There have been some rumblings on the internets dismissing complaints about how low sales were at SPX this year. Sales complaints are not a minor problem — these are Troubled Economic Times, and this year, even the bigger publishers at SPX showed signs of cutting back. The show was missing more than a few of the usual faces, and statistically, at least some of them had to have been economic casualties. I love going to SPX, and I have no complaints about how it’s organized, but I’ve questioned whether it’s even feasible for SPX’s attendees to support the number of creators in attendance. So I thought I’d do some math regarding SPX tables in the interest of seeing just how the money in the room spreads around.
[If the math gets boring, skip down to the bold below.]
Paid attendance was just over 2000, up 18 percent from 2009 and 30 percent from 2008, according to PR coordinator Warren Bernard. 371 exhibitors, VIPs, press, and so on brought total attendance to 2600. –PW.
Assuming the 2000 attendees buy $100 each of comics, the total of cash entering SPX is $200,000. For each $20 increment over that $100 that the group average spends, there’s an extra $40,000. So, $120 = $240,000, $140 = $280,000, etc. The tricky part is, there is absolutely no way to accurately figure out what either the total or the average is, unless next year the SPX people keep track of how much money people have in their wallets & attendees update them when they go to the ATM. So until I have a better sample of estimates, I’m going to stick with the $100 per attendee average. (And that might actually be a little high, economy & whatnot.) And before we anecdotally break down into “I spent $300 just at Fantagraphics this year!” comments, remember that for every diehard fan, there’s the friend who got dragged along, the family with kids, the student with the love but not the money for the convention it took them a significant portion of spare cash just to get to.
The show has 371 (exhibitors) / 178 (tables), which works out to 2.08 people per table…but from looking at the floor, it looked like most people had 3 or 4, which collaborates the 600 with VIPs, etc. For the purposes of clean math, we’ll assume:
–That the number of creators getting VIP badges & buying regular attendee badges matches that 600.
–The number of retailers & press are comparatively small.
–Retailers are not enough to significantly affect the totals, because even if they buy more, when they do, they get a discount for buying in bulk (and also there are just a handful of retailers there).
–Also that the number of creators at a publisher’s table matches the 3 or 4 of a regular table, and that they still have the same per person cost.
And I don’t count sales from artists buying comics, because we’re looking at the money coming in the door being enough to pay for the trip of everyone who makes it inside; plus, buying comics also increases that artist’s cost of attending.
I’ll admit this isn’t the most scientific model, but without solid numbers to work with, these are at least pretty fair and have some basis in reality. I’ve tried to have the math err on the side that turns a profit.
But here’s some actual numbers I can confirm as an exhibitor at SPX:
My costs for the show, splitting all the split-able ones with a group of 4 or 5 people, were about $325, which breaks down to:
- $75 for a half of a half-table
- $90 for hotel for three nights
- $60 for travel
- $100 for meals & drinks
As an exhibitor coming from within driving distance on the East Coast, I think it’s a base from which the cost can reasonably be estimated for a talking point about averages, but costs are higher for those flying in from further away, and those shipping books. From the price of $325, the cost of 600 people going to this show is $195,000. Even assuming 2/3 of creators leave the hotel on Sunday night, it only lowers the cost to $179,000. (Subtracting $40, for room cost & one meal.)
Going with the scenario of $179k spent to $200k earned, we’re talking about a $21k profit that’s divided among the 600 exhibitors at $35 over the cost of doing business at SPX. For each $20 increase in the average of money spent by attendees, it spreads out to $67 more per creator.
But this isn’t how business actually happens. Some people do very well, and other people don’t even make their costs. No one expects kids showing up for their first year to make their table money back, (and we might actually try warning them about that) but I’m surprised when I hear that talented, critically acclaimed artists with long-time audiences who’ve been going to the show for ages don’t break even. If reality conforms to my admittedly not ironclad and somewhat idealistic math, the average profit earned over 14 hours of con time doesn’t even begin to compete with minimum wage, not even counting the time, effort, and cost put into making the books themselves. Yes, this is a standard observation for a comics article, but this is supposed to be one of the few rooms where the audience is seeking out the indie, artistic, and obscure. Even here, there’s not the demand to support most decent cartoonists. The attendees outnumber exhibitors by only about 3 to 1.
Clearly, few of us are making bank with at shows like this. To those that are making a living at it, it’s still an often precarious situation dependent on many variables beyond your control, and not something you can always call comfortable. The fact remains, you can win an Ignatz and not cover your expenses for the show. And, in a year where many of us are struggling to make a living at all, it becomes harder to justify the expense if you’re not getting something else out of it.
The simple math of it all is, if I didn’t love SPX, I’d have stopped going by now. The real point is to raise money for the CBLDF, not cartoonists, and the organizers do that pretty well. But the social aspect of SPX is the part to keep coming back for — it’s priceless, or at least, the rest of us have silently agreed that hanging out with our peers is valuable enough to offset our losses. The real highlight of SPX might be finally being drunk enough to hit on the shy cutie with tortoiseshell glasses after the Ignatzes. (I can’t even count how many couples I know who met each other at the hotel bar, including myself). You go to SPX to take part in the comics love-fest. Any other reason and there’s going to be a year you stop seeing the worth in going.