Or, Why This Was My Last Boston Comic Con
I’m trying something here. I’ve done something similar before, but not quite in this way.
For those of us who make comics, conventions are the major ways we meet our fans and our collaborators (often for the first time), discover new work to love, and—crucially—sell our work so that we can keep making it.
One thing you don’t hear too much from creators is the unvarnished truth about convention finances. People will bemoan “terrible” cons or brag about doing “amazing” some weekend, but who knows what that means? A terrible con might mean only pulling in $3,000 to one person, while an amazing con for another could be cracking $500.
In the same way that there’s a been a recent push to share page rates to demystify the process of getting paid, I’m going to start sharing my sales and profit/loss data for each con I attend. It’s a risky-feeling thing. Will it open me to ridicule or embarrassment, or both? Maybe. Maybe I’ll only do one or two of these reports. But I’ve written about the economics of Split Lip before and it seemed helpful both for me and for people looking to make their own comics. I hope this does the same and adds some useful data about the financials of conventions for one long-running, but not particularly well-known, comics maker.
With all that said, here’s my Full Transparency Con Report for Boston Comic Con 2017 (aka FanExpo Boston):
This was the first year that the show was run by Informa Exhibitions, under their FanExpo brand, a large events company that bought this show from its founders last year. The new owners moved the show to a larger facility—the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center—a few blocks away from its old South Boston home, the Boston World Trade Center—and promised a larger crowd (50,000 people or more). For me, the move to new owners and a new space was a mixed bag.
- The positive: I sold more trade paperbacks and hardcovers than at any con I’ve ever done
- The negative: I made less than in previous years and overall lost money.
Here’s how that breaks down:
I sold 105 units at the show—that’s a combination of trade paperbacks, hardcovers, single issues, and Horror Movie Bingo cards. Of those 105 units, 76 were trade paperbacks and 4 hardcovers. Selling 80 total books at an event is my all-time record and feels pretty great. At this shown 2015, I sold 75 books. However, I sold a bit more than 105 total units in 2015 (though I can’t remember exactly how many).
This year, my top-selling item was Not Sleeping Well and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night. I sold 14 copies of that book, for a total of $121.66. Also notable was selling 4 copies of What Lies Inside, the 10th anniversary Split Lip hardcover that I kickstarted last year. Those go for $25 each, so 4 makes a nice, round $100.
All in all, my total revenue for the 3-day show was right around $780. In 2015, I made something on the order of $825, thanks to selling many more single issues and having fewer last-day discounts to lighten my load on the ride home.
Selling over 100 units, hitting a personal sales milestone for books, and closing in on $800 felt pretty good.
Until I ran the costs.
Turns out, I lost at least $134 for that weekend—and definitely more.
Here were some of my costs:
- Cost of my table: $525
- Hotel: $339.29
- Parking: $50
- Total Expenses: $914.29
That doesn’t include food, gas, or other small expenses. If it did, I’d probably be looking at a loss of around $225-$250.
Two things killed the profitability of the show this year:
- The cost of the table went up $50-$75
- I moved. I used to live in Providence, RI, so I could sleep and eat at home each night and not pay for a hotel. Now I live in Vermont, a 2.5-hour drive each way. For a con that starts at 10 am, I need a hotel.
Last year, I’d have made a profit of a couple hundred dollars. This year, it’s a loss of the same amount. Which is pretty telling, right? The only way to make a profit at this con for me seems to be to have it near my house and to sleep and eat at home. Not many cons fit that bill.
But that’s not the worst situation, I suppose. Most cons aren’t profitable for me and I don’t really expect them to be. I think of them as being equal parts fun—meeting fans and other comics creators, seeing friends, taking weekend trips—and marketing. After all, conventions are great way to help new readers discover Split Lip.
If making comics were my full-time job, I’d both be concerned and think this philosophy a pretty dumb one. But with it being something I do for passion and a creative outlet, I can live with small losses.
So why is the subtitle of this post “Why This Was My Last Boston Comic Con”? FanExpo is raising the price of the same table I had this year by $200.
If the foot traffic or sales had given me the sense that I could make up that increase next year, I’d consider rebooking. But my experience with FanExpo staff wasn’t great. They didn’t have exhibitor badges ready until about 20 minutes before the doors opened the first day, so I couldn’t check in. I had a problem with my booth that I reported multiple times and, despite promises of attention, no one from FanExpo ever tried to resolve it. Separately, they’d packed the tables so tightly into the space that I couldn’t get my table all the way out in my booth space, leaving me with less space than I’d paid for. Plus, I could only leave my booth by literally getting down on all fours and sliding out under my table.
This was FanExpo’s first year doing this show, but not their first show ever. These aren’t mistakes an experienced organization should make.
Combine a less-than-stellar behind-the-scenes experience, with a con that looks increasingly focused on high-priced celebrity packages instead of comics (Boston Comic Con used to be heavily comics focused, which was a joy), and the cost increase, and returning just doesn’t make sense for me.
All of which is not to put down Boston Comic Con/FanExpo too much. I’m sure some comics makers had a great weekend. I had a great time catching up with people, meeting new folks, and introducing a lot of people to my work. That was terrific. I know some people who attended as fans who were thrilled with their experience. But for me, both from a financial perspective and in terms of experience, I can’t justify a return.
Which isn’t a conclusion I’m happy with. I’ve been at Boston Comic Con for 7 or 8 of the last 10 years. I loved that show. I value doing a show in Boston, roughly near my home, and the fans and friends I’ve met there over the years. I don’t want to give up on that experience or those connections. But I don’t want to lose $500-plus dollars at the show, either. Maybe I’ll try MICE next year.