Why Conventions Are Dying

Written by Michelle “Cora Berry” Krikowa

Watch it on YouTube Here

So why are we even going here – most cons seem to be doing fine! Well, not really actually, some are dying.

More and more often we are seeing posts like the one above and, unfortunately , conventions are starting to dwindle off in some cities. There are a lot of reasons that contribute to this and the following isn’t a complete list by any means.

The below will hopefully offer a bit of insight into some of the reasons why I think conventions are dying. So lets get straight into it!

Lobby Con

So what is Lobby Con? Lobby con is loitering outside the event without buying a ticket. You’ll see a lot of this come from cosplayers so for the purpose of this section I’m going to focus on them.

Why This Happened

Astorkerrie Cosplay, PAX

This has happened for a few reasons. The first is the rising cost of ticket prices. What also contributes is the fact that a lot of photo-ops are rarely inside the convention. I’m a solid believer that people will follow where photographers are present, and it’s no longer inside the conventions.

Another reason this has happened in western conventions is events restricting photos on the convention floor. Defending the conventions here – this is a perfectly reasonable request. However if a cosplayer can’t get the same attention on the show floor (and in turn photos) then it’ll become harder for them to justify being there. I say western conventions because in other countries (such as Japan) have done this in a very smart way to cater for this audience.

Firstly cosplayers aren’t allowed to wear costumes on the train on the commute to an event. Many cons also restrict photos on the show floor however, Japanese conventions also have a completely seperate hall dedicated for cosplayers and to enter the area they charge a small fee (around $10USD) in order to access this space. Now my Japanese is pretty terrible so I can’t tell you whether it’s the cosplayers or the photographers/people wanting to take these photos or whether it’s on top of the ticket price but I still think this is a good way to change this problem.

Events also struggle to find ways to bring in things such as cosplay guests to fit in a financially viable model. I won’t go into this more here but you can check out another one of my articles on it here. So they aren’t really providing incentive to go into the event.

Why This Is A Problem

Let’s face it – Cosplayers are an attraction. However this issue is not only putting the blame on cosplayers . When you have an attraction outside the event space, people go to that attraction. Which delivers a whole domino effect:

Cosplayers/Attraction are outside => Draws muggles (non-cosplayers) outside the event => When they aren’t inside the event they don’ t buy product from exhibitors or other features of the event => Exhibitors don’t make sales targets to justify their attendance => events/companies don’t have the funds to grow and cater more towards cool attractions and guests => Events loose money => Events can no longer run

There are a lot more factors that go into this, but this should give you an idea on my train of thought.

Our Crappy Economy

Have you noticed that ticket prices have been rising year on year? Or if you’re an exhibitor, booth prices keep going up?

Why This Happened

This comes down to inflation and the economy not working as projected. You can read more about it here if you like. There is a heap of reserch on this and this whole section can be a ten page report, however I’m no expert in this so for the purpose of this article I’m just going to brush over some very basic points.

Essentially, wages haven’t gone up as much as predicted back in 1999 and cost of living has increased significantly.

The average price of a new home in May 1999 was $193,900. According to the inflation calculator, that price today should be $298,774. The same report places the average sale price for May 2019 at $377,200, more than 26 percent higher than the price when accounting for inflation alone.

The same method can be applied to see if household incomes have similarly increased. The median household income in 1999 was $42,000, according to the Census Bureau. According to the inflation calculator, that price today should be $64,716. The most recent year with full data available is 2018, which places household income at $61,227, meaning that it has failed to keep up with inflation and is 5% below where it should be. ( The Bureau of Census 2019)

Now this isn’t a “one size fits all” model, it’ll be different depending on where you live, however hopefully this gives you a general idea. There are also pleanty of articles explainging why Millenials specifically are starting out with more debt than the generation before. You can find a good article on the topic by Emily Sullivan here.

Why This Is A Problem

The costs to run the event are going higher and this money needs to be made back by the event to keep running into the next year to make the events bigger, better and play into public demand. Some events even grab future profits in order to stay afloat going into the next year. This can ultimately kill an event.

Cora Berry, Anime Japan 2019

A good example of this outside the the pop culture community is the ultimate downfall of a music festival of soundwave a few years back, you can check out the story here. Essentially what happened is when ticket sales declined, they resorted to bigger name guests and even announcing guests before they were confirmed in order to drive ticket sales.

However it’s not just ticket sales adropping, exhibitor space sales are also dropping. Exhibitors aren’t making enough money to attend the event and run their business in a finacially benificial way, which means they won’t attend and this is another revenue stream that the event has to make up for in ticket sales.

