This is a modified excerpt from a book I’m working on called The Business of Independent Comic Book Publishing. It is the second of a four part series on how independent publishers can make the most of comic book conventions as a lead into my appearance at New York Comic Con next month. As always, this isn’t the final word. Comments and insights are welcome.
To Table or Not To Table…
Getting a table at a con means renting a small area of real estate in the convention venue for your independent publishing company. While it is not mandatory for an independent publisher to rent space at a con, the decision to get a table will define much of your experience before, during and after the show. I suggest visiting several cons during the pre-production and production phases of your first book (See The Structure of Independent Publishing) to collect information and get a feel for the process, but we’ll cover the positives and negatives of both methods to provide a complete picture.
Advantages: A nomadic independent publisher at a convention can take advantage of increased time and lower costs.
Time: Because you aren’t spending hours working at your booth, you’re free to attend panels, meet with comic shop owners and potential talent, or check out what the competition is doing. You can also take in the show as a fan, buy cool stuff, connect with friends, and take pictures with cosplayers when you’re not working your hustle.
Costs: Renting a table costs money. Printing books or manufacturing merch costs money. Shipping the stuff to the venue costs money. Shipping the unsold inventory back costs money. Paying labor costs money. Having a table means you might also be paying for electricity, Wi-Fi, taxes and insurance. If you get a table, you’re going to spend money marketing your project. If you don’t get a table, more of your investment can go into other aspects of your publishing.
Disadvantages: If you decide to spend the con walking the show floor, you have to deal with invisibility and lost sales:
Invisibility: When you have a table, you have an established presence at the show, however small it might be. Without one, people may not know where to find you. Potential fans can’t stumble onto your amazing artwork. The perceived legitimacy of being an active comic book publisher is harder to attain. You don’t have a stable place to relax, store your swag or meet your market. For the duration of the show, you’re a drifter with no place to hang your hat.
Lost Sales: Without a table, it is difficult to sell any meaningful quantity of product for several reasons. First, some cons may have formal or informal rules against commercial activity without a table, because they have to protect all the exhibitors who do pay. Second, you can only sell what you can carry, so unless you’re Professor Hulk, you won’t be able to sell a ton of books from your bag. Third, handling cash and/or credit card transactions on the move can create a series of problems. Finally, even if there is no rule against non-table sales, and you can sell decent quantities out of your backpack, and you can keep track of your money, the potential loss of reputation might not be worth the money you have coming in. It only takes a couple of other independent creators who paid for space to see you selling mobile and getting upset. The potential blowback in the professional community could be far worse than the cost of a table.
Best Situation for Mobile Attendance: If you don’t have the upfront investment to pay for a table or if you don’t have anything to sell, then it makes sense to stay mobile and use the convention for the other benefits it has to offer.
Advantages: Tabling at a con provides the reverse benefits to mobile attendance, namely visibility and potential sales
Visibility: Your table is your spot on the convention show map, your popup shop and your temporary flag in the comic industry ecosystem. Competitors, fans, potential partners, and the press can see you and what you’re doing, which is critical for your marketing. On a more mundane level, a table gives you a port in the storm of convention madness. While everyone else might be on their feet for ten hours, dragging around their stuff and eating trail mix, you at least can have a place to sit.
Potential Sales: The main point of getting a table at a con is to sell your stuff. Depending on how well you do and how much you control costs, this distribution model can more than cover the costs of attending the show. I’ve had clients who use conventions sales as their primary method distribution, because they can cut out the middle men and keep more of the revenue for themselves as profit.
Disadvantages: Tying yourself to a table means lost time and money.
Time: Comic creators and independent publishers who table often miss the other events of the show because they spend most of their time stuck peddling their wares like a shopkeeper in a fantasy RPG. In certain extreme cases, you might not have time to eat, go to the bathroom, or do anything else besides table for 8-10 hours at a time. Conventions give you the opportunity to experience several benefits for your business, but only if you can get away from the booth.
Money: The various costs of tabling at a con can run between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars. While certain convention expenses are deductible if you set up a company, and the revenue you make from the table can exceed the costs, there is no guarantee you’ll make a profit from attending the show. You can lose money marketing your project at a convention just as easily as you can make it.
Best Situation for Stationary Attendance: If you have the investment to spend, a product to sell, and multiple people who can staff your table, then you can establish your presence and make some money without feeling trapped for the entire weekend.
Now that you’ve decided which show to attend and whether or not to rent a table, the next question you have to answer is “how much is all this going to cost?” We’ll explore the economics of convention marketing next week.
Have fun with your comic.
If you have questions about the business or legal aspects of your comic book publishing and you'd like a free consultation, please contact me and we can set something up that fits in with your schedule.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH A QUALIFIED CONTRACT ATTORNEY OR CONTACT C3 FOR A FREE CONSULTATION