Friday, October 03, 2014

Alamo City Comic Con 2014: What Next?

Busy days since Alamo City Comic Con happened this past weekend. It was epic, with a reported 100,000 in attendance -- in only the con's second year. WOW.

Thank you to all who scored Loteria posters, calendars, and art goodies at my Artists Boulevard table there. It was a pleasure to visit with every one of you, and yes, there's more Loteria news coming down the road from me soon. Stay tuned. :)

HUGE thank you to all who played Loteria in Ballroom B on Saturday night. We played over ten rounds, and gave away the most prizes yet. SO MUCH fun. That was the largest attendance I've yet experienced for a Loteria session, as we had close to 100 people who played or watched. The attendances seem to grow every time I do this. I'll keep doing it into 2015, on all of my road appearances. :) (Next stop -- actually another hometown appearance -- Aetherfest.)

Recently, there's been a lot of discussion about whether conventions are a viable marketplace for artists and independent creators, and I want to address some of that, in terms of what I'm seeing at Alamo City Comic Con.

To Apple, Garrett, Izzy, Fred and the entire ACCC team -- take a bow, people. Seriously. I'm so impressed by what you've achieved thus far. MAD APPLAUSE for all of you. You're doing it, people. You're building an amazing beast, and it's only going to get better.

I think this con has a chance to do some revolutionary things in the coming years -- and perhaps develop models that can influence the future of conventions. I know -- you don't usually think of the word 'visionary' and 'San Antonio' in the same sentence, but when I look at what's happening here, times are changing. San Antonio has never experience anything like this event. Granted, like many other comic book conventions, ACCC has headliners led by artists, writers, media celebrities and cosplayers. Nothing revolutionary there. I would say that the majority of the attendees are driven by an expectation that they're going to rub shoulders with celebs and cosplayers. This is how they're pre-conditioned, and if you look at the con's VIP packages, they're designed to build this expectation.

The good news is that this attracts attendees and families who wouldn't normally attend if this were solely an event built around comic book vendors and toy merchants. The bad news happens when fans spend big money on VIP packages and then feel unfulfilled because the celebrities don't fulfill obligations, they have a bad experience with the celeb, or a snafu happens that devalues the VIP from feeling....well, like a VIP. This has been a vexing problem in the first two years of ACCC but I think it's also part of the growing pains of an event that is aiming for the moon. I think Apple and company realize they need to solve these problems, but I think the fact that this event is only in its SECOND year has to be factored. They're learning, and they're growing FAST.

Speaking as an artist vending in Artist Boulevard, the celebrities, the cosplayers, the VIP packages are all good for the ecosystem of the convention. If an artist or independent creator isn't making money at a show like ACCC, it's not the fault of those parties. Me -- I did really well this year. As always, I want to do better the next time, meet more people, make even more money, and see more of my artist compadres make more money too.

The best news is that I see an untapped solution staring ACCC in the face that can improve matters for many parties at once -- especially the Artist Boulevard folks -- and it could be a potential gamechanger and value-added experience for not only this event, but other similar comic-centric events.

This year, ACCC presented "Preview Night" to its VIPs and all-weekend pass holders. Much like San Diego Comic Con's Preview Night, this special 4-hour window from 5pm to 9pm on Thursday night allows those special passholders to glimpse the vendors and attractions before the rest of the weekend's human tsunami crashes through the doors on Friday through Sunday. Basically, people who attend Preview Night are people who are paying extra for the privilege of a VIP experience.

What I saw on ACCC's Preview Night was that my town doesn't quite grasp the concept as there was light traffic and very light sales throughout throughout Artist Boulevard. It felt pretty empty, and it didn't help that many vendors didn't even open up for this window of time. During this time, most cosplayers and celebrities were also absent.

Hold on to that thought.

So basically, we have a wave of eager attendees paying a premium for an exclusive experience during the first four hours of the show, and we have a roomful of artist vendors who are eagerly trying to connect their products and projects with these attendees. We have a growing convention building its financial ledger on VIP passes.

For many of the VIP packages, being a VIP means standing in a long line for the privilege of paying a small fortune to celebs for a hasty signature, and maybe getting photographed with said individual. Even if that's not my definition of being a VIP, I'm not gonna bash anyone who thinks it is. What I would suggest is that consumers spending quality time with creators, and getting memorable experiences with people who might remember them back is perhaps a little more 'VIP' than the aforementioned.

So let's look at Preview Night and imagine if all of the Artists in Artist Boulevard showed up at 5pm and had pre-arranged with ACCC to offer something special to those VIPs... something exclusive and tangible for Preview Night attendees only. Maybe it's a 20% discount on certain merchandise at their table for that night only.... maybe it's a free exclusive promo not available any other time during the con.... maybe it's a special buy-1-get-1-free deal only for Preview Night.

It's up to the artist. Not every artist HAS to do it. But for the ones that do embrace the concept, Alamo City Comic Con could print a special listing in its Program Book that would celebrate Preview Night and list each artist's booth number along with their special deals so that VIPs could seek out these exclusives like a rocking treasure hunt. ACCC could promote this info on their website two weeks in advance so that shoppers could make their lists.

It would take advance initiative from the artists, and coordination between them and ACCC. But look at the rewards that happen as a result -- a booming, energetic crowd for Preview Night; a potential rocket boost to sales for artists in Artist Boulevard; new fans for those Artists; more Preview Night VIP passes sold for ACCC; AND maybe most importantly -- attendees who feel like they got treated like VIPs because frankly, I don't think the artists are going to be charging $80 for their autograph and photo (or at least, most of the sensible ones), and the VIPs get access to special deals that the rest of the con doesn't.

It's even more effective because Preview Night really is the time when artists and vendors have more visibility as cosplayers and celebs don't arrive until later in the weekend.

I think it's a major opportunity for ACCC, and could be a way to elevate even higher in their third year, while cleaning up some of the VIP PR hiccups of the first two years.

That's my two cents for now.

I see HUGE things for this show, and I'm grateful for Apple and the entire team who are making San Antonio into a rising force amongst the Geek Kingdoms.

Cheers, all. See you next year!

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