Are comic cons dying — or changing?
Bleeding Cool ran this teaser last night on Twitter:
Denise Dorman Asks – Is Cosplay Killing Comic Con? http://t.co/KZ4GYx1wHo
— Bleeding Cool (@bleedingcool) September 22, 2014
And it’s a topic that’s worth discussing.
But first, let’s remove that clickbait headline. Here’s what Ms Dorman asks:
I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place.
And — importantly — she adds:
Have the expenses of dressing up, rising ticket prices, price gouged hotels, and parking costs to attend these costly conventions made it financially unfeasible for people to actually spend money on exhibitors anymore?
As the conversation progressed on Twitter, I mentioned that I had been increasingly cautionary on this site regarding conventions — especially for webcartoonists who were just starting out. My standing advice has been that conventions don’t deliver on a significant amount of promotion or networking, and that one should have a reasonable expectation to turn a profit before they commit to a show.
But I want to open this up to a deeper discussion here.
Are comic conventions becoming a less important part of the health of a webcomics business?
If so, what are you doing to adapt to that change?
Cosplay isn’t killing comic conventions, but it’s a symptom of a change that is occurring in many comic conventions across the US. Here’s the breakdown:
• The economy is a mess, and as a result, people have less money to spend. That’s why, as far back as 2011, I was advising people to look into the local economy of the town they were considering exhibiting in. A healthy local economy means that you have a greater chance of seeing attendees with money to spend.
• Most people who attend a convention have a budget — a rough estimate of how much money they’re willing to spend / charge.
• Most attendees have a prioritized list — conscious or subconscious — of creators / items that they’re willing to spend money on.
• As a creator, if you’re not high enough on a given attendee’s list, they won’t have money to spend on you. That’s because they’ve already spent it (or are saving it) for higher-priority items/creators.
• If you’re unknown to the attendee — and if they discover you at the show — your only hope of making a sale is (1) the timing is such that they still have money in their budgets and/or (2) seeing your work at the show elevates you past the creators/items on their prioritized list.
Of course, it doesn’t take very long to burn through your money and your list. But the show is all weekend long. So what can an attendee do?
• Take photos of cosplayers
• Take photos of merchandise that they like
• Bring friends over to a table to admire a sketch/T-shirt that they appreciate.
• Attend panels.
• Stop by and say “thanks for the free comic” — or “barnacle” a creator who seems to have nothing else to do.
But to say that cosplayers are killing comic conventions is as silly as saying booth barnacles or discussion panels are killing cons. They’re not the disease — they’re the symptom. And that’s even an unfair analogy because most symptoms are “bad.” But my point is this: If comic conventions are declining as a revenue-generating resource for creators, it’s because of greater economic/sociological forces at play — not someone who expresses their fandom through a costume. The throngs of people surrounding those cosplayers, rather, is an indication that the attendees’ lists/budgets are depleted/spoken for.