The Event Gets Too Big

Now you might think – This should be the opposite shouldn’t it? But hear me out here.

Why This Happened

When an event reaches a certian point, they need to employ full time and part time staff in order to manage the workload and have specialised knowledge to run these events on a large scale. Due to inflation, promotions etc., these salaries also contribute to the raised costs (and we all don’t want to pay more for ticket). There are a select few companies that do pay their staff for full time work, however what about Fan Created* events?

*Events that are volunteer only and don’t pay any core staff. Not-For-Profits can technically still pay staff (mostly as contractors) so not going to include that definition in this.

As fan created events started on a model where they don’t pay for staff, ultimately they often never do, as this isn’t a cost that is catered for in the initial budget or a structure implimented. Also, normally, events like this don’t turn enough of a profit to pay staff.

When a fan event starts, it’s normally by people without knowledge on how events work or specialised knowledge that will contribute to an events success. As people who volunteer as staff for these events are often volunteers and can’t contribute to these events full time, the amount of work they can do is restricted. Most of these events also don’t offer any training or progressional pathways for new volunteers to take over either which is another issue.

JusZ Cosplay

Eventually what happens in many cases is the workload increases (Leading to stress and fatigue) and because of that there is a high turnover of staff. Volunteer staff can walk out at any time in most cases and majority of the time there is no handover procedures. Which means that every time a new staff member in that position, they have to learn from scratch. I remember when I worked my first major convention (a volunteer based organisation), by the end of it, the role was almost full time and I needed to bring on additional staff to help me handle the workload.

Why This Is A Problem

Well for obvious reasons, if the event is managed poorly, then attendees or staff are unlikely to return. If the event can’t successfully manage itself, attendance numbers start dropping, relationships get strained with potential guests, exhibitors etc., and they stop attending and this in turn, will ultimately affect the success of the event.

The Format Is Dying

This is a conflicting viewpoint depending on your perspective but essentially – Have you noticed events are a bit of a flea market now days? Everyone is selling the same things for a higher price than what you’d pay online?

In the very beginning, conventions started as a way to bring together fans and in turn, exhibitors could sell to the concertrated marketplace. This was great for fans to be able to grab that merchandise they wouldn’t normally have access to, and because everything was in the one place it was easy to haul our fandom.

Cora Berry, Tokyo Game Show 2019

Now however, we have the internet; So who really needs cons when you can save money on a ticket and buy the product from the comfort of your couch? It’s easier and more conventient to do it at home.

Exhibitors are finding less value in attending, and as I mentioned previously they are a big money-earning part of the convention and their traditional methods just aren’t working. However, I’m not saying all conventions follow this structure.

Gaming events such as PAX and Tokyo Game Show rely very little on exhibitors that push retail sales (I.e. It’s not a large version of the game shop that you’d see on the corner). Now as I mentioned previously- All conventions rely on exhibitors, all events need them to stay profitable. However in these types of events the retail aspect is either seperated, limited/exclusive or there is a main focus on playable or interactive content.

Compare this to comic-con style events. Conventions around comics and pop culture have a tendancy to have a format of guests to drive sales and sell tickets to the event. Continuing on my point earlier, these costs are increasing and people just aren’t spending. Many peoples solution to fixing a dying event is “Get Better Guests”. Well, it’s not that easy. I’m not going to go into the guest costs too much, but basically when an event is dying it’s hard to justify the spend. There are a lot more factors but I’ll save that for another article.

In Conclusion

Well th-th-that’s all Folks! (Porky Pig, 1935), I hope this has given some insight into why I think your conventions are suffering a bit more in recent years. This is all drawn from many of my opinions and some from the community. This is only a snapshot. I could write so much more and there is bound to be some points I’ve missed. This is all mostly anecdotal as well so don’t think of my opinions as fact here.

I’d like to know your perspective! Do you think there are other reasons? What do you think conventions can do better? Tell me in the comments!

Header Image: Captian Fizman (Image taken by Davis Fang)

One comment

  1. Lobby-Con.
    Could not have said it better myself, as an exhibitor we have abandoned events in the past because our target audience is.. out side or in the lobby.
    The reality is the funds spent on travel, hotel, exhibit costs, print etc ( plus the down time) – if all of these costs were put in to online advertising we would always make more from this than attending a convention.
    Yes its lovely to see old friends/customers and meet new people but again.. even they will be at the lobby con.

    Like

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