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With more and more comics shows popping up around the world, which are the ones worth going to? How much money do people make? And is it worth springing for a full booth or just half a table in artists alley?

These questions and more are answered in the Devastator/Beat 2015 Convention Exhibitor Survey. This is an annual survey of exhibitors at more than two dozen conventions and comics arts festival, with an emphasis on how much was spent to exhibit, how much was made at the show, and how various conventions rank for organization and ambiance among exhibitors.

You can read some of the results below, but to get the whole thing, with detailed information on individual comics shows, please go here and PLEASE donate at least $1 so that the survey can be expanded and improved upon in future years. The amount of work that the Devastator folks put into this is incredible. And the information is worth MUCH MUCH MORE than a measly dollar. There are many private forums where conventions are discussed but this is the most in-depth public survey, and it’s very important to make this kind of information available to those who don’t have access to some of those other resources.

Exhibiting at shows is an indispensable income stream for many comics creators, and the more information we all have, the better.

This year, 144 exhibitors took part in the survey, up from 107 in 2014 and 47 in 2013. The results were assembled by Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows of The Devastator, with the results designed by Paul Roman Martinez of The 19XX. (And last year’s survey is here with my own thoughts here.)

Have you donated a dollar to The Devastator? Good! Let’s begin!

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Reported sales were generally up but only a little from last year, when one exhibitor made $90k at SDCC, skewing the results a bit. This year’s top earners made $20,000. What is most striking about this year’s survey is the gulf between booths and tables. People spend a lot more at a booth, and at most shows the difference between a half table and a whole table is small enough that just getting a half table should suffice. Exhibitors at actual booths made 3x as much as small press or artists alley. Of course the booth often costs far more than 3x as much as a free table, but still, if you have the amount of merch to justify all the added overhead, it may not be a bad idea.

Of course, most people who get booths do so because they have enough merchandise to sell at a booth. For makers or long time publishers, this may make more sense, depending on the cost of exhibiting.

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Original art was the big earner, unsurprisingly. 
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NYCC and SDCC were the shows where you could make the most money, and NYCC’s high average shows why despite the crowds, smells, agita and bribes necessary to attend, people still flock to it. Denver was number three and TCAF, a show with a far smaller reported attendance, was #4, beating out 29 other shows. That’s why people love it, folks. Ditto for SPX, another small show with big sales.

More cartoonists filled out the survey this year, which may have brought down some of the average sales. In general comments, the feeling seems to be, as we’ve predicted for quite a while, exhibitors are getting more selective about shows. And also doing more but SMALLER shows–something that makes sense but only if they are spread out or a creator has enough new merch for each show to make it more worthwhile. I know a lot of people do “show specials” and new prints or sketches for each con/CAF they go to, so that might cover that. Still, this is not like shooting fish in a barrel. Sure Neal Adams gets $30 a signature, but he schleps a lot of stuff with him, including family members. All of this is hard work.
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When you buy the FULL REPORT, there are rankings for each show, with NYCC, Denver and Emerald City staying strong. Wizard World Chicago also had strong sales, backing up what I always hear anecdotally. APE fell quite a bit from last year, due to the new location, and MoCCA Fest remains problematic—the table costs are so high that’s it’s very hard to make money even when your only costs are a MetroCard. Each show was ranked on sales and popularity and thus came the SUPER RANKINGS:
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As you can see, TCAF and SPX are the most popular and profitable shows, followed by Emerald City, Denver and SDCC. 

I think it’s worth noting here that it may surprise some people that New York Comic Con ranks over San Diego on the pupularityy rating (not the super ranking though), because NYCC is kind of a grueling ordeal that everyone hates and San Diego has nice weather and fish tacos at least. However, NYCC has one thing SDCC doesn’t: an awesome, spacious, light fllled artists alley replete with bathrooms and power outlets, where people LOVE to spend time and money. No wonder everyone was fighting their way through a dangerous crowd just to get to the promised land. 

San Diego’s Artist Alley has become amore vestigial, with people worried they won’t even have padded chairs any more. I don’t see any way that this can be improved, given the size restrictions at the SD convention center, but I expect the idea of some kind of “Sundance” area for cartoonists will continue to be explored. The Artist Alley at NYCC is really one of the highlights of the convention year, and that kind of situation might work well in other locales as well. 

Anyway, go read the whole thing over at the Devastator and be sure to kick in a buck, okay?

7 COMMENTS

  1. What’s the difference between a cartoonist and an artist? Or an artist and a maker? Feels like it needed a little key or glossary to that.

  2. Survey crunchers here!

    @ Andrew – We did not officially cross reference type of exhibitor with genre of work, but we can say the majority of those who selected Fan Art (approx. 80%) were artists.

    @ Kate – There was a key in the survey when filling it out, but it was left out of the survey results this year. Last year’s results have the definitions. Since there are no “standard” titles everyone agrees on, and many creators work in more than one medium, there’s only so much one can do to pin someone down. Here’s how we defined them:

    Artist/Illustrator – An illustrator primarily selling original art or art prints
    Cartoonist – An artist selling their self-or-otherwise-published comics or original comics art
    Small Press – A creator/collective of creators selling various comics, graphics novels, and books
    Maker – A designer or craftsperson who makes their own fashion, toys, sculptures, or other self-branded merchandise.

  3. Good report. Always glad to see data and statistics for conventions and shows.

    Curious as to how/where/who you’re getting respondents though. Is the survey data collected publicly or from a pool of acquaintances?

  4. Interesting results. I’ll have to look at this again when I have a bit more time. (And, of course, donate toward next year’s survey.) What I’d be interested in is Sales versus Cost. Average Sales v. Placement/Size of Table is somewhat relevant, but if my expected average sales is generally less than the cost of appearing at any given event, then why bother? (Tangentially, are the full statistics available? The variance would also be good to see.)

  5. @ Kiri – Thanks! The survey was publicly available for the month of November and The Beat had posted the live survey link: http://www.comicsbeat.com/must-read-take-the-annual-devastatorbeat-indie-exhibitor-convention-mega-survey/
    (Notice that the survey link has far fewer shares than the results. Thems the breaks!)

    @John – Cool, much appreciated. We hope you read through the full results PDF, because we do discuss that. Each convention page lists the costs of each type of booth/table space.
    In case you meant individual exhibitor overhead: Costs vary from exhibitor to exhibitor — travel, lodging, food, incidentals. We focus on gross sales because that is the best tool we have to gauge a convention. We suggest subtracting your overhead from any average sales total in the data for your own (optimistic) profit estimate. Thanks for reading and hope it helps!

  6. One option for moving up to a booth: studios/collectives.
    Get a group of creator friends together, consolidate your product into a cool display, and split the costs of the 10×10.

    You’ll get better placement at the show, and you won’t be competing with everyone else nearby, since you’ll not be in Artist Alley.

    How can San Diego fix their Artist Alley, which has been relegated to a corner of the exhibit floor?
    Place it in a ballroom at the Hyatt.
    Allow EVERYONE to visit… no badge required. The free admission means more money for purchases.

    Subsidize the table cost. Perhaps it becomes like Comiket ($80 application fee! 35,000 circles! Lottery.)

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