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Eric: A fast addendum to the last snark

A friend contacted me on the ConnectiCon essay I just wrote.

"Don't you think," he said, "that they're just responding to [popular webcartoonist whose name is deleted because dude, that isn't the point]'s publicly stated policy that he'll only guest at cons who cover his expenses?"

"Well, yeah," I said. "Almost certainly."

"So what's wrong with that?"

"Well, [Popular Webcartoonist] isn't the one calling those conventions. He's not ringing people up and saying 'hey, I'm willing to be a guest at your con, but only if you pay my way.' He doesn't go out and do the con thing on his own. It's business for him. And he decided that if someone wants him to be a guest, he needs to recoup expenses."



To make this clearer, let's pretend our friend the unnamed popular cartoonist (we'll call him "Stu," for the sake of this essay) gets a phone call from ConnectiCon.

"Stu!" the guest relations chair says cheerfully. "Hi there! I'd like to invite you to be a guest!"

"Well, maybe," Stu replies. "I don't mean to be a jerk, but at this point, I pretty much only go to cons where they cover my room and travel expenses."

"Oh. Well, we have a policy for that. Send me some of your logs, so we can verify your traffic. If you exceed fifty thousand unique IPs daily, we'll be glad to cover your expenses."

"...excuse me?"

"Well, you see, we have a tiered rewards system for our webcomics guests--"

"Didn't you call me?"

"Well... yes?"

"Fuck you." And Stu would hang up.

If Stu called them and demanded a handout, they would be perfectly justified in asking him to make it worth their while. But he wouldn't. He's not. And Stu, in his real identity, has had enough of an impact that he would enrich any convention's webcomics presence regardless of his traffic stats.

At the same time, if they didn't ask and verify his stats, then the other webcomics guests would have a legitimate beef over the perceived double standard.

All in all... not a bright thing.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 30, 2005 11:52 AM


Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at March 30, 2005 12:20 PM

Whoa, hold on. I think I missed the part where they require you to "hand over your log." Is that even possible, technically? Do they have the time to sift through raw web stats to verify a webcartoonist isn't making it up? Is that really one of the requirements?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 30, 2005 12:28 PM

If not, I don't see why every webcomics guest wouldn't claim 62,000 daily UIPs. I'm certain they require some sort of proof of claim.

I'm just as certain most webcartoonists have no interest in providing it.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at March 30, 2005 12:37 PM

But it gives me a great idea... *wanders off muttering and typing furiously*

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 30, 2005 1:12 PM

My work here is done. ;)

Comment from: Shadowydreamer posted at March 30, 2005 1:44 PM

Hey - I could use a free trip to Connecticut.. I'll just say T&B gets 92,000 a day, not attend the con and visit my friends in New England.

Wha? There's gotta be some advantage to running my own server. ^_^

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at March 30, 2005 2:47 PM

Well, I guess this shows that conventions are just as much about commerce to the organizers as they are to certain webcomic artists like "Stu."

Is it a good thing? Again, this goes back to the art vs. commerce debate. But still, I think that if both are treating it as a commercial enterprise, it will go a bit more smoothly than the scenario you presented above.

Also, it seems a mite silly to use a pseudonym for this webcomics artist. He does prove a solid example, and I don't think it reflects badly on him. Of course, he does post here and can out himself if he feels like it.

Comment from: Dorkboy posted at March 30, 2005 3:14 PM

To reword Eric's quote from the other day:

If you don't [know who that quote is from] you're and idiot.



Comment from: Grumblin posted at March 30, 2005 4:15 PM

What I really don't get (aside from the atrocious timing of the event, and several other things already pointed out), is the fact that Green Room access is limited to certain "tiers".

The comic artists that come are guests of your convention, regardless of relative status.

Even forgetting all the other perks, giving guests of an event a room to *AAAARGGHH!!* undisturbedly is elementary event physics.

If you're tight and worry about the bar tab, you can work with vouchers or something, anything, really, but Green Room = Guests + VIPs + Staff. No exceptions.


Comment from: larksilver posted at March 30, 2005 4:49 PM

Hm. I've never run a Con, of course, but I have worked with concerts and fairs and other events where the names involved were the thing. Anybody who's putting a show on like this (and who wants to have another, especially) knows that you have to treat your names well.

Big names, small names, whatEVER, they are what you're selling. You're not selling computer parts, or toasters, or the latest innovations in oil & gas drilling. Your biggest draw is people. So... ESPECIALLY when your event is in direct conflict with another large event, you want to treat your attractions well.

For one thing, people who are happy about how they're treated, and feel that they're important to the event staff, will be more inclined to madly publicize the thing and bring in people, rather than putting it in a tiny little newsbox in the bottom of their page or something. They'll be happier while they're AT the event, and they'll be more inclined to make room in their Con schedule the next year to come back.

