Should Comic-Con “Go Long”?

San Diego Comic-Con 2013

In his article on how money is changing the nature Comic Cons big and small, Jim McLauchlin quotes Fables creator Bill Willingham as stating:

“I love the fact that this thing has gotten huge and all that, but San Diego — and you can fill in any of the other big mega-conventions — isn’t really one convention. It’s like 12 smaller conventions that just happen to be taking place at the same time in the same place.”

And, indeed, the major pop culture conventions, such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, are large in both scale and scope. These events feature presentations, panel sessions, vendors, and activities on a wide variety of topics covering comic books and graphic novels, manga, movies, television programs, anime, costumed “cosplay” and more.

With the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center still a distant hope, perhaps one option for the future of San Diego and other large Cons is to “go long” — that is, spread the event over more days.

SXSWThere’s precedent for this in another prominent convention: the South by Southwest festival (or SXSW as it is generally known). The annual media and popular culture event in Austin, Texas is arrayed as three back-to-back conferences : SXSW Music, SXSW Film, and SXSW Interactive.

SXSW is not currently at the scale of San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con, both of which now draw around 130,000 attendees. In 2013, the Austin festival attracted roughly 25,000 participants for SXSW Music, 30,621 for SXSW Interactive, and 16,297 for SXSW Film.

Despite the smaller scale, the event extends over more days than the major Comic Cons, with the main activities for the music and the interactive festivals only overlapping on one day. For 2014, SXSW Interactive runs March 7–11 and SXSW Music is March 11–16. The SXSW Film festival — the most lightly attended of the three — spans the dates of both of the other SXSW festivals, running March 7–15 this year.

One can only imagine the challenge of booking a hotel room on the day all three festivals overlap. Nevertheless, there are advantages to separating the events by topic and allowing the audience to focus on the activities in which they are most interested.

WonderCon AnaheimPerhaps the big Comic Cons should try something similar. In addition to dispersing the crowd, it would mollify the comic book aficionados who bemoan the encroachment of the “Hollywood crowd” at the Cons, and allow the TV and movie fans unadulterated access to events around those interests.

Of course, many pop culture fans are “completists” who want to embrace everything related to their obsessions, so there would be those who feel compelled to stay for the entire event. But, one would hope, even their experience would be less stressful if the crowds were reduced by this niche-focused approach.

As I mentioned in a Knowledge@Wharton article a year ago [see “Comic-Con: The Sold-out Super Bowl of Pop Culture“] I believe a better approach — at least for Comic-Con International (which runs both San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon) — would be to expand from two cities to three. If WonderCon — traditionally held in San Francisco but relocated to Anaheim since 2012 — could secure dates for San Francisco in the fall and remain in Anaheim in the spring, West Coast fans would have abundant options to sate their pop culture cravings throughout the year. Rebranding these two WonderCons as Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con would help to market the events to a broader audience. (After all, Comic-Con International’s parent company currently holds trademarks for both Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con.)

Special Edition: NYCIn a similar vein, this year ReedPop is augmenting fall’s New York Comic Con with a smaller event in the spring focused specifically on comic books, dubbed Special Edition: NYC. “New York Comic Con has grown to include so much more than comic books,” stated ReedPOP Global Senior Vice President Lance Fensterman in a press release. “Special Edition: NYC will give comic book fans an intimate destination to meet with publishers and special guests.”

Whether through more cities, more dates, or a larger venue, one hopes the scale of the leading Comic Cons will eventually expand to match the demand.

 

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5 Responses to Should Comic-Con “Go Long”?

  1. scifielements says:

    San Francisco no longer wanted wondercon in its city. they changed their convention hall status to only guaranteeing a spot 6 months in advance. it takes at least a year to plan a con. that’s why wondercon left. wondercon would prefer to be in San Francisco. comic fans would have petition the city to get them to change back their policy.

    it’s a nice thought to add more cons to reduce attendance at SDCC, THE comic con, but it just means more people would attend more cons. San Diego Comic Con continually sells out every year. even if your exoectations are correct, which I don’t agree with, & attendees, who go to SDCC every year would go to other west coast cons instead of the most epic con of all time, those who can never get tickets, because 130,000 tickets sell out in 45 minutes, would then take up the slack & attend San Diego Comic Con in their stead. also, there are quite a few SoCal cons & fans, who live in SoCal go to all of them.
    comic pop culture is growing exponentially, there is no end in sight.

  2. Francheska says:

    That might work. I would probably still make it out for all the days but it would weed out some people for sure.

  3. @scifielements: Thanks for the comments.

    I’m not sure that San Francisco didn’t want WonderCon. But you’re certainly correct that the Moscone Convention Center hasn’t been able to give Comic-Con International the date commitments they would need to schedule the event there.

    I’m convinced you’re also correct that, even if CCI hosted events in more cities, San Diego Comic-Con would continue to see a capacity, sell-out crowd each year. Additional events would, however, provide more alternatives to those who can’t get a coveted ticket to SDCC.

  4. Junshin says:

    Actually, the idea of expanding the con to a week or so is not a new one and is proposed every year at the ‘Talkback’ panel, where it is summarily shot down.

    1) Expanding the con to a week+ means that CCI must rent the Convention Center space, equipment, personnel, staffing, etc., for more than the week itself. Gotta set up and break down that stuff. All that costs more money and that will mean that badge price levels will go up.

    2) It’s not something that the vendors or artists on the Trade Show floor can do because of the associated costs–many of the smaller vendors cannot justify the cost of booth space for what is becoming smaller profits when just the one weekend is finished. Many of these vendors commit to other venues on the other weekends.

    3) Let’s say that the con does expand to a week. OK, what will be the proposal when THAT sells out when the lines are just as long, the hotels are just as expensive, etc.?

  5. @Junshin:

    These are all good points.

    Yes, a longer Con would mean a higher badge price — at least if you wanted to attend all the days. This wouldn’t necessarily be the case for the shorter, more focused mini-Con’s (following the SXSW model).

    In addition, the Comic-Con audience in general seems fairly price insensitive. In fact — although I know this isn’t a popular view — I would argue that, given the extent to which the demand exceeds the supply, the current ticket price is too low.

    Regarding your second point, like the panels, the vendor portion of the show could be segmented: comic book vendors for three days, a special trade press day, anime and manga on a different day, and so on. While vendors could stay for the entire show if they choose to do so, they could focus on particular days to maximize the traffic for their intended audience.

    In terms of your third point: Yes, SDCC would still be crazy — although, perhaps, with less disparate interests competing for the same venues.

    But, at the end of the day, there’s no way around the fundamental issue that more people want to attend than the space can accommodate.

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