Convention economics from a different viewpoint

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201012140345 Convention economics from a different viewpointOver the years we’ve published links to many an analysis of convention sales — what works, what doesn’t, what is the real economics. But here’s an interesting take from Tony DiGerolamo, writer of JERSEY DEVIL and several issues of BART SIMPSON for Bongo, and a webcomic called SUPER FRAT, among other things. His blog runs on The Webcomic Factory, a joint effort by DiGerolamo and Christian Beranek that publishes various webcomics. I couldn’t find DiGeralamo’s other writing credits easily on the site, but we hope it’s fair to say he’s one of those small publishers you see in various artist’s alley who have small press genre books — the kind of stuff that doesn’t get as much attention as mainstream or art comics — sometimes justifiably, sometimes not.

We don’t mean to pigeon hole DiGeralomo without knowing his work — although it doesn’t look like the kind of stuff that appeals to me, personally — so let’s move on to his comments on selling at conventions. Basically, this year’s New York Comic Con was so crowded and expensive that he’s questioning whether the economics make any sense at all. We’ll quote quite a long bit because it’s a long column and we don’t think we’ve ever seen convention economics presented quite this way before. DiGeralomo doesn’t have any problem chatting to his fans and readers, but it doesn’t break even:

With the press of people in NYCC, you’d be lucky to talk and sell to a fan in under three minutes. Very lucky. Let’s say I am amazing and I can do just that. Add up all the hours over three days and you get 22 hours. One fan every three minutes is 20 an hour or 440 fans IF I’m lucky.

But realistically, I have to eat lunch and go to the bathroom at some point. So on two of the big days, I’d have to carve out a total of maybe an hour. that’s 420 fans. Some fans like to talk and talk and if they’re your fan, you can’t just brush them off. So let’s average out the 3 minutes to five. That’s 12 an hour times 21 hours is 252. The last two hours of the show, people start to pack up and if I’m in a row and everyone around me leaves, that really slow things down, so eliminate the last two hours. That’s 228 fans. And the mornings are slow too. Even in a place like the Javitz Center, it will take the fans a while to make it to Artists Alley and most will just look in the first half hour. That drops it to about 210 fans. And then you have “fans” who aren’t really your fan. Maybe your pitch sounded good initially, but they change their mind and leave your table promising to come back. Let’s just call it an even 200.

So if I do a big convention in New York, about the best I can hope for is to sell to 200 fans. At $5 a pop, that’s $1000. I have done this exactly ONCE in my 15 or so years selling comics. (Chicago Wizard World 2009 and that’s with some product that wasn’t even mine.) My second best show was Pittsburgh, 1999 I think. New Dimension Comics bought out my table at the end of the show. Back then, my comics were more like $2 and $3 and, of course, they got a discount on the 100 or so books they bought. Combine that with the books I sold to fans over three days and it was about 200 books total. Cashwise, it worked out to something like $375 gross.

But those numbers were gross profits. I had to get a plane ticket to Chicago ($400 because I booked late), ship the books via UPS (around $110), hotel for three days ($325 or so), food ($150) and incidentals. Plus, I had to split some of that money with my publisher and other creators. After that, it was all gone.


For well-known artists and small press folks with strong, passionate followings, show sales are a very important part of their economy. For someone like DiGeralomo, they seem to be an example of diminishing returns especially as shows get bigger and costs rise.

Comments

  1. Sad to hear. If there’s one thing Tony DiGeromalo is, it’s a salesman…I’ve seen him at a few WWC and Heroes Cons and was even stationed across the aisle from him, and he’s great at grabbing the attention of everyone who walks by and giving them the hard sell. If even selling that hard can’t make the economics work out, that’s kind of depressing.

  2. I can sympathize. It’s hard to make a net profit in AA as a writer or artist if you’re only selling comics. A professional (or at least quality) artist can sell one original piece of artwork for $50 or more; a few sales like that he has his table paid for. Selling comics, you have to work harder and sell to more people. It’s why I always try to have trade paperbacks on my table. They cost more to the consumer and have a greater markup than a traditional comic, and therefore more profit for me the seller. I’ve even added original art and sketch cards to my offerings; yes, some writers can draw! I try to keep my incidental costs down, too. If I’m not a guest at a con, I pack snacks, sandwiches and water, and I try to split a hotel room when possible.

  3. I loved showing at cons. Sometimes I made my table cost. Sometimes I made my table and plane fare (and stayed with friends) and made a little bit of money.

    However: plane fare, hotel, food and table cost? Never have I made all that at one show.

