When I was a teenager, I judged a comic convention largely based on the comics I was able to find. Maybe I found a large run of a single title in a quarter bin, or I came across a rare issue that I needed to fill a hole in my collection. But an event's success, in my mind, was based on what I walked home with.
These days, whether or not I actually walk home with any books is almost immaterial. After all, I can find and purchase just about any comic I'm looking for online. I was just kicking around trying to track down the original Micronauts series, and found several people selling the entire run (plus the annuals, plus the second series) on eBay in one chunk. Or if I want to grab the first Howard the Duck run, it's even collected in a couple different formats now; I can order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Powell's or any number of places.
What's more note-worthy to me these days is who I meet and interact with. Did I get a chance to talk with Jim Steranko or Warren Ellis? Did I get to meet a webcomic artist who I've talked with online, but never met in person? Did I hang out with some friends and all of us went out to dinner afterwards? A successful convention now is one where the dealers play second fiddle to the people who show up.
If you talk with people who study marketing trends and try to help businesses plan for the future, you might find one of the recent -- trends isn't really the right word; cultural directions, maybe? -- is more and more towards experience. That is, consumers don't just want a product, they want an experience. Oh, sure, I could order this do-dad from Amazon, but it would be much more fulfilling if I met the individual artisan who made one and was able to ask him specific questions about his process.
(To be fair, now that I think on it, I have seen Dark Horse and Zenescope and some other publishers have creator signings at their booths. The events don't have to be huge, walk-through, photo op displays.)
The same can be done at the retailer level as well. This past year, I saw a t-shirt vendor at a convention who normally does okay business. But this year, he was able to secure Taimak ("Bruce Leroy" from The Last Dragon) to sit at his booth and do signings all day. He had a much better show, and the two people I was with were exstatic to get pictures and autographs.
So what's a creator to do? Well, the engagement level is smaller, and thus should be more personal and intimate. This can be a little difficult as not everyone who walks up will feel comfortable chatting casually with a creator they don't know. They might be shy, or want to avoid feeling guilty for not buying something. But maybe there's still some opportunity to be had. Maybe just telling jokes to break the ice. Maybe taking pictures and celebrating others who do purchase something. Maybe it's an ongoing skit/play-acting that you're doing with someone also sitting at your booth.
The point is that consumers (i.e. the people who might be interested in buying your stuff) are looking for more than a simple financial transaction. If you're not giving it to them, the gal/guy in the booth next to you might.
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