The Business of Cons: Times, they are a-changin’

Alright guys and gals. Last post was a bit ‘CalamityZilla breathing fire’ which was both necessary (for me) and cathartic. But as I promised, there needs to be a follow-up to the whole ‘there’s no war on cosplay’, because although there is no war, there’s certainly valid issues at play.

The unfortunate thing is that the guy(s) interviewed didn’t articulate them, if they’re even consciously aware of them. (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are, but in their frustration lashed out at the ‘easier’ target: cosplayers)

Here’s what it boils down to:

The Fannish Marketplace has changed.

‘No duh‘ you might say if you are actually a 90s kid. But really, let’s look at the ways the market’s changed for cons:

1. Conventions are Big Business now

Back in the ‘old days’ (70s-90s? Hell even into the 00’s) Cons were mostly a place for geeks to gather and get access to stuff that they couldn’t otherwise. Discussions on their fandom, manga or anime that wasn’t widely available, meeting voice actors and comic artists and buying merch.

Sometime while I was on cosplay-hiatus, the convention market exploded. (no, not literally, geez.) The first time I went to Anime North, it was sizeable, but there was still room in hotels, the dance was in a building and getting a ticket wasn’t a problem. The first time I went back, rooms for the next year were sold out by the time that year’s con was over, the ‘dance’ was now an out-door rave and they consistently sell out of tickets.

So more people = more customers, that means more profit, right?

Hold yer horses Calamity Jane. (ohoho I’ve been saving that one <.<)

NYCC 2014

NYCC 2014

What does this mean for artists and vendors?

The larger a convention is, the more that convention will cost to sell at. Higher attendance means a higher fee for a table/booth. Do you need an electrical outlet? That’ll be another charge.  Internet connection for debit/credit? That’ll be even more.

Larger conventions also mean that there will be more vendors, and therefore more competition for sales.

2. There are multiple Conventions per year in most cities

Because Cons are now such a profitable business… More and more have been popping up. The first Ottawa Comic Con had an attendance of about 22 THOUSAND people. So they added a second con, Pop Expo, the next year. That brings up the National Capital region of Canada’s yearly convention count to:

  1. Ottawa Comic Con
  2. GAnime
  3. Naru2U
  4. Chibi GAnime
  5. Awesome Adventure Academy (new this year)
  6. “Geek Market” (Mostly a dealer’s room) (note to cosplay guests: Read this before agreeing to attend)
  7. Pop Expo

That’s seven cons for a medium sized city. Toronto seems to have one every second week and Montreal has a fair number as well.

What does this mean for artists and vendors?

The average con-goer is no longer saving up for just one convention. They probably aren’t making more money, so in order to attend more conventions, they’re having to split up their ‘con-funds’ in order to afford the extra conventions. That means less money per con, and even less when you factor in multiple passes (40-60$ each), any travel and hotel expenses.

algebra... necessary

Lies! Math is useful!

Let’s Math!

If Calamity has $900 to spend on cons, and goes to 3 cons a year…

she has $900/3 = $300 per convention.

$300 – $50 for a weekend pass – $150 for a hotel – $30 for food = $70 for merchandise

but wait… $70 – $40 for a photo with Chris Pratt (I can dream!)

= $30 for shopping.

So… yeah. With $30, I’m probs not going to be able to afford much on the show floor, which means I’m also going to be more discerning about what I do buy.

3. The Internet & the rise of the global marketplace

Don’t you roll your eyes at me young’un! I remember the days of listening to the dial-up ‘ba-dum ba-dum SCHKKKKSHHHHHH’ to connect to them internets!

MatildaWigs. Figures. Whatever, it’s on the internets.

Yeah, the internet’s been around quite a while now. But there’s been some recent-ish changes that affect vendors in a way that they haven’t been before. It’s called the global marketplace. You want a specific figure? Check ebay. Or Amazon. Or TaoBao. Or the figure maker’s store… you get the picture.

What does this mean for artists and vendors?

Unless a vendor is selling a con-exclusive, or antique whatevers, then there’s a high likelihood that you can find their items online for less than the vendor is charging.

Let me get this cleared up though: It’s not because the vendor is greedy, it’s because they have costs that online vendors don’t: Booth fees, employee wages and insurance, import fees, transport to the convention, lodgings for employees if the convention is out of town. If they have a storefront on top of convention booths, they also have rent to cover as well.

So not only do vendors have competition at the cons but their customers will always have the online vendors in the back of their minds.

4. Guests

Please note: This is not the guests’ fault! It is instead a piece of a very complicated and dynamically changing economic puzzle called ‘the convention marketplace’.

Nigri, Monika Lee, YayaCosplay guests are still on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to ‘fame’

In our math exercise above, I added a cost for a signed photo with Chris Pratt. Guests have become more well known and increasingly currently-relevant with the expansion of comic cons. While this might help vendors if they carry items related specifically to that guest, it also means that con-goers who might normally buy merchandise specific to that guest’s series will instead spend money on a photo op and signed print which could range from an affordable $15 to $70+.

Are con-vendors doomed?

Not at all, but I do believe that the con market is approaching a saturation point, and business will plateau. Some vendors are going to go out of business, but that’s just a fact of life. The ones that remain will be the vendors that look at the changing market and adapt to it. Not the grumpy old farts who glare at cosplayers from behind their tables and mutter about how the young’uns are ruining their livelihoods.

xox Calamity

2 thoughts on “The Business of Cons: Times, they are a-changin’

  1. To add to this. I have seen some events jump the gun and oversell the number of tables in the dealer’s room and artist alley. The amount of sellers needs to be proportional to the number of attendees. If it’s over-saturated, there is less money to go around.

    Another note: if an artist or vendor is a constant fixture at an event (or multiple events in one region) and do not bring anything new year after year (or event after event), people tend to tire of seeing the same merchandise all the time. Many people are looking for variety and something new because they attend multiple conventions. I often hear “I don’t need to go to the dealers room – it’s the same stuff as last year.”

    1. Completely agree. One of the local events is particularly bad for expanding the sales floor without a corresponding attendance increase.

      On the note about constant fixtures, the same rule of ‘seen it before’ applies across vendors too. If 10 vendors in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor all sell the same thing, even if they don’t always attend the same cons, I feel like there’s nothing new.