The Hidden Cost of Comic Cons, Revealed
For fans, conventiongoing is as difficult as booking time off work and buying a ticket. For publishers, it's a little more complicated.
For fans, comic book conventions can be exciting opportunities to interact with favorite creators, buy new (and often exclusive) merchandise that isn't easily available elsewhere, and indulge in fandom and nerd culture in a way that just is generally impossible elsewhere. For publishers, however, it's an entirely different experience.
Gina Gagliano, of independent graphic novel publisher First Second, took to the Internets to explain why the company only does three "traditional" comic cons a year (San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic Con and MoCCA, if you're curious). "We all have a lot on our plates already," she wrote, pointing out that because the First Second staff only numbers four people, it's not as if there's staff to spare for such events.
"Sacrificing a whole month to go to more conventions means that there's an entire month of editing, or designing, or marketing and publicity that just wouldn't get done," Gagliano said. "That's 8 percent fewer books that would get edited or designed or marketed that year." And that's even before the cost of the convention is factored in. "We track our convention book sales just like regular sales," she explains. "Part of the money goes back in to author royalties, part of the money goes back into the production costs, part of the money goes toward the book shipping, and part of the money goes toward company overhead. That means it's all allocated even before we get to the convention."
This doesn't mean that First Second doesn't get out there -- Unlike publishers who are more engaged with the traditional direct market (AKA, superhero) audience, there's a lot more focus on trade events like ComicsPro, the American Library Association shows and the like, and the publisher also sends individual creators to events.
Going through everything that Gagliano mentions, though, it's kind of amazing to consider just how many publishers manage to attend so many conventions each year without grinding to a halt entirely. Next time you're at a show, go up to a publisher's rep and offer them a coffee. They probably need one.