The last thing ConnectiCon is going to want to have happen is for the webcomic artists to come away from this event saying "sheesh, I should have gone to (anywhere else) instead. I would have had more fun, sold more books, and my fans would have had more fun, too."

I can see wanting to recoup some of the costs of running the show. But being somewhat stingy with your talent is NOT THE WAY. It's backwards.

Besides which, assuming that the comics with the largest readership = the most money isn't necessarily true. The "target audience" for a particular webcomic may involve huge numbers, but if the comic is read by primarily 30somethings with kids, how much disposable cash do they really have to plunk down? Just a thought. So the truer model, if you're only interested in the numbers, might not be "how many people read your comic?" but more "how active are your book sales/merchandising?"

Either way, I don't think they've really thought this out. It leaves fans thinking "bleh. It's going to be a cold and rather sterile Con, for about the same money I can go somewhere else that looks more fun." AND it leaves the artists, your TALENT, thinking "ick. Maybe I'll go where I won't feel like a second-class citizen just because I don't have 500,000 readers."

Comment from: larksilver posted at March 30, 2005 4:50 PM

Annddd.. there I go, letting my fast typing skills get the better of me again. Sheesh, I'm a chatterbox. Sorry about that.

Comment from: MelSkunk posted at March 30, 2005 6:53 PM

What I find funny is the webcomic has reinvented what is considered sucessful. If you sold out all 1000 copies of your self-pub comic, you were doing better than most people who tried the same thing. If you had sold 5000 copies of your indy run self-pub comic, you were a sucess, or at least notable.

The idea that people can have 10,000 or more readers daily for an independantly produced thing and only 'just' be considered important boggles my mind. I can't seem to find the numbers right now, but I know there's some current run main stream comics that have a publication number of that or less.

"But people don't have to PAY for webcomics!"

No, but I'm sorry, name recognition does have a certain coinage in the convention publisizing business. Sure, you could have been in movies or drawing art for years, but if your name doesn't have 'draw', you're not really a 'big name' for the con. And webcomics can have draw to SPARE!

I know myself I have occasionally looked at the webcomic of someone said to be attending conX to see if I wanted to meet them, and became a new fan. I doubt most people would bother doing the same with most print or movie personalities.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at March 30, 2005 7:03 PM

That's a good point, Mel, but the relative cheapness of webcomics and the mass concentration of eyballs on the web does make it a different ballgame. Indie paper comics have to deal with things like publication costs and getting comic shops to sell their product and trying to find communities/subcultures willing to buy their product. That's really not a big deal on the web -- people who are interested in your kind of thing are usually looking for you, or at least willing to click on a link that identifies you as something they might be interested in.

The web is an easier medium until you hit a certain point where you're paying out of pocket for bandwidth and not drawing enough of an audience to pay your costs via merchandise or banner ads or subscriptions or what have you. At that point you run into financial problems, but before that point it's possible to exceed indie print expectations because you're not constrained by the costs and limitations of DIY print publishing.

Comment from: MelSkunk posted at March 30, 2005 7:12 PM

I still say that for the purpose of the draw ability as desired by conventions, Web comics should not be expected to do more to get the same respect as a published comic. In other areas, sure, I agree, indie comics are starting at a disadvantage. They deserve big time respect.

But the main thing for being a guest at a con is that people have to KNOW WHO YOU ARE. It's not a special reward for ferreting away at the industry until you break into it. It's not a gift to your finanacial sucess. It's simply how many people will go 'Oh, so and so! I know who that is'.

And I just personally find it funny that eye traffic, which even if it is in excess on the Internet, has to be so much more before this particular con will consider a person as name recognizable as a comparable comic book artist.

In my case, I'm part of a smaller, not very popular fandom who's largest source of guestage has been from web artists that people could go 'Oh, I know them', so I guess my impression may be different in the 'real world' of conventions :)

Comment from: Justinpie posted at March 30, 2005 7:44 PM

I bet Cathy Guisewite gets like 5 kinds of coldcuts and a huge bowl of green M&Ms.

I bet she has lots of convention demands as well!

(I'm sorry everyone)

Comment from: RKMilholland posted at March 31, 2005 12:12 AM

"'Don't you think,' he said, 'that they're just responding to [popular webcartoonist whose name is deleted because dude, that isn't the point]'s publicly stated policy that he'll only guest at cons who cover his expenses?'"

I wonder who THAT would be. *coughs*

Connecticon invited me, actually. The approached me about ditching a con I'd already promised to go to while I was trying desperately to get the fuck out of Ubercon. I gave them a few minutes of my time, and the minute I was informed I'd have to prove how many uniques I get a day, I thanked the person politely and left.

