You’re ready to attend your first convention. What show do you pick?
As you search through the interwebs of connectivity, you find a plethora of shows. At first, you thought there could only be a few in the area. You realize there are ten, twenty, thirty… well over one-hundred shows that you find with your mind-boggled eyes.
Some are popular, claiming to draw over 20,000 attendees. Others are small, drawing only a few hundred people.
Which do you attend?
Decisions Based on Ticket Price
Ticket pricing has become a large factor for my shows. Larger shows have higher vendor ticket costs. I’ve paid over $400 for shows. That seems crazy, but when you think of 30-40 thousand attendees, making that money back should be easy.
Over time, we’ve realized that ticket price can tell you a lot about a show when selling books. Anything over the $300 mark causes a sharp decline in our income. Often, it also results in a decline of actual sales. There ends up being too much competition. When the sales are good, the higher ticket price means we have to sell more to make our money back. Which brings me to…
Larger shows have higher expenses. Most take place in large, downtown convention centers. Authors often forget this means additional charges. Have you thought of:
- Parking – In downtown Philadelphia, you can pay up to $60 or more a day.
- Tolls – In some cities, you pay to cross bridges, not just use interstates.
- Food – Food costs more at large convention centers and inner cities.
- Hotels – Are you getting a hotel nearby? How about an AirBnB? (more on AirBnB later)
- Ticket Price – Your ticket price is already high.
- Gas/Airlines/Car Rentals – Larger shows usually mean traveling to another city, often hours upon hours away.
Don’t forget about those expenses. They eat into your bottom line really quick. Once you figure those costs in, it becomes even harder to make your money back.
The Cost of Celebrities
As you look over a show, you think, “This is great! The cast of [insert your favorite movie] will be there!” The cast will draw crowds into the convention center. Aisles will be packed. People will be spending money.
All of that is true.
What they aren’t spending money on is you.
Celebrities drain money from the vendor floor, especially artist alleys where authors generally sit. I’ve seen it time and again, shows with big celebrities result in a sharp decline of sales.
Most A list celebrities charge a premium for photos and autographs. Many charge well over $200. People come out in droves to meet them. They don’t blink an eye dropping hard earned money on a celebrity. Then, they’ll walk around the convention looking at everything they want to buy. It’s not uncommon to hear, “I’d love to get this, but I spent $200 getting Celebrity X’s autograph.”
Big celebrities don’t mean big sales.
It’s the reverse with small celebrities. From my experience, shows with small celebrities do better than shows with no celebrities. Celebrities draw people. It has to be some psychological effect that relevant, modern celebrities bring people through the doors. Shows with those smaller relevant celebrities do better than big shows.
Because they charge less for photos and autographs. For a fraction of the price, fans get to meet a celebrity and still have money left over.
Why did I keep saying relevant and modern?
Shows with older celebrities don’t draw crowds. You need fandoms that are currently active. Fandoms from tv shows, movies, and cartoons that are still in the public eye. I’ve been to a few with celebrities from shows that fell to the wayside thirty years ago… They were flops.
When booking, watch the celebrities and weigh the risk of their fame and relevance. It will help you have a better expectation of sales on the floor.
The Cost of Mystery Boxes
Does anybody know the deal with mystery boxes? Everyone loves a surprise. People with money love it too much.
The second biggest drain on money is probably the mystery box. I’m not kidding, either. People drop hundreds and hundreds of dollars on mystery boxes at shows. I’ve been to shows where they show up with their own… their own… garbage bags and load mystery boxes into those reinforced garbage bags, hauling them around the show all day.
These boxes cost money. Lots of it.
It has resulted in the same celebrity trend, “I’d love to buy your book, but I spent all my money on this.” This being something hidden away in a garbage bag.
The best shows I’ve had, haven’t had mystery box vendors. If they did, those vendors were small scale with limited product and cheaper pricing. That was astonishing to realize after doing several large shows.
Mystery boxes drain money from the floor. I don’t understand it, and I’m not going to pretend to, but they do.
Over the course of the year, my best shows have been those where:
- there are minor, relevant celebrities.
- there are few to no mystery box vendors.
- the ticket price is under $200 a table.
- OR I’m able to reduce expenses greatly by other means. More on this in another article.
As you consider shows, consider those factors. I believe in trying everything once. What works for me, might not work for you, and vice-versa. These are the trends I’ve seen doing 26 shows in nine months.
In future articles, I’ll dig into more trends I’ve found with the shows I attend.
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