Conventioneering

| 25 Comments

The folks who run ConnectiCon are in serious trouble, financially. This year cost overruns moved beyond the standard into the epic, and reports are the organizers are now just shy of thirty-five thousand dollars in personal debt following this year's event. An organized campaign to help them out has started at Save ConnectiCon. My friend Phil Kahn is auctioning off one of his critique/essays at I'm Just Saying to raise money, and asked if I'd be willing to mention that fact. Naturally enough, I am.

I'm also deeply sympathetic to the campaign to bail out Matt Daigle and Briana Benn. This is a monumental debt they've incurred, and that just