Comic Conventions — Taking My Own Advice
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This is a re-post from the Webcomics.com archive. If you’ve ever been curious about the kind of information, tutorials and advice that you’ll get as part of your subscription to Webcomics.com, this is a good example.
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NOTE: This piece originally ran in 2013. However, I’m updating it with a few thoughts from 2016 at the end.
A funny thing happens when you write for a site like this, day after day.
You start to listen to yourself.
Ever since 2010, I’ve posted here about how my attitude towards comic conventions have been changing. When we wrote the original “How To Make Webcomics” book, I wrote the chapter on comic conventions. I drew myself as a carnival barker, standing on top of a convention table, and most of the material in that chapter was very strongly geared towards using comic convention as a primary revenue source for webcomics.
And I still think they’re important.
But for years, I’ve been posting some very frank advice on the topic. In short, I don’t think you should go to a comic convention unless you have a very good chance of turning a profit.
There are only two other serious reasons to go to a comic convention: Promotion and networking. I don’t put a lot of value into the promotion that takes place at a comic convention. What we do is digital. If your promotion isn’t clickable, it’s not worth much. And networking? Again, I think it’s valuable — but not to the extent that I’m willing to go into the hole financially for it.
Which brings me to a few months ago, as I was staring down the barrel of yet another Comic Con International. It meant a roundtrip flight to the West Coast, a weeklong hotel stay, a week of eating-out, and a very expensive booth — not to mention the weeks of lost productivity before the convention and the traditional week of recovery after the show.
All of this had to be weighed against an ever-dwindling percentage of profit earned at the show. You’ve heard it before, so I’m not going to belabor it. Comic Con International isn’t about comics anymore. It’s about blockbuster movies, TV shows, video games, autographs and pop-culture spectacle. Not only do the majority of the attendees buy their tickets for a dozen reasons that are prioritized above buying my merchandise, but they overwhelmingly expect the stuff on my table to be free giveaways — like those at the booths of the movie studios and video-game companies.
I called Dave Kellett, with whom I’ve split a booth in San Diego for years, and asked him if he wanted to buy my half of the booth. With the Strippped documentary nearing its release, he generously agreed, and I was officially not going to San Diego for the first time since 2001.
And I’m not going to kid you, it’s going to feel really weird when I know that all of my friends are going to be there. I’m going to miss seeing them, laughing with them, unwinding after the show with them… I’m going to be pretty sad about that.
But I know I made the right decision. To be honest with you, I’m taking a long, cold look at New York Comic Con next. It’s another expensive convention in an expensive town. I made good money there last year, but it’s costing more and more to do so.
But that’s part of running a business — making tough decisions. I’m getting a much better return-on-investment out of concentrating on my Kickstarter campaign this past week than I’ve ever clear at San Diego and New York combined. And that’s really hard not to pay attention to.
So I’m getting down from the convention table and removing my red-and-white-striped carnival-barker shirt.
Step right up! Step right up! Come see the man who heard his own voice after three years!
So that piece originally ran in 2013. It’s been three years now, and getting off the Comic Con International treadmill was one of the smartest moves I ever made for my business.
I’m seeing posts made by my colleagues who are frantically trying to prepare for the show this month, and I’m so glad that it’s not me. I’m not staring down the barrel of four-digit expense tallies. I’m not dreading walking onto that show floor and being drowned out in the noise. I’m not hoping I’ll make enough money to justify losing three weeks of productivity — one in prep, one in doing, and one in recovery.
I’ll miss a few things about Comic Con. I’ll miss seeing the friends that I used to look forward to seeing there year after year. And the loyal readers who used to stop by the booth to buy the latest books and chat for a while. But after that, the list drops off precipitously.
Fewer conventions. More money
The fact of the matter is this: I’ve done better financially since restricting my convention schedule.
There are a few reasons for this.
First, as it has become increasingly difficult to turn a profit at many of these shows, I have simply eliminated an expense by saying no to more convention appearances.
Secondly, convention appearances require a significant amount of time — to prepare for, to attend, and to recover from. This is particularly true if the show requires travel. More time doing these activities means less time for the things that are bringing money into my business.
And that brings me to my third reason — Kickstarter and Patreon. I’m currently working on fulfilling the orders for a successful Kickstarter campaign. By the time those books get out into distribution, they will be responsible for thousands in revenue. Furthermore, the sooner I get this one off the books, the sooner I can launch my next Kickstarter campaign.
Meanwhile, my Patreon backers have completely changed the way I approach my business… and I’ll be darned if I’m going to disappoint them by missing updates. My time is best spent right here in my studio, cranking out a steady flow of content for my Patreon backers because that’s where the majority of my income is coming from these days.
I used to travel to almost a dozen conventions a year. This year it was three. And next year, it may be even fewer. And my bottom line has never been healthier.
It’s one of the many ways that the business of webcomics is completely different from it was when I started doing this in 2000. I think it’s time to take a long, hard, sober look at whether exhibiting at a comic convention is the right thing to do for your business. For me, the answer has never been so clear.