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Shop Talk: Five Years of Gross Sales at Events

October 18, 2018

I'm not planning on doing a Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) wrap-up blog post.  I guess I haven't really done much writing about that sort of thing in recent years, mostly because I felt like I was spending a lot of time answering questions that no one was really asking. 

That said... I had no less than three CXC show runners (Staff and board members) ask me about my sales on the Sunday of the show.  I won't say they had a desperate look about them when they did, but it was clear to me that it had probably been an up and down year for my fellow exhibitors.  (For the record, I did pretty well by own terms)  Subsequently, I read Alex Hoffman's Sequential State essay about CXC in which he takes time to muse over how fragile the economic state of comic artists tends to be and the efficacy of comic shows and festivals as a marketplace for our stuff.  Alex doesn't quite go as far as accusing the circuit of shows of rent-seeking behavior, adding nothing but cost and personal profit to the field, but I do think that is a conversation worth having on a show by show basis.   Alex also links to an... interesting... site for a somewhat nebulous organization calling itself the Festival Workers Association which seems to be a nascent attempt at creating a guild for artists who take part in festivals.   

 

In short...  There are some questions being asked about comic artists and their success at events.  The first question is "How are you doing at events." I guess I'll do my best to answer that question with what I think people are getting at, which is  how much money do I make at events.    (Gross.  Honestly, I don't think you want to know about Net.  It's grim.)
 

 

The Basis of What I'm Talking About:
I'm defining an "event" as any festival, fair, market, convention, in-store appearance or pop-up sale where I sell merchandise, whether I pay to be there or run it myself. Events have accounted for 27% of my gross sales over the past 5 years to date.  That is a significant chunk, but third behind crowdfunding and what I'll call direct sales which is an aggregate of what I sell from my website, what I sell wholesale to shops and my 2017 pop-up shop inside of What the Rock?!, the latter of which accounts for almost half the total Direct Sales.  (Sigh.) Sales include my own line of Nix Comics Merchandise as well as a curated selection of new and used comics, records, zines and art.

 

Over-All Sales:
Crowdfunding:                                       $19,435.00
Direct (Store, On-Line, Wholesale):    $11,006.61
Events:                                                     $10,842.83

 

Over that span of time, I have sold at 65 Events Total,  ranging from 8 to 20 per year. My average gross sales at those events has been $169.51,with a median of $157.38, and a range of $18 to $560.  I have divided them up for purposes of this piece into Comic specific Events, Non-Comic Specific events and events that I have organized myself. Here are the top ten:
 

Event                                                                      Gross        Event Type

Beauty Found In Darkness Release Party    $560.00    Self

Sick Weekend 2016                                          $498.00    Non-Comic

WFMU Record Fair 2015                                  $432.00    Non-Comic
SPACE 2016                                                        $421.00    Comic

CXC 2018                                                            $380.00    Comic

SPX 2016                                                             $363.00    Comic

SPACE 2018                                                        $295.00    Comic

Swami Record Party 2017                                $278.00    Self

SPACE 2014                                                        $272.00    Comic

SPACE 2015                                                        $267.00    Comic

So I dunno what to tell you about those numbers.  Make of them what you will. I'm sure that some of my peers are going to read them and go "wow, that's great!" and others I'm sure will scoff.  Here are my random thoughts on the list:

  • My number one event is the release of a poetry book.  I guess poets probably make more money than comic creators (Hah!)

  • I think it's of note that SPACE shows up on the list 4 times.  SPACE has no special guests, gets no significant press and is in a hard to find venue on the outskirts of town.  It's the little local show that-could.  GO BOB CORBY!

  • You don't get to a comic convention or festival until you get to #4 on the list, although 6 of the 10 are comic shows.  I've always said that my stuff sells better at music related events than at comic events.  Looks like that is only sorta true.  

  • If I had my best event every week of the year it would gross less than $30K.  If I had my average event every week of the year it would gross less than $9K.  Events kinda suck when compared to both expense and time spent.

Breaking it down further:

Like I said, I don't want to get too far into "Net" sales, suffice to say all but one year my expenses have outweighed my gains and it'd just leave you wondering why I bother.  I do think though that a convenient way to further break down events is by how much they cost to attend.  

 

Comic Events
Table Cost          # Events     Average Sales   Median Sales        Range of Sales

All                                22               $185.47                  $185.00         $30.00 to $421.00

$0                                  2                 $80.50                   $80.50         $41.00 to $120.00

Up to $50                     3                 $50.33                    $38.00        $30.00 to $83.00 

$50-100                       11                $171.22                  $183.00        $99.00 to $295.00

$100+                            6                 $314.17                  $315.00        $193.00 to $421.00


Non-Comic Events
Table Cost          # Events     Average Sales   Median Sales        Range of Sales

All                                  23               $141.96                   $124.00        $18.00 to $498.00

$0                                10                $132.80                   $99.00         $22.00 to $498.00

Up to $50                     6               $86.67                     $69.50         $18.00 to $195.00

$50-100                        5               $152.60                   $176.00        $61.00 to $242.00
$100+                             2               $328.00                  $328.00       $224.00 to $432.00 

 

Self Run Events
Table Cost*          # Events     Average Sales   Median Sales        Range of Sales

All                                 20              $183.65                 $203.50         $25.00 to $560.00

$0                                 13              $181.46                  $185.00         $25.00 to $560.00
Made a Profit                7              $187.71                  $204.00         $98.00 to $245.00

 

*= Table cost does not exactly apply to shows I run.  I have not paid rent on an event location in the past five years, picking spots that either want the extra foot traffic I bring or have other deals, like free rental if a drink minimum is met.    Some events I make a profit on by asking other vendors for table rates or through small business sponsorships.

 

Final random thoughts:

  • My one year of doing a brick and mortar shop was more profitable than any one year of doing shows.   (That goes for Gross and Net sales)  I need to find a new situation like the one I had with What The Rock?!

  • While I wouldn't want to have to replace the money I take in doing events, I mostly attend them for the positive externalities such as networking, professional development and wholesale purchase opportunities.

  • Events are competitive.  At comic shows supply of merchandise is high while supply of exhibitor space is low, with corresponding effects on demand.  Not everyone attending is going to do well no matter what show managers attempt to do to level the playing field.

  • The thinking by most people running the comic shows is that a strong guest list will bring in more customers and that will justify a higher table cost.  I tend to think that the crowds that special guests bring in don't necessarily translate to sale for the rank and file artists.  (They certainly don't for me.  Four of my top ten events were at SPACE and four others had no "comic book" guests other than myself at all!)

  • I need to get back to running my own little shows and pop ups.  They have the best return on investment.

 

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