Space City Comic Con - An symptom of a bubble about to burst?

Posted by Jeremy Clifford on

This weekend Space City Comic Con was a less then stellar experience for many fans. If you haven't heard the news yet you may want to check out this article. Not surprising really given the challenges they had in the past year. I imagine their court battle with the city of Houston was not a cheap endeavor. However, is this just a one time fluke... or are we seeing the beginnings of the bursting of the "Comic-Con Bubble"? What other conventions recently had some challenges? Anyone remember Galacticon 4 in Seattle last year? Or now rumors of a Wizard World bankruptcy?

In my opinion, comic cons are a bubble about to burst. Let me explain why.

There are more comic cons occurring now then then ever before. Two years ago there was about one con happening every other weekend somewhere in the US. Last year one every weekend. This year two every weekend. Supply is already starting to outpace quantity demanded (as we have started see in 'con-weary' Indianapolis).

Let's examine what exactly is happening.

With so many conventions occurring every weekend this creates the illusion that all comic cons are a financial success and the show runners must be rolling around on a bed of money. From that perspective the following events start to transpire - as everyone digs in to get a piece of that financial success pie:

1. The celebrities increase their guarantee's (this is the amount of money promised to a celebrity to show up)
2. The celebrities increase their signature and photo op fee's
3. Comic book artists/writers start charging (or increase) their signature fee's
4. Artists raise their commission fee's
5. Other 'contrepreneurs'  think they can start a convention (how hard can it be?) and each new convention creates more competition
Here is where the downward spiral starts (stay with me here):
As competition increases and star-studded talent increase their fee's the show runners start to lose money. So here is how they are responding:
1. Increase ticket prices
2. Offer more expensive VIP options
3. Offer expensive special access ticket (before/after parties, meet & greets, etc)
Right now the average ticket price for convention is around $100. VIP packages to guarantee you will see your favorite celebrity can run from $300 to over $1,000. Add in some prepaid photo op's and signatures... suddenly you, as an attendee, have paid over $1,000 - JUST TO GET IN THE DOOR!
That doesn't include Travel Costs, Hotel Costs, and Meals. Let's say that you spend $300 on some round trip airfare, get a great deal at $150 / night at a hotel for 3 nights ($450), and lets say you are frugal and only spend $30 a day on food ($90 so lets round it out to $100). So to get there and stay for the weekend is going to cost $850. 
Now, you have spent $1,850... you haven't even started to spend any money INSIDE the ACTUAL convention yet.
To put that cost into perspective, you can get an all inclusive 4 night stay in the Bahamas for $879 right now. Hmm... Makes you think doesn't it?
How many people can afford $1,850 (per person) just to go to a convention for the weekend? Of those, how many can afford to do this more than one time per year? 
Oh sure... with all the glitz and glam people will try to go to multiple events in a year.. the first year, that is... I mean what are you to do if Daryl Dixon is at one convention but Merle Dixon is at another and you want both their signatures on that Walking Dead T-shirt? So yes people will do it for a short period of time.
So now here you are... you just spent $1,850 to go to a convention that has your favorite star... in fact, there are probably multiple actors you want to see... could this be a once in a lifetime event? Could this be your only chance to meet that guy from Doctor Who? Better stock up on those photo op's before they sell out! Better buy those autograph tickets before they sellout! Now suddenly you just spent an additional $300 on celebrity autographs and photo op's. You are now $2,150 invested in this convention.
Now let's stop for a moment. The median household income is $54,462. Which means you just spent two weeks of income in one weekend. Wow. You could have spent half of that and spent the weekend relaxing in the tropics. But hey.. instead you got to meet that guy who played on CW's The Flash and you met that girl from Arrow all while standing lines for hours surrounded by strangers that may or may not have showered the night before. But at least you got to hear that stranger's stories about how she knitted her own Doctor Who scarf out of cat hair and wrote her own script that will fix the errors made in the 2013 Season 7 Doctor Who special, episode number 2! - I kid you not, true story.
Now that you have spent your $2,150 and had your 5 second conversations with a few celebrities... let's talk about the other events happening at the Con. The vendors and artist's alley!
Yes there are artist's here! They write and draw the comics those movies and TV shows are based on! But wait! You have just spent so much money... so what are most people going to do? Skip it. Because they are broke. Unless...
You may be one of the very few, the elite, the comicpreneur! You saw on eBay how a Stan Lee signed and slabbed comic sold for $1,000! You are here, he is here... you can do that too and thereby offset your $2,150 expense! Eureka!
So, deciding to go into further debt you now go to the vendors area and buy an old copy of Fantastic Four #53, first appearance Klaw (rumored to be in the new Black Panther movie... at least that is what you read online when someone posted the casting call board) it's also the second appearance Black Panther AND his origin story! Sounds perfect. So you buy it... well the people at the convention know the value of that book as well. So you end up paying $200 for the book. Cool! Now, lets get it signed by Stan Lee. Only $100 for his autograph ($300 invested). You get it signed. Now to be graded... great the grading company is right here at his booth.. $250 to get graded... shit... well okay, I need to make my money back ($550 invested). By the time the book comes back graded a 6.5 you find that on eBay a signed slabbed FF #53 at a 6.5 last sold for a whopping $300. Your investment just came in at a loss of $250.
Your comic con weekend just cost you $2,400! Are you, comic con attendee, ever going to make this mistake again? Probably not.
AND to make it worse... prices are going to go up the following year! Because more conventions will pop up
1. More conventions will pop up next year... causing
2. Conventions to get into a bidding war with other con's to get a celebrity... causing
3. Celebrity fee's to go up... causing
4. Ticket prices and booth prices to go up
So now you (comic attendee) can no longer even afford to go to more than one convention a year.
Supply (comic cons) goes up, but quantity demanded (ticket sales) goes down... thus an economic surplus is created.
So what can we expect to happen in the future?
When you have the choice between going to the Bahamas for a long weekend for $800 vs a comic con for $2,400... people are going to start choosing the beach.
Once that happens we could also experience a spillover effect into other areas like:
1. Fewer comic artists charging for signatures getting sales
2. Fewer comic books being graded and slabbed
3. Fewer commissions being requested from artists at conventions
Partially due to lower attendance, partially due people saving their money for celebrities.
In order to get the comic con market to function efficiently again... comic con ticket sales will need to drop in order to compete with other vacation plans... When that happens they will no longer be able to afford to pay for the cast of the Avengers to be there.. so they will have to reduce the number of celebs at the convention.. and you are back to having a comic book based comic con.
If they don't... this is important.... if they don't reduce the cost to attend a convention, there will be more Space City type disasters... and then more and more conventions will go bankrupt. Thus reducing the number of conventions happening during the year.
So one way or another the market will right itself.