to over saturation, and emphasis not on the local artists in Artist Alley, but the celebrities and vendors. Most artists are lucky if they make the cost of the table back, never mind any travel/hotel costs, which are paid out of their own pocket. While it is encouraging to hear people admire my husband’s work, “Amazing Bucks” don’t pay the rent. But we go (to fewer and fewer shows) because it is a great way to cultivate fans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always translate into money.
    Since comics have ceased being the focal point of ComicCons, it is getting more and more difficult to get people to care about the artists selling their comics. Which is a real shame.

    Just my 2 cents from Artist Alley.

  6. Brimstone, in the many cons I attended, it was a good environment I wanted. It was very rarely that a single celeb was a draw. The one time, many years ago, a 13-year-old me was crazed to get a book signed by Todd McFarlane.

    Make no mistake, celebrity future is a short term draw. Once you’ve paid your chunk of change for a photo op with Daryl from Walking Dead, most people won’t do it again. But comic buyers always have new comics to see and buy. As always, good stories and long term interest will always be in the best interest of the market.

    Best of luck cashing your paycheck and being the ‘draw’

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