    Then again, I only sell comics. If I wanted to sell t-shirts, I’d open a t-shirt company. I don’t sell prints. I do occasionally sell five-minute-stories, but people don’t know what the hell to do with those. Thus the lament of the sole writer in comics goes.

  4. bad wolf says:

    DiGerolamo also writes a small-press reviews column for Knights of the Dinner Table (Kenzer), and in the past wrote several of their spin-off series. Certainly a man dedicated to the field!

  5. As one who has been at this game for awhile myself, I always advise new publishers/exhibitors to not get to hung up on sales but rather focusing on getting people familiar with the work. Some of that may be in sales, but some needs to be in comping the right people (i.e., reviewers, retailers, etc.) If you make money, that’s gravy. But if you go in simply expecting to make a lot of money at a convention (I’m sure some do, esp. if they have a “hot” product/concept), you’re bound to be disappointed. So better to go in with open eyes, and with other goals and expectations.

    Yes, if you’re simply selling comics, that does make it tougher. Selling some ancillary products like original art or t-shirts will help boost the bottom line.

  6. Having actually gone to read the link, I understand where he’s coming from. I particularly thought his comment on how conventions have changed — esp. with fans now being able to interact with creators online 24/7 — a pretty good observation.

    But conventions do still allow for direct one-on-one interactions that can’t be replicated anywhere else. That might not seem like the most cost-effective way to build momentum for a book, but it still works. While people like Jeff Smith and Batton Lash of course have a lot going for them in terms of putting out quality books on a regular basis, the number of appearances they make also underscores how much importance they place on exhibiting at conventions. But it has to be part of an overall package that can be quite daunting for most people (myself included)!

  7. Roger Hammerstein says:

    We have to remember that conventions serve a number of needs, rather than pure sales. I personally get hung up on sales, but if you meet the right person at the show, you can do even better in the long run.

    I did bad at APE, but got a little gig out of it that made it worthwhile.

    However, rising table costs suck. A lot. MoCCA is the most guilty of this one.

  8. jacob lyon goddard says:

    i’ve met Tony here and there, and we’ve shared a dinner or two in years long past. he is indeed a fantastic salesman and probably an even better hype-man, but certainly not a guy who’s devoted the advancement of the artform. he writes what he wants to write, and god bless him for it, but he certainly cant expect to compete against either the mainstream nor the “art” comic worlds.
    his work is born out of the mid 80s b&w boom, as viewed through the internet 1.0 era. he does not produce work that caters to either the mainstream movie tie-in crowds or the children of the post-RAW/Fort Thunder/Kramers Ergot world. he is a creator without an audience.

    i knew him well enough to know that he’s the kind of guy who would say something like “create the kinds of comics you would want to read”, and money be damned. he should take that advice and realize that he has never, nor will he probably ever, make comics that that appeal to an existing fan base or capture the attentions of a fan base to come.

    he’s a good guy and makes exactly the kinds of comics he wants to make, but his finger has never been on the pulse of comics culture.

  9. jacob lyon goddard says:

    i don’t want anyone to think i’m speaking ill of Tony DiGeromalo, he’s written his fair share of enjoyable comics. i just don’t think his output will ever be either safe and comfortable or new and cutting edge.

    in his defense, i will say that he is one out of hundreds in this same position and that he does it better than most.

  10. Hmm… it seems that an artists alley table should be considered an advertising/promotional expense.

    Exhibitors should also track sales and traffic (not always possible, if only one person is hosting the table).

  11. Yeah, as a writer, I pretty much have no way of making a bunch of money at a con, so I view getting a table as more of a promotional exercise. It’s good to be out there amongst the other creators, get your name out there, meet some fans, and network. I try to sell a few comics to at least try to break even on my table cost, but that only happens if it’s a relatively inexpensive con. That’s why I’d never table at a mega-huge (i.e. expensive) show like SDCC or NYCC or C2E2. The folks going to those shows aren’t really interested in indie comics, and the cost of a table + lodging + travel + meals is in the thousands of dollars. Forget that.

  12. <>

    Au contrair, sir. I sold more than 20 copies of my self-published book THE29 at c2e2 last year without breaking a sweat — and while just borrowing space at a friend’s table. If I was really there to sell, I could’ve sold more.

    People who go to big comic book shows may generally be more interested in mainstream comics, but they’ll buy anything if it’s good. THAT’S the key.

  13. Dara:

    But you’re right — exhibiting at a show where tables are $400 or up with nothing but indie product is a huge financial risk.

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