Are Anime Companies Cutting Back On Convention Appearances?
by Justin Sevakis,
One of the things that I enjoy about going to conventions is meeting people from the industry and getting a more personal experience. But recently I was listening to an interview with Seven Seas and they stated that it was becoming less profitable for companies to attend conventions. I can understand to an extent since there are so many conventions happening year round that it is impossible to attend most. They went on to say that they were not even bothering attending Otakon anymore, which is one of the biggest anime conventions on the east coast, in favor of AX and other west coast based comic conventions. Is this the start of companies across the board declining invitation to fan conventions in favor of higher density, west coast based, trade show conventions like AX? Will the east coast conventions like OtaKon start to see a decline in industry guests since its so far to travel, bring product and turn a profit?
I'm not sure there's any real pattern here. Companies in the anime business have always struggled to justify the expense of attending anime conventions. Most of them know it's good marketing to attend the bigger ones, but the expenses add up very quickly, and ultimately, if money's tight (and it's always tight) it can really seem like it's not worth the time and expense.
How expensive can it be for a company to attend a convention? First, there's travel expenses -- plane fare, hotels, taxis and meals -- for everyone that you're sending or bringing to the show from out of town. If you need additional help manning the booth (an exhausting job even for the most energetic people), you have to find and hire them locally. There's the fee for the booth space, and in larger cities, the event space may have deals with the Teamsters that may require a large additional expense for union labor to load your stuff in and out of the show floor. You have to pay to ship your booth gear, displays, shelves, and inventory from your warehouse to the convention center. The convention center also charges a premium for electricity and phone access for your booth (since cellular and wifi reception is often a mess, and you have to be able to run credit cards somehow). For a small to medium-sized company these expenses could easily total into the tens of thousands of dollars. Larger companies like Viz or Funimation have been known to blow over a hundred thousand dollars on a single convention (although not regularly).
In addition to that, there's the unseen and often unmeasurable expense of spending all that time away from the office, and bringing your staff away from the office for all that time as well. Your time and your employees' time are valuable, and the time you're spending doing convention stuff is often time that is really needed to do other things, like license and release anime and manga for example. Funimation and Crunchyroll are big enough to have dedicated staff just to make the most out of conventions and the opportunities they present. But smaller companies have to prioritize their time, and simply don't have the manpower or money to put on a big show at these conventions. They have to carefully decide how to budget their marketing.
It used to be that conventions were the only place for a fan to talk to industry people, ask questions, and talk about their opinions. There IS no better marketing for a company than being able to meet with customers face-to-face, and be able to have a real human interaction with them. Putting an actual face and voice to a company makes them actual people to fans, and not a corporate monolith who exists only to steal their money. But these days, interacting with a company is something people can do anytime over social media. Funimation and Crunchyroll both invest a lot of time into putting their marketing team out into the world, making their faces known, and building them as personalities so that fans have someone to connect to. Even smaller publishers often answer questions via social media directly, and sometimes do so in a very distinct and personal voice.
Conventions also used to be extremely important places for fans to buy manga and DVDs. Back when people were far more dependent on buying media in physical stores, the dealer's room at anime conventions were a place where EVERYTHING was available, and fans had to stock up. Nowadays many fans don't even want physical media, and those that do will casually order everything from Right Stuf or Amazon any time, no matter where they live. So actual product sales, which was an easy way for an a company to pay for convention expenses, aren't anywhere near what they were years ago.
Anime Expo is an outlier in that there is so much Japanese presence at the show, going is mandatory for a lot of people simply for the meetings and the face time with other important industry people. However, for other conventions, many publishers would rather just stay home and talk to fans online. The expenses, the grueling travel, the even more grueling show floor, the exposure to con funk, and the frustration of dealing with overwhelmed venues and convention volunteers is simply not worth it to them.
The value posed by anime conventions, from the point of view of companies, is changing a lot. For smaller companies, access to fans just isn't enough of a selling point. For big companies with a large dedicated marketing budget, who are capable of putting on a big show and giving away promotional materials, conventions represent a much bigger opportunity. But it's hard to say one way or the other if going is a good idea or not -- only the companies themselves can decide for themselves whether going to a show is worth it.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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