Better late than never, I always say. In the month after NYCC 2013, I’ve had some time to go over what worked and what didn’t, and in particular analyze our performance from last year to this year.
First, the bit of good news. Financially, we did a bit better this year than last year. Having both issue 1 and the trade really helped in capturing people’s attention and we were constantly complemented by the quality of our work. We recouped the costs of having our booth and were able to turn a slight profit. So, yay!
However, when we do this again next year, we’ll need to rethink our strategy completely.
First, a bit of context. Last year, at NYCC 2012, we were a brand-spanking new comic book publisher with one issue, a dream and a promise. And, to our advantage, we had an assortment of publishers, MadeFire and other vendors in the area. This year, we were like a beacon of comics amidst a sea of T-shirt vendors. Which sucked, because everyone who came to our area wasn’t really looking for comics, but T-shirts. While we had T-shirts to sell, given that not many knew about Torchbearer, they weren’t all very eager to purchase one.
Second, last year we had more volunteers help us out over the entire convention than this time around. While we are eternally grateful to Ron, the intern, and everyone else who showed up to help us this year, we really could have benefited from having more people to guide them to our little corner of the con floor.
See, last year we came up with a good system to steer traffic to our table on the floor. It’s divided into 3 parts: the first, we have a team of 2 or 3 people walk the floor handing out flyers or postcards promoting our booth and Torchbearer (having the map on the back helped, but a common feedback was that it needed to be more legible of the surrounding booths). Second, we have a team of 2-4 people a booth or two away, approaching people and giving them a modified pitch of what Torchbearer is and why it should interest them. Finally, those who have an interest in Torchbearer make it to the third stage, which is the full pitched delivered by whoever is manning the table, wherein we (hopefully) make the sale. So, that’s a minimum of 5-8 people necessary to bring traffic to one table on the main floor.
This year, while we had a similar number of people help us out, at times we were responsible for the entire booth (which is two tables) instead of just the one. Due to an unforeseen, last minute complication, our partner for NYCC could not make it, and while they were able to send individuals to man their side, at times it necessitated that people from Odd Truth manned both tables. I am confident that, had we either had more people (10-16) or were able to solely dedicate ourselves to one table, our plan could have worked better than it did this year (for comparison, last year we sold close to 500 issues. This year, we did a little over a fifth of that factoring in both issue 1 and the trade).
Third, I feel that NYCC has jumped the shark, as it were, when it comes to audience expectations on the main floor. I’ve talked to others at both artist alley at NYCC and on the main floor and the general consensus seems to be that, while still profitable, the audience is not as inclined to invest in discovering new artists or stories, but rather on brands and experiences that appeal to them (or are familiar to them). To us, this means that we have to build up not just momentum, but awareness at every single con and every other promotional venue such that NYCC becomes a culmination of sorts of our efforts. This also means that greater care must be made on things like booth design and presentation, as that is also an experience that speaks to the consumer passing by.
More importantly, the best piece of advice I can give with regards to having a booth on the main floor is that you can’t think of the booth as simply a storefront, a place where you can sell your wares and pitch to whoever passes by. People can become immune to someone pitching at them very, very quickly and if that’s the only way to grab their attention, you’re SOL. Instead, we must think the booth as an experience that a passerby can witness and even participate. On the main floor, engagement is the name of the game and greater engagement I feel will lead to greater sales. What this means in how you present yourself depends on your skills and your material. As creators, we are fortunate enough that we can bring elements of the worlds we create into the real world. Whether through cosplay or building a miniature set or through other means, we need to capitalize on what we have and show it off.
Naturally, this isn’t for everyone. It’ll require a lot of time, coordination, effort and money for something that’s risky, to say the least. And I agree: this isn’t for starting creators selling their first issue. In fact, if you only have an issue out there, you’re insane to even consider the main floor at a con. Stick to artist alley. Your goal is to be at the con, expose people to your creation WHILE AT THE SAME TIME MINIMIZING YOUR OVERALL COSTS.
Yet, for the seasoned comic con veteran, who has been to a lot of artist alleys, you’ll realize that there’s only so much you can make while on artist alley, as the bulk of the traffic is on the main floor. These notes are for those of you who feel confident you can showcase on the main floor. If you are one of those, then heed my advice: Comic cons are becoming vehicles of pop culture, which means that the audience will be less likely to explore new territory and will very likely stick to what they know. Your goal is to break those barriers the consumer puts up and make them take another look at what you have to offer. So find your hook and your pitch, and craft your booth and anything else that someone can see and just make it something people will just stop and take a closer look.
Look at it this way: if you, seasoned comicon veteran, were walking the main floor at a con, what catches your eye? Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it right.
And so should you.
Until next week.