Why Are Anime Conventions So Expensive?

by Justin Sevakis,

Kasra asks:

I want to ask why in the world of cons is so expensive. I went to my first con on Friday and the cost of the ticket was so much that it was unbelievable -- 57 dollars to get in was astonishing! I am a 31 year old man who has the money to spend but I see kids at the age of 16 having bags of stuff, while I only bought a single anime Blu-Ray. I was vey concern becasue these are still children spending this type of money on the stuff. Can I ask you why it is so expensive and why these kids still spend alot at the cons.

Anime conventions are getting more expensive, it's true. That said, I'm not convinced that convention prices as a whole are going up THAT much. Otakon is up to $100 for a "membership" (weekend pass). Anime Expo is still $65 for early registration for next year, but the convention has made a number of popular events "ticketed", meaning they're an additional cost to attend. Prices for other shows vary, but they're generally $30-60 for the weekend. This isn't substantially higher than it was years ago.

Running a convention, even as a non-profit organization (as many of the major conventions' parent companies are), is an extremely expensive endeavor. The location is the most obvious expense, and usually one of the biggest. Taking over the entire ballroom and meeting room section of a large hotel, as smaller conventions do, isn't cheap. Taking over a huge municipal convention center, like the larger ones do, costs an absolute fortune.

As anime conventions get bigger, they do get more money from ticket sales. Unfortunately this also means that their expenses also go through the roof. The show itself takes up more space. Liability insurance, production insurance, union members to rig lights, staging and electricity. Music performance fees for music played in auditoriums (including as part of AMVs). Logistics companies to deal with ticketing and payments. Camera crews for bigger auditoriums. Permits and legally required police and fire marshals are often required at bigger shows, and are not free for the convention.

Bigger conventions also mean bigger guests, and more famous guests come with an entourage that must be provided for. Many times guests will be brought in by anime publishers, but just as often the convention will foot the bill themselves, paying for hotel rooms, entertainment, airfare, meals, and many other little incidentals that add up. Concerts require a huge undertaking, often bringing in a number of technical staff from Japan, and time at the venue spent doing sound checks and setup -- which also costs a ton. This is why ticketed events cost more -- some of them involve bringing over literally hundreds of people from Japan. Many of them have to be paid, and most of them have to be accommodated.

It used to be that medium and large-sized conventions could count on a decent amount of sponsorship from the industry to make ends meet, and indeed, a couple of corporate-run conventions were even started for this purpose. However, after the anime bubble burst in 2007, that sponsorship dried up, and while it has come back to some extent, it's nowhere near as much money as it once was. Gone are the days where an anime publisher like ADV could afford to become a "platinum sponsor" for $250,000. The money has to come from somewhere.

An anime convention is an experience, one that involves a great deal of time, energy, manpower and expense to put together. The bigger shows are a monumental undertaking. To be honest, I'm genuinely surprised, given what some of these shows attempt to do, that prices haven't gone up more than they have.

You should probably stop counting other people's money. You don't know how much those younger attendees saved up, for how long, or what their priorities are. They appear to be having a good time, and are buying what they want. If you aren't seeing anything you want to buy and aren't having enough fun to justify the expense, perhaps you should rethink your own plans.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the 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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