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Over at Von and Moggy’s journal, cartoonist Von Allan takes a clinical look the metrics of attending a small press show like APE:

What do we know, then? Well, we know that APE ’07 had a total of 338 exhibitor tables in the entire convention space (see this link). Not exhibitors – tables. The cost of each full table, assuming each exhibitor took advantage of the early bird special, was $185.00. I’m going to ignore the half tables just to keep the math simpler. So, the total cost of ALL 338 tables was $62,530.00. Put another way, APE attendees would have to shell out this amount for all the exhibitors to cover their table costs. And more than this for exhibitors to make a profit.

You really have to read the whole thing, but after running numbers and having some educated guesses, Allen comes up with the number that each REALLY small press table could only net an average of $74.00, far less than the cost of a table and travel, etc.

Marie Looking Worried-1In a second post, Allan talks about his prep for the show, including sending out press kits and so on. The result? Mixed.

On a broader level, we really weren’t able to network all that well, despite the better table placement. One concern I’ve long had with conventions in general is that the key people I would hope to talk to don’t know I exist. On top of it, I don’t know they’re there, either. What do I mean? Well, here’s a “fer instance”: it turns out that Gina Gagliano, one of the high muckety-mucks at First Second Books, was at APE. I had no idea. It would have been fantastic to give her a galley, especially since I would love to freakin’ talk with these folks about this book or perhaps another one down the road. I just don’t have an “in.” One hopes that being at a con will help pave the way for this type of networking, but time after time that hasn’t happened for us. In addition, other media were there covering the event (hell, even Wizard and Newsarama were there and did some stuff on Hope Larson, Gene Yang, and whatnot) but we didn’t see any of these people. Quite honestly, we have no pull at all. As a result, you’re totally reliant on people finding you (I should add that I tried quite hard to get a list of media contacts from the APE powers that be. I really wanted to know who would be there, at least on the media front, so I could contact them directly myself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given that info).

Now this is all interesting because from what we heard, this year’s APE was a fun-filled-fest as always, but attendance was low, and people didn’t necessarily makes oodles of money. APE is traditionally a very money poor show–those colorful kids with the piercings and vinyl underpants look great but they spend all their money looking great and didn’t have that much to begin with. It’s much more of a lookie-loo show than, say SPX or MOCCA, where attendees have more discretionary income.

Allan also gets to the heart of WHY exhibit at a show, and we have to say, his own case is very interesting. We first heard of him several YEARS ago when he offered to send us a press kit for his upcoming graphic novel, THE ROAD TO GOD KNOWS. We read it (we had more spare time then) and some real issues with the art — Allan is not a trained artist and it looks uncomfortable, to be honest. However, the story — about a young girl with a mentally ill mom — has stuck with us all this time, maybe because the girl, Marie, is a big wrestling fan and her need and desire in the story is to go see a wrestling match. (Vonnegut: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”) So all these years, we’ve been waiting to see how the story comes out, and if that isn’t an endorsement, nothing is.

Marie And Her Mom At DinnerWe haven’t really talked to Allan in the past couple of years, but he is absolutely committed to getting his book out and telling his story. We would question just WHY he is printing galleys and sending out press kits to build an audience for his book when he could just put it on the web for about $20 a year and see if it has legs. In many ways, Allan’s marketing campaign is from an older, paper-based model. It’s his plan, and he’s put a lot of thought and money into it. But does this model even work anymore?

You can read the first 20 pages of THE ROAD TO GOD KNOWS here.

[UPDATE: Apologies for misspelling Von Allan’s name — at least I was consistent though.]


  1. Interesting discussion, but all the numbers are such wild guesstimates and shots-in-the-dark that I wonder if they have any value at all. Two very important points:

    1. The people who buy stuff at comic/anime/fandom conventions are often the same people who are also selling stuff — and the smaller/more-narrowly-defined the convention, the more true this is. At most conventions I’ve been to, a very large portion of the stuff I sell happens to be sold to other dealers. At a convention like APE, I imagine a huge percentage of our sales went to other vendors (perhaps even more than half). This kinda throws a huge monkey wrench into the works — how much of the money exchanging hands is ‘fresh’ money coming from outside the convention hall, and how much of it is just being passed between dealers?

    2. For many APE exhibitors, it’s not about making money. I’ve always found it is best to consider profit as a secondary motive, behind exposure. For example, many years ago I exhibited at a small sci-fi/comics convention in Springfield, Missouri. As expected, sales were slow (very few people interested in small press comics there), and if you calculated out how much money came in versus the expenses, we lost hundreds of dollars on that trip. HOWEVER, we got exposure to a whole new audience, and probably “converted” two or three fans into regular customers who will buy our books at their local comic book store every month for the next few years. Short-term loss turns into long-term gain.

    One more interesting anecdote to pass along about this year’s APE. At most comic book conventions I’ve exhibited, you have to start out the show with a huge stack of ones and fives and small change, because most of the people showing up at the convention arrive with crisp new twenties to spend. As the convention wears on, you see fewer and fewer twenties, and many of those ones and fives you’ve passed out on that first day start trickling back in, as people end up spending all their money at the show.

    This year’s APE defied that trend. At the end of the first day, we ended up with MORE ones and fives and tens in the till than we started out with at the beginning of the day. Very unusual. This indicates to me that most of the attendees arrived at APE cash-poor, and didn’t have much money to spend.