SDCC Dealer Woes – New or Did the Trend Finally Reach San Diego
The last few years there’s been an annual ritual after the San Diego Comic Con to decry how the media has taken the show away from comics and, increasingly, how terrible it is for the dealers. The big snarkfest kicking this off came from Mile High’s Chuck Rozanski (and strangely, Rozanski’s rant no longer appears to be online). You know this one by now: people are paying attention to Twilight/Harry Potter/Venture Bros./Chuck and the comics are getting lost. The dealers aren’t selling enough comics.
Granted, I still haven’t gotten around to attending an SDCC, but I’ve been a few conventions over the years and I’ve got a question for the people who have been getting upset: what were you under the impression people buy at conventions?
Once upon a time, before you had hard cover reprint collection and before the explosion of trade paperbacks (we won’t even get into torrents), if you wanted to read an old story you had to track down back issues. Depending on where you lived, that may or may not have been such an easy task. I’ve been at cons running down Englehart Avengers, Gerber Defenders and Wein Phantom Stranger (ok, that one wasn’t as successful) over the years. Guess what? I can get trade paperbacks of all that stuff now. I can order them from dozens of sites and I might even be able to find one at the Borders down the street. OK, with the Phantom Stranger and Avengers, I’d still need the originals if I wanted to see it in color, but you get my point: back issues are increasingly a collector’s-only item, not a reader’s item.
What I’m hearing about San Diego is what I’ve seen at Wizard’s Chicago show for the last few years: less high end back issues and more deep discount items. And when I deep discount, I mean at least 35% off graphic novels (a lot of places will have them at 50% off) and back issues for anywhere between $1 to $0.25 each. The deep discount being where a lot of the action is. Last year, plenty of booths had discounts when the show opened up Thursday night that normally wouldn’t be around until Sunday. Why is there more deep discount, because that’s what people are buying. I don’t know if anyone was dumping graphic novels at SDCC, but I did here the $1 bins were among the brisker items.
Now I’m sure the current economic climate is a factor in San Diego. That’s not a cheap convention to attend. You might not have that much to spend when you get there and you might ask yourself what the priority for spending is? I’m thinking if you have limited resources, you’re a whole lot more likely to spend your money in artist alley or on something that’s just cheaper than anywhere else you’re going to buy it. You also might be buying things you just haven’t seen before (which can be a factor of how diverse your local comic shop). “New things” may or may not be an artist’s alley thing. Perhaps it’s an out of place anecdote, but while you hear about dealers not doing so hot, Spike (of Templar, AZ) was sold out and flew home with cash. Spike’s product isn’t in a ton of stores, so pretty much either you buy from her website or you buy from her directly at a convention.
On the other hand, several people have been making valid points that the Hollywood presence at San Diego displaces a number of potential comic buyers with people just there for the movies and TV shows, Twilight being the poster child for non-comics-related things. Anecdotally, I’m not sure how much weight this should be given. San Diego is sold out, so there’s validity that bodies who might spend money in the dealer area were displaced. Thing is, I’ve been going to the Wizard show in Chicago for a number of years and they’ve had wrestlers there for years. They had a Mixed Martial Arts Ring at the show. They’ve always had an actor or two that will pull a few people just for that panel/autograph. All manner of attractions that were tagentially related to comic, at best. The thing is, they were never sold out. People who wanted to buy comics could still get in, and the dealer room still changed to a deep discount festival. (Although, I suppose you might argue that Wizard’s programming didn’t entice the back issue crowd to come to the show.)
There doesn’t seem to be any question that people want to attend conventions. SDCC and NYCC are both good examples of that. I do think there’s some question on what people want to spend their money on in an era when the Internet has popularized mail order and rare items may be a little easier to track down.
And it could be worse. When Hollywood finally realized there was a demand for TV shows on DVD, that took a BIG bite out of the bootleg video market that used to be a bigger staple of comic shows. Comic dealers haven’t taken on the chin quite that badly yet.