A blog in desperate need of a new title
Whining About San Diego Comic-Con
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
I originally planned to write a post about this year's Comic-Con and how amazing the event was. I still might, but I feel the need to respond to some complaints and whining about what Comic-Con has become. It started with an email the day before Comic-Con began from Chuck, owner of Mile High Comics.
Still waiting for our freight to be delivered to our booth at the San Diego Comic-Con at 6:30 PM. Our 53' tractor-trailer checked in at the convention freight yard just after 8 AM this morning. You would think that our paying them $16,200 to rent our booth would have elicited some measure of competency and concern from the convention staff. Apparently not.I completely understand how frustrating it is to feel ignored. I think everyone can relate to the feeling of helplessness, knowing you've paid for a product or service and getting little or no acknowledgment from the provider. But I try to live my life remembering that I don't live in a vacuum... maybe there's a valid reason I'm being ignored. The convention floor is over 1/2 mile across, and there were over 740 vendors this year! And while $16,200 is no small fee, Chuck is competing for attention with the likes of Marvel, DC, Mattel, and Hasbro, just to name a few.Chuck continued to complain two days after the convention was in full swing.
There is no longer any reason to not still attend SDCC even if you fail to win a ticket in the online lottery. Much like going to Downtown Disney can be quite a fun experience without paying the exorbitant cost of going into the park itself, just hanging out in the neighborhood near the SDCC can now keep you quite entertained for all five days of the show.
In and of itself this externalization of the convention experience creates some problems, however, as those of us who are paying top dollar to rent our booths inside the main hall (ours cost $16,200) are now finding it much harder to generate enough revenue to cover our costs.(Chuck just loves to remind people how much his booth cost him.)For the past eight years, SDCC has had to cap admission to 130,000 attendees because of the limitations of the convention space. So while there are more people hanging around outside the convention center and being entertained by the free activities, attendance to the convention itself has not shrunk. In fact, demand for tickets to the convention has grown each year. If the convention center could hold 300,000 attendees, there's no doubt that SDCC would sell all 300,000 tickets. Chuck's problem isn't that there aren't enough people, his problem is that there aren't enough people at the convention wanting to buy his comic books.
For comics dealers, the effect of this diminishment in foot traffic is magnified by the fact that the online lottery system does not distinguish between fans. This causes enormous difficulties for those of us selling products (as opposed to promoting an upcoming media property) as the percentage of fans winning tickets who are actual buyers/collectors/readers diminishes each year.I think "distinguish between fans" might be the most worrisome statement I've heard someone in the comics industry say in a long time. Should we only allow true comic fans into comic book stores? The beauty of a convention like Comic-Con is that it opens up the comic universe to all people, not just the nerdy comic book buyers from 40 years ago. Does Chuck really want to go back to the convention of 40 years ago when attendance was in the hundreds?Comic book sales last month was the highest it has ever been. Several things contribute to this, like the amazing run of Marvel movies or shows like AMC's Walking Dead... and the fact these things are promoted heavily at SDCC. But, much to Chuck's dismay, the convention didn't prevent an eight year old little girl from coming to the show because she's only into Power Puff Girls and not overpriced variant covers. But with any luck, when she's 17, she'll be a regular comic buyer because of it.Chuck is far from done though.
On a related note, the rapaciousness of the local hotel and restaurant establishments has become increasingly vulgar. As they have come to realize that they have a captive audience during SDCC these people have taken to jacking up prices to ridiculous rates. An omelette that I purchased at a cafe in the Gaslamp for a pricy $11.95 on Monday was jacked up to $18.95 on their "special" Comic-Con menu on Tuesday.I don't like paying $20 for an omelette either, but keep in mind that Mile High Comics makes variant covers of $3 comic books and sells them for $20.In a fourth, and hopefully final, complaint email today, Chuck continues his whining about the convention (emphasis his)...
Simply put, greatly increasing the size of the show also provided justification for these managers to also increase their own compensation well into six figures. Comic-Con International may be set up as a "Not For Profit" charity, but as the San Diego Union Tribune discovered during their search of public records a few years back, nothing prevents the Board of a non-profit from paying themselves salaries "in line with industry standards for organizations of a similar size." The bigger they make the show, the more that they can justify paying themselves. It is just that simple.I've never understood why a person who works for a living, non-profit or not, shouldn't expect to be paid "in line with industry standards". How else would the non-profit attract the best talent? But aside from that, Chuck started selling comics as a teen and now has the largest comic store in the world. I think it's safe to say that as his store grew in size, so did the amount he put in his pocket. At least I sure hope he isn't making the same amount of money as he was 40 years ago.Comic-Con has grown and evolved; it's no longer a small comic swap meet. If that's what you're looking for, there are plenty of those conventions all over. But the inclusiveness and popularity of SDCC has been good for everyone in the industry, including Chuck. But most importantly it's been good for the fans... and that's what should matter.