Friday, September 26, 2014

Conventions: Where are they going?

I wrote a blog a few months ago about the death of anime conventions.  I had a few people argue that they didn't see conventions dying, but another blogger recently posted about how as an artist, she is seeing the death, or rather, the overshadowing, of cosplay over guests and artists.

Oh, I'm going to say right now that if you think that all cosplayers and convention attendees are blameless, then please don't read any more.  However, if you want my honest opinion on this subject as someone who's worked behind the scenes at conventions for nearly 10 years now, please, read on.

First off, it was pointed out that at many large conventions, artists, guests and other industry people are being largely ignored by attendees.  They will gather around a cosplayer, taking pictures for hours, but completely ignore the artist who's spent 20 years drawing comic books or sci-fi book covers.  They line up to get autographs for voice actors, but won't sit for an hour in a panel to listen to how that voice actor got to where he/she did.  They'd much rather spend $100 on a cosplay than that same $100 at a vendor room.

Many artists have to pay for their hotel room, travel, food, entry badge and table to sell their wares.  Once in awhile one gets lucky enough to get guest status so that they have a badge paid, maybe a hotel room, but most likely it's just a free table and badge for entry.  At large conventions, the hotel fee, travel and food expenses can range in the thousands for a weekend.  Perhaps they are able to drive and can bring all of their wares with them at relatively little cost, but if they come from across the U.S.A., then they might have to pay for airplane fare and also luggage fees for whatever art or books they bring with them.  That said, even if an artist doesn't have to spend a whole lot for the convention they are at, fees for printing books or prints or making items is pretty expensive.  Many artists have to save up in advance and then hope they'll get enough money back from what they are selling, little lone all of the convention costs.

So, if they're an artist, losing money, why bother to go to a convention?  Exposure.  Marketing.  Getting out there and hoping to collect a few new fans along the way.  However, they could do this on a much smaller scale simply by going to local stores and publishing online.  Why don't they?  Well, they have fans out there that they hope to be able to meet, they have new fans they hope they can win over, and they're out there putting all of that money at risk to sell a few books during a three-day weekend.

Then along come the 'new breed of attendees'.  Now, some of them will go to a convention to meet up with these people.  After all, so-and-so just came from L.A., all the way across the country and this will be their only time to meet them.  But there are a whole lot of other people who don't have any idea who this artist is, and they don't care either.  They've attended a convention in order to visit with their friends, see a few cosplayers and maybe cosplay themselves in order to catch the eye of someone.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of conventions out there that do a smack-up job of keeping artists and vendors and even voice actors happy.  Smaller conventions, for example, tend to have a good variety of artists so that they don't compete, vendors are the same, and typically guests don't have to compete for autograph dollars.  However, larger conventions, even with 22,000 or larger attendee numbers, they have to make money to hold the convention again next year, pay the hundreds of staffers and fill booths.  Suddenly vendors are competing with 20 others who are selling the same things and artists really have to put out a lot of effort to draw attention to themselves.

But while they're putting all this effort into drawing attention - new attendees aren't looking to buy stuff.  This 'breed' of attendee ages typically 16-25, and they spend money on cosplaying, or they have to travel a ways in order to attend just this one convention all year.  Why do they go to the convention?  To see, and be seen.  To hang out with friends.  To spend time with others who like what they like.

This is not the attendees conventions used to have 10 years ago.  Those were the days of giving credit cards to teenagers, signing them up in colleges and starting all of that debt that's crippled today's con goers.  These teens now days know how to save their money and they know how to shop around.  What is more fulfilling to this "Instant" generation?  Is it buying something that will grow dust on a shelf?  Or is it the memory of having dozens of people flock to them to take their picture?

Back in 2002 during my very first convention, I still remember the people who came up to me to take my picture.  I remember how special it felt to have all of these people want to hug me or say, "Hey!  I know you!" and call out my character's name.  It's special.  It's this sense of belonging, that someone knows who you are - even if they don't know you exactly, but they know what you like and they like what you like.  Suddenly you have friends and attention, and it's pretty cool because everyone wants to feel like they're famous, even if it's just for a weekend.

So again, I ask, would most attendees rather spend $100 on a cosplay or $100 on merchandise from a convention?  I think this newer generation is going to say, cosplay.  Because when the convention is over, most likely they're not going to think about all of those artists, not going to think about those items they didn't buy...and if they do think about them, it's there online somewhere.  They've probably bought it already or will when they get home if it's something they really want.

But of course, there has to be a solution to this problem, right?

Probably.  Mostly likely it means that the ever-growing convention will eventually start to plateau or eventually grow smaller.  Eventually artists just won't want to bother with the exposure and they'll turn to the internet.  Fewer artists interested in losing money and conventions will start to scale back.  Things that were popular at conventions 10 years ago will take a backseat to those things that are popular now.  Perhaps conventions will focus more on cosplay, more panels and guests that contribute to that.  Perhaps artists/crafters and vendors will focus on cosplay items - I've seen that switch already in numerous conventions.  Suddenly it goes from figures, wallscrolls, DVDs, etc, to cosplay wigs, contacts and costumes.  Is that good?  Probably, it's keeping the conventions alive and keeping vendors paid, but what about those artists?  Perhaps conventions will have to lower costs to pull them back in again, or maybe there's some other answer out on the horizon.  Maybe conventions FOR artists.  There are plenty of arts and crafts fairs out there.  Why not hold a convention where people go to just buy stuff from artists?

It's something to think about, as maybe eventually there will have to be a split for cosplay to either have conventions of their own, with inexpensive venues for artists and vendors, just to fill space.  And then perhaps comic and anime conventions can kind of take back their conventions.  Maybe lessen cosplay's role in their convention, get rid of the cosplay items in the dealer rooms and get rid of the conventions.  No one knows for sure where the future of conventions are heading, but we'll head there nonetheless.

Let me know what you think in the comments below - but be forewarned - don't be mean!

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