Comment from: Lea-Hernandez posted at March 31, 2005 2:22 AM

I won't blame [name deleted] for not going to cons that won't cover his expenses. (A great litmus test for "Do I want to bother?" is what they offer, and how much they whinge about WHAT they offer.) I've had enough bad con experiences (yes, as a guest) that I want expenses covered. That way, at the very least, I'm not out of pocket if (real life examples follow), my table's in a shit spot, I'm being used as a stalking horse or fish food, attendance is crap.

I figure if I'm actually considered a draw, and not just another warm bod to pad a guest list, the con will be glad to pay.

Pleading poverty, claiming "by fans for fans" are big ol' klaxons for me. Poeple who say "we're fans" and then talk about "business" want to be treated like pros and ACT like fans. You don't, as Lisa Jonte puts it, invite someone to stay at your house and tell them to bring their own soap and towels. She adds: You don't tell them which shelf of the fridge is theirs based on how much you like them.

Oh yeah: there are print comics people who'd shit themselves for 15,000 regular readers, never mind the atrocities they'd be willing to commit for 60,000.

Comment from: RKMilholland posted at March 31, 2005 2:29 AM

... I obviously need to get into print and take my audience with me ;)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at March 31, 2005 11:35 AM

Pleading poverty, claiming "by fans for fans" are big ol' klaxons for me. Poeple who say "we're fans" and then talk about "business" want to be treated like pros and ACT like fans.

I'm not so sure this is a bad thing.

One of the most brilliant articles Scott Kurtz ever wrote was named something like "How success could kill your webcomic." In it he says that eventually, as your comic reaches a certain level of popularity, you won't be able to afford it -- because you'll have too much web traffic to be able to pay for your server costs out of pocket, but not enough of an audience to actually profit off your work. At that point you need to make decisions about how you are doing "business" that you may not have *cared* about when you were starting out -- because you have to pay for things.

There are some wonderful success stories in the world of webcomics -- Illiad, Abrams, Kurtz, Gabe & Tycho, Milholland, etc. -- these are guys who are talented enough and who work hard enough and (let's be honest) are *lucky* enough that they can support themselves with their work. There is a slightly bigger group who earn a noticeable supplemental income, but can't support themselves, with their webcomic. Then there is the group that Kurtz was writing about.

There are a lot of people are in that category. I am. I've been doing my thing for nine years (today is my strips birthday, in fact) -- which, to be honest, is a ridiculously long time as far as web comics go. The way things work out with Keenspot, I come out slightly ahead as far as the ratio of bandwidth to revenue goes, but if I *weren't* on Keenspot, I'd have to make some hard choices about how to continue doing this thing that I love doing, and some of my audience would probably be very unhappy with those decisions.

I don't see a con as being any different, to be quite honest. There *must* be a time when you try to make the transition from "fan" to "pro" if you are interested in growing beyond a certain point. It doesn't matter how much of a fan you are, when it comes to making the thing happen you *do* have to pay attention to the bottom line, or else, quite frankly, you won't be able to do it. And if you get too successful, then the bottom line becomes more and more important.

So did this con make a few missteps? I'd be willing to agree they did... but I hardly think their policy is as dastardly and offensive as many make it out to be. They are struggling to make a transition, as far as I can tell, and this policy is an attempt to make sense of that transition... and while you can make the argument that it's nakedly commercial, you can also counter with the observation that it is *also* completely up-front and out in the open.

I think people prefer the illusion that conventions simply don't have to worry about that kind of stuff, just like most of the readers of webcomics probably prefer the illusion that all of us can devote all our time to churning out the funny (or the drama, or whatever your specialty is) without worrying about things like food and medicine and rent/mortgage/day job. But I don't think it's a particularly fair illusion, and while I think you can legitimately criticize some of their policy, I for one wish more conventions would be more up-front about what they're looking for from guests.

Whooo. Sorry about that. This is what happens when you get old... you ramble. Now if you'll excuse me, I think my hip just gave out.

Comment from: Ghastly posted at May 25, 2005 12:09 AM

"'Don't you think,' he said, 'that they're just responding to [popular webcartoonist whose name is deleted because dude, that isn't the point]'s publicly stated policy that he'll only guest at cons who cover his expenses?'"

I wonder who THAT would be. *coughs*

Oh that was you they were talking about? Thank fricken god because I had pretty much the exact same conversation too. I was almost upset reading this because if they were going to alias me I'd never want to be a Stu. I'd rather be a Maximilian or perhaps a Trevor, never a Stu though. But if it was you they were talking about then yeah, I could see you as a stu... well with your old hair... and the beard, not the new clean cut look I last saw. That was more of a... I don't know, Dave perhaps... no James I think. Yeah definetly James. No no... wait... Leonard. Yeah the clean cut look, definetly Leonard. Scruffy look though and it's Stu all the way... or maybe Randy. Nah, you'd never pull that one off.

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