Shows are a lot of work, but they can be an honest source of profit AND a prime connection to new and existing fans.
I know that there’s been a lot of talk in the “to do shows/don’t do shows yet” vien out there, and that’s all good. I can only tell you that doing shows has been vital for Steam Crow’s success, and we’re going to keep doing our favorite ones.
Caveat: Not business is the same. I’m simply sharing what has worked for us, over time. YMMV.
Also, one should remember that if you’re doing your branding well, sales will grow year to year. It’s unlikely that you’re going to be maxing your potential the first time that you do a show. For us, it took a few years to get most of these cooking.
Here are Steam Crow’s top 3 West Coast shows, in order of most sales to least:
San Diego Comic-Con
The Good: It’s a huge pop-culture circus, there’s a sea of humanity ready to spend money, and it lasts for 5 days.
The Bad: It’s very difficult to get in, it’s expensive (hotels/booths), and the sea of humanity. It’s huge.
Years exhibiting: 5
Worst experience: At the 2010 show, Saturday was so busy with cell traffic that all credit card terminals died. Everywhere. Sales were really hurt because of this, but it was fixed by Sunday.
Growth: Stalled. Can’t expand in the current building.
Okay, I know that everybody says that you can’t make money at this show as an indie exhibitor, but that’s simply not true. You need to make sure that you’ve got a wide variety of product with a wide appeal… and work at standing out. It can be done.
In 2006 we had a Small Press booth. It was very, very difficult to make that really successful. In 2007 we bought up to a 10×10 booth, which was the best thing that we could have done. Get out of small press, if you can. It’s a sea of tables…
Tip: Get out of artist’s alley and get a table or a booth… if you can. Watch your costs… that hotel isn’t cheap for 6 days.
The Good: It’s growing faster than any show I’ve heard of. Lots of fans. Good energy. Amazing local organization. Well run.
The Bad: Local creators are stepping up and getting really great at their presentations/products/scene. You’re going to have to bring your A-game to succeed.
Years exhibiting: 5
Worst experience: None, really. If you’re new to exhibiting at this show, plan on doing it a couple of times to make it really sing. (The local artists do a lot of promotion for PHXCC.)
Growth: HOT HOT HOT
SO, this is the biggest little show that you’ve probably never heard of.
I predict that you’re going to hear more about it as time goes on. The folks putting on this show run a tight ship, with year-long promotion of the show, artist signings, and a killer marketing and street team. Combine that with Phoenix being the 5th largest city in the country, and a quick 5 hr drive from S. California, and you’ve got a growing, vital show.
Cosplay and anime combine with comics and media guests… this is a multi-media show that attracts a well-rounded geek crowd.
Also, the depth of programing is fantastic, meaning that you’re going to see way more 4-day passes than wimpy 1-day visitors.
Tip: Participate on the PHXCC forum. Engage the local scene. Have a great presentation.
Emerald City Comicon
The Good: Growing, happy crowds, vibrant art community. Well organized. 10×10 booths are corner booths. Lots of webcomics.
The Bad: What’s not to love about Seattle? I can’t think of anything negative to say about this show.
Years exhibiting: 5
Worst experience: In 2007 we were placed at the back of the hall in a corner, facing the back and sharing a corner. Moved to a booth the next year, and all was better.
Emerald City Comicon strangely feels like Phoenix Comicon’s older brother. The vibe is positive, the folks are happy to support comics, and the show is run by pro-comic fans. The show is growing, and it feels like a really vibrant thing.
This is one of our favorite shows, hands down. Sales are great, the organizers are great, the hall is superb. It’s something special.
Tip: Get out of artist’s alley if you can… it’s huge with lots of very famous guests. Table or booth it, for max success. Bring lots of product.
These shows are good, but don’t have quite the same success rate, at least not for us.
The Good: A large show, run by the same folks as SDCC and APE. Nice hall. Well organized.
The Bad: Hit or miss. I don’t know if it’s the local economy or what, but sometimes it’s good… and sometimes just okay.
Years exhibiting: 5
Worst experience: Forgetting some of our display pieces and having to improvise our booth setup. (Mental breakdown.)
It’s always been a profitable show for us, but it feels a little like it’s underperforming. Sales growth isn’t nearly as strong as the A-List shows above.
Though it’s a much larger event, WC’s sales have only ever been about 1/2 PHXCC or ECCC for us. I really don’t know why. It’s a well-run show, with lots of pop culture and media guests. In some ways it feels like SDCC Junior, but without the hyped sales.
This year we have some great booth positioning, so we’ll see how that effects the numbers. One thing that concerns us is that WC now has a 1-hour setup rule. If 1 person can’t setup the booth in 1 hour, the union workers will set it up for you. (At your cost.) We’ll see how real that one is.
Tip: Keep costs down wherever possible. It’s not a cheap show or city.
The Good: Indie comic focus.
The Bad: Massive number of tables per attendee. Tables not that cheap. Fairly flat attendance. Growing floor.
Years exhibiting: 5
Worst experience: Our neighbors set up a 10×10 popup in their 6×6 booth space. Our booth looked like it was inside of theirs.
He’s like your big brother’s hep friend: He’s cool. He’s relaxed. He’s smooth. And he might just try to stab you with his pocketcomb.
APE is a really great show… to attend. There are tons and tons of indie press folks there… the creme of the crop selling amazing stuff. At the 2010 show, there were over 600 tables!
That’s the problem though… there aren’t enough attendees to go around.
It’s tooth and nail to get sales from such a small crowd of folks. If you do the math, it’s a very tough ratio of attendees to exhibitors. I suspect that since it’s CCI’s smallest show, it get’s the least amount of marketing attention; which is a pity.
I’ll tell you that we’ve had to fight-fight-fight to get our sales to grow at this show. It’s a tough one to make money at, but I do love walking the show floor.
Tip: Do this show if you’re local to the Bay area, have hand-made production values, or you can do it on the cheap. Tell everyone to attend, and maybe it’ll be a great exhibitor show. (It deserves it.)
Stumptown Comic Fest
The Good: An indie show in the indie-haven of Portland.
The Bad: High production values are the enemy. Inward looking scene.
Years exhibiting: Once, in 2008.
Sales: 1/2 *
Let me be honest: when we started Steam Crow, Stumptown was the show that I wanted to do the very most. The website is great, the city of Portland is amazing, and it just felt like our indie made stuff would feel at home in the rainy Northwest. (Our homeland.)
But, in 2008 at least, it just wasn’t so. Our table was behind a 3 foot concrete pillar, beneath a churning heater on the hottest day of the year. Sales were the lowest of any travel show we’ve ever done. Locals didn’t seem interested in us as we weren’t part of the scene. It was dismal.
Now, things may have changed, so don’t burn me here. I’m just sharing our experiences once, a few years back.
Tip: Most of our Con Artist friends have done this show… once. If it’s local, it’s probably a must-do thing. If not, I’d skip it.
That wraps up the major West Coast comic shows that we do.
Again, your mileage may vary. I’m just sharing what works, and doesn’t work, for us. Every business is different.
But, hopefully it helps you in your con decisions.
Daniel m. Davis is the co-owner (with his wife Dawna) of Steam Crow LLC, a Phoenix, Arizona studio that creates Good Monsters/Monster Goods.
They also create the Monster Commute, a 5 day a week monsterpunk adventure comic. He likes steam-golems.