Comic Non-Sans: Scaling Down Comic-Con

In early August, Daniel Davis of the website Steam Crow did an evaluation of their booth’s take at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.  The checklist, featured on, doesn’t look all that different from the things people on a smaller scale — at smaller cons — encounter at their own tables.  That said, I’m not sure how many of us are in need of credit card readers and get pushed out by TV networks one table over.

Still, there is scaling down to be had.  From here, I could actually glean a few bits of advice for someone selling at an event with attendance in the three or four digits.

“Having a large variety of product is a must to make money at this show.” This becomes a tricky one at anime cons.  As I was explaining to someone recently, many Artist Alleys have begun dividing up their product by webcomic artists, clothing/accessory/fluffy-thing makers, and what have you.  Nonetheless, withing your own area it’s still possible to maintain a variety: books of varying sizes and types, prints, pins, stickers (if AA rules allow for them), and whatever else is allowed.  Check the rules beforehand so you don’t end up with shirts where shirts should not be.

“We benefit from having product that doesn’t require knowledge of our comic or the universe that it occupies.” Very, very true.  I believe I covered this before.  If fanart is allowed by a particular con’s AA rules, that’s a help.  If not, anything vaguely fandom-based, silly pins, or anything else that appeals to people who’ve never heard of you are a plus.

“Our themed “Monster Marketplace” hats and aprons were well received.” I’ve seen one or two booths have their own “shop” outfits or personal mascots, and it’s really hit-or-miss.  If, like your product, you can think of something generic but appealing, it could draw people in.

“Our “deals” worked well too. (Many of our items have a “buy X get Y for free” deal.)” This has worked well in my personal experience, too.  “Buy this for X, this for X, or both for Y” seems to be appealing.  I’ve also had whimsical moments of “If you can tell me what this is a reference to, I’ll give you a discount.”  Usually I do this on Sunday.

“Do Better: No distinct theme.” This is a problem I’ve been struggling with.  There’s something to be said for appealing to a variety of audiences, but at the same time it’s going to be harder to be eye-catching.  A unifying factor draws people in.  “Hey, I like kittens.  But I can’t tell if this place has kittens.”  Solution?  More kittens.  Possibly.  That’s one I’m having to think on, too.

Don’t roll into SDCC just trying to earn back your table costs.” This is, unfortunately, a trap I fall into at all cons.  If I can make back table costs (and, hopefully, hotel room costs), I’m successful.  It’s kind of a desperate way to feel, and discourages you from pushing your product if you just “settle.”

“Make product lines or sets, so you can sell more than just 1.” I attempt to do this with books, and am going to attempt something like with trading cards.  This tends to work nicely with the “deals.”

Develop products that have a very focused appeal. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.” That’s a tough thing to try to be.  On the one hand, you want to catch as many people as possible.  On the other, you’re more likely to sell a lot of similar things to one subset than to a wide audience.  I’ve seen this in action in dealer rooms: what do people refer to when they send you in, “That one table that’s got a bunch of stuff and I think I saw some magical girls” or “The booth with all the old robots”?

“Have many different price points$1 to $100 would be ideal.” For the size con I work with, I’m not sure about going up that high.  But take into account that people might only have singles, fivers, or twenties on them.

“Work on your Con products and plan all year long. You won’t be able to bust out a successful con 3 weeks before the show.” Guilty as charged yet again.  If you go to multiple different cons, think of what sort of thing you saw there last year. Especially if you had people going “Do you have any ______ stuff?”

Davis also refers to “Ripping to get rich,” or riding on the coattails of big properties like Marvel and “Doctor Who” and whatever else the kids like this year.  As mentioned above, this is tricky and hugely dependent on what the organizers of the particular event will allow.  In his case, he says it’s difficult.  But at a smaller con with fewer choice, it’s likely more doable than at SDCC, and another way to pull people in to stop and look at your stuff.

As with all things, I find it a bit reassuring that higher-ups have the same troubles as my tier does.  It’s also a bit reassuring that they learn ways around it.  Hopefully it’ll be a good example for those of us trying to keep our heads above water.  And a good opportunity to do a bit more than that.

Posted on September 6, 2011 at 01:00 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Webcomics · Tagged with: ,