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Some UnCONventional Trends and Changes in the Convention Industry

The techno-organic telepathic mutant known as Cable went back to the past in order to repair a fractured timeline, creating a new future for a group of beleaguered mutants. That was in Earth 616, yet the good news is that Cable has also been working to protect the future here in our timeline.

Our Con Current Past

When Cable returned to our recent past, he saw a convention scene that was designed to separate nerds from more and more of their money. Have you priced out a trip to San Diego Comic Con or even a GenCon lately? Sure, fans paid for their entry badge but the kicker came when organizers realized they could charge fans big money to stand in line and get a selfie with their favorite celebrity.

Just how many signed photos of Mark Hamill can nerddom metabolize anyway? Hint: The absurd amount of money lavished on cons over the past few years gave rise to real concerns about market over-saturation. (Read this wonderful Hollywood Reporter piece for more on autograph pricing.)

Even D-list celebs like Kevin Sorbo from decades ago loved the practice of appearance fees, as they could make more during a con weekend than they were earning through cameo or character acting roles. And an A-lister like Chris Evans would make enough in one weekend to buy a new house for me and pay my girls’ way through college.

But fans began to feel the pinch. And while they refused to give up their Funko Pops in favor of paying their credit card bills, they did begin to complain about it on Twitter. So, our protector Cable began to strike out at the Sentinels of commerce who were running these elaborate conventions where literal millions were being pumped into them in order to get the biggest celebrity names up on the marquee.

The first organizer in Cable’s crosshairs was Wizard World, the organizers of more than a dozen shows. Wizard World lost $5.7 million dollars in 2017. Their balance sheet began to get ugly when due to a rapid expansion in the number of cons produced, they began to see a drop in revenue per con.

Worse, the historical backbone of cons began to feel the squeeze. Since their inception, the events of cons were held together by the exhibitor space, which served as the cohesive glue. These exhibitor spaces were filled with small little mom and pop toy vendors, comic book artists, and dice vendors who’d peddle their wares as tens of thousands of fans would meander through and browse.

But this backbone was broken when the fans who has just dropped $500 on some autographs suddenly didn’t have the disposable cash to spend in the dealer halls. A dramatic example is when Bud Plant announced on his Facebook page that after 48 consecutive years of exhibiting at Comic Con, he wouldn’t be setting up any more. The con’s attenders–after spending so much on celebrity meet-and-greets–were no longer able to shop for books, so the amount of money he paid in set-up fees was more than what he was earning back in sales.

Even Reed Pop, organizers of PAX, New York Comic Con, and Emerald City Comic Con, among many others, began to look at their spending patterns, wondering if enough was enough. So they began to trim the fat as well.

Cable, perhaps having seen the signals that the bloat was its way out, returned to his future timeline. But before his departure, he left us with an indication of what some future cons trends will be.

Future Trends in the Convention Scene

  • Although it is slow-moving, there are indicators of shows returning to creator-centric endeavors rather than celebrity-focused spectacles. Fans love cons, so turnstile numbers have remained strong. Organizers are realizing they don’t need 50 celebrities on the marquee because a solid 25 will still pull in the same crowd numbers, yet the money saved can go toward incentivizing small creators.
  • There are only a certain number of cities that can host 80,000 nerds, so infrastructure is groaning. As a result, rather than huge cons, organizers are beginning to pivot faster toward regional cons with a tighter appeal. These also serve the vast number of introverted nerds who get anxious in large crowds.
  • Many cons are eschewing celebrities all together. While they may have a few industry-insiders, many small cons are committing to community gaming rather than pushing toward exponential growth. Case in point, many of us from Nerds on Earth are going this month to TantrumCon. We aren’t getting a single autograph signed. Instead, we’re sitting down and playing lots of games.
  • Technology is also changing cons. Larger cons are becoming know for their engagement apps or ticketing systems. Consolidation in the industry means that platforms like tabletop.events or Warhorn allow even smaller cons to have a more polished and streamlined experience. Expect much more of this as con goers begin to feel entitled to this type of organized experience.

Cons: Small is the New Big

Thank you to Cable for rescuing us from our dystopian convention alternate future. The above trends in the convention scene are just a taste of the changes–both big and small–we’ll see in the coming years. Con organizers have their work cut out for them, as demographics and spending patterns are changing all industries.

But for years we saw nothing but hype around crowd-size and celebrity-sightings. Fortunately, a trend toward a more regional or genre-focused con is shifting the industry in new and positive directions. We can thank our techno-organic telepathic mutant friend for that.