Convention season is kicking off once again, and comic creators are filling up their schedules with shows and events they're planning to table at. Historically, conventions were a great way to get your small, independently-published comic out into the market, particularly if you couldn't get national distribution through Diamond, who instituted sales thresholds some years back. You rent a table in Chicago or New York or one of the bigger cities where lots of fans congregate, and you get the word out about your comic. Maybe you tried to set up or appear on a panel or two, as well, to reach some people who didn't/couldn't find your table when they were wandering Artists' Alley.
Of course, the internet changed the dynamic a bit. You could promote your comic to all sorts of people around the world before it was even complete! Social media amplified that. Crowd-funding sites amplified that again, this time with sales baked into the process.
So the question is: is it worth it, as a creator, tabling at conventions?
I mean, there's always been this cost/benefit analysis that you'd have to do about conventions. If you fly to San Diego from Boston, rent a hotel room for a week, and put up a full booth at Comic-Con, but only sell a few books, you're going to lose money. Every creator has to do some level of analysis like that for every show they wanted to attend. Which is why most shows feature primarily fairly local talent, except in cases where they pay to fly in a special guest. It's more cost-effective to table at a convention if it's close enough you can drive to and don't require renting a hotel room.
But I've heard more than a couple creators in the past year or two, who've essentially given up tabling altogether. They've done some of these calculations (either as rough estimates or in detailed spreadsheets) and determined that unless their travel, accommodations, and table costs are virtually nil, they're better off staying at home. At least financially. They still might attend, more or less as any other attendee that just loved comics, but the cost of tabling didn't seem worth it.
I've also noticed, at larger cons, that the Artists' Alley tables are increasingly selling not comics, but prints. Some are from very talented artists, to be sure, but they're selling (usually) single images of other people's characters, not comics of their own making. From their perspective, I get that -- the prints are insanely more profitable than complete books of comics -- but it means that these types of artists are still clamoring for table space at conventions.
WHICH MEANS that, despite fewer comic creators willing to pay for table space, there's still a demand for tables, so conventions have little incentive to make things more attractive (i.e. cheaper) to comics folks. I've noted previously how the Wizard World shows have had a dwindling comics presence, and I'll be curious to see if that starts seeping over into other large shows, like the ones ReedPop puts on.
I think it won't be long now before "comic cons" are not really about comics at all, and simply the breadth of pop culture as seen through TV, movies, and video games. I don't know that we're in danger of losing comics-focused conventions -- shows like MoCCA and CXC are specifically focused on comics; they curate (and price!) their shows accordingly -- but I think we'll be seeing an increasing division between comics-centric shows and "comic cons."