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AC Dealers’ Room 2012 Post-Mortem

That title sounds weird, since it assumes that the con is dead, which it very definitely isn’t—over 5K attendees this year, and given that furry cons rake in money an order of magnitude more than any other fandom, still the biggest con of the year for me. But I like “post-mortem” more than “report” since I’m doing a bit of a dissection this year.

First, the fluff—saw a lot of great people, got to spend time hanging out with some of them that I don’t normally get a chance to see when we’re not all bent over sketchbooks muttering about commissions. Always a delight! And Kevin was working security this con, so I was very lucky to have Ben and Taliabear as my Table Minions.*

Possibly because I was at the table without relief much more than usual, I paid more attention to sales trends than usual, and after a couple of cons of these trends, and talking to a bunch of other artists, here are my thoughts. (Insert usual disclaimers about plural of anecdote not being data, etc.)

A broader, shallower pond.

The dealer’s room nearly doubled in size at this last AC, and while attendance continues to climb, it did not double in size by any stretch. This means we art-fishies are competing more fiercely for tasty tasty fish-treats, and by fish-treats, I mean money.

ETA: Well, butter my ass and call me a biscuit--the room doubled in size, but that was all aisles, and the table space only went up about 15%. I suspect that the division into two halves of the room may have been a factor in sales for some people (those of us on the "traditional" side of the room probably got more immediate hits) but that'll probably flatten out as people get used to it. (And god, I loved the bigger aisles.)

In that case, I am even more puzzled! (And thank you, Uncle Kage, for the data!)

The economy is better, if not in the boom time prior to late 2008.

The days when AC was three months rent for me have fallen by the wayside, but we’re climbing back up there, and the con continues to pay for itself plus some extra. There are certainly steps that I could take to radically lower my expenses (i.e. eat very cheaply all weekend and share a room with somebody other than Kevin) but as my income is still 99% Dragonbreath and AC is mostly love and a weekend with a bunch of buddies, I continue to treat it like a weird-ass self-funded vacation on that front.

That said, we all like money, and I would of course love to make more of it, which leads us to the next few points.

Prints aren’t selling.

Don’t ask me why, but in October 2008, print sales fell off a cliff, and while other stuff came back, prints didn’t. From making up approximately 80% of my table sales, they now make up less than 40%. Now, while I’d normally attribute that to me not putting out enough new content or something similar, I’m hearing this across the board, from very very big artists in fandom. Haven’t bothered bringing the printer for awhile now, and at no point did I feel the lack.  (40% is still a LOT, mind you, and I will always have print books, but it’s a definitely downturn.)

Jumbo prints really aren’t worth it.

Sold three. One was the pear. I can read the writing on the wall there—there’s no point in lugging a bulky, obnoxious to prepare, takes-a-lot-of-table-space item around if sales are gonna keep going this way. In a lot of ways it’s a relief, they were always a bear to fly with. So, unless the pendulum swings t’other way, for the moment I’m gonna stop lugging jumbos to the con.

Commissions stay steady.

Still not up to the Olden Days, but definitely solid. For a number of cons now, this has been true—people have X amount of money, they want to spend it on personalized art. Approximate 50% of my sales were sketchbook commissions, and I really need much better signs because people had no idea that I was taking them and/or was still available. That’s a spot where I, personally, can improve with a little advance planning—i.e. don’t wait until the day of the con to realize you don’t have a sign, and do not then draw it hastily in sharpie and then realize that your sign holder is also broken.

People want tchotkes.

Upwards of 10% of my sales were little cloisonne pins of the Pear and Happy Cthulhu. I have sold out of Red Wombat and Digger pins, and will be shelling out the money for a couple more designs before the next con. Also finally sold out of Biting Pear patches. I heard similar things across the board—people want little small things that are wearable or nifty or whatever.

Corollary: Postcards seemed to do well. Not much data on this, but I moved a lot of $1 pear cards, and myself bought a fair number of post cards from artists–stuff I can tack on my corkboard and enjoy, but not a huge showcase piece. Price point is so low on this that table space must be carefully juggled, though. Talked to a very nice woman who was selling some gorgeous cards on oatmeal paper, and she told me where to find that, so I’m looking forward to experimenting there.

That said, people are willing to pay for big pieces at the table.

My buddy Mel does art dolls, and sold a surprising number, and those are NOT cheap. I heard a couple of other similar reports about masks and other such—people will buy a big piece at the table. Possibly this is because they aren’t doing so in the art show, which leads us to…

The art show sucked for (almost) everybody.

Reports across the board, art show was really poor. Even the few individuals who can generally expect a couple pieces to go to auction and come in at four figures were much slower than usual. Couple of artists who are top of the line popular still said that they brought home a LOT of art from this one, and it seems to be an ongoing trend. While I had no mature work this year, I hear that it was even slower out there, and that this is also a cross-con trend—people just aren’t shelling out for mature art anymore.

My personal theory is that collectors are out of wall-space.

I was one of the few outliers on this, in that the art show was one of my better ones. I attribute this to two factors—sold one BIG $$$ (Thank you, Mel’s Hot Friend!) and actually had less art than usual, so those few much-loved collectors who want to go home with an Ursula original were forced to bid up pieces instead of spreading out over more art. Two actually went to voice auction.

This was not intentional on my part, and I’m unsure of how to act on the information, since I actually feel bad when somebody tries really hard to get a piece and loses it at auction–yes, the money’s awesome, of course, but I know these people. They’re my collectors, and over the years, most of them are now at least casual friends, and I hate to see them disappointed, and I can’t help but feel a little responsible. (I frequently wind up giving somewhat discounted take-home sketch commissions Sunday afternoon, since I just plain feel bad they couldn’t get the art they wanted.)

(Also, incidentally, a big thanks to Highwing and BryantFox, who cracked me up completely with the comments written on the bid sheet during their bidding war.)

Sunday was weirdly dead.

No explanations here, but the big rush that usually comes after the art show, when people have lost the pieces, did not materialize. Dead art show strikes again? Maybe. This is a single data point, though, so I’ll just keep an eye out at future cons.

Year of the Brony

Seriously. People doing MLP-themed art everywhere. It’s quite a thing. (At one point I turned to Kevin and said “All these ideas, and what we really ought to be doing is figuring out how to put fursuits on My Little Po—oh crap, I’m a genius.”  Sadly, the only way to do so is mods, and while those are fun and would sell, they’re not cheap and take a lot of time.)

All this said, and feeling weirdly alert on the drive home, Kevin and I spent most of West Virginia brainstorming about stuff. The future, it appears, is in merch, or at least prints need to be aggressively supplemented with such things.

Personal conclusions for yours truly:

1) More pin designs.

2) Do a run of postcards–mix of old and new designs.

3) Work up a couple of pendant/jewelry designs and give those a try.

4) Try luggage/backpack tags and/or keychains.

5) Ditch jumbo prints.

6) Better signs, dumbass.

7) It is not worth killing self to fill art show panels.

8) Try a couple of hand-painted prints at the table (sort of like hand-colored prints, or the stretched canvas prints, but I tend to go for stuff that involves thick paint strokes on solid colors, to give it a nice meaty texture) sealed to small boards. Inexpensive, but a little more interesting than flat prints, and not appropriate for art show.

9) Do a couple of big leather masks for the table, and hey, you never know.

Anyway, that’s my experience and conclusions. If you’re an artist who does cons, I’d love to hear anything that either contradicts or corroborates these, as well as any novel solutions you’ve come up with. (It may be a broad shallow pond, but we’re still all swimming in it together…)

*Minion badges did not sell for beans, but I’m gonna keep bringing them because I gave away quite a few. They are very very useful in that regard. May have to adjust price or offer more designs or break out a laminating device or something. Lamination…*shudder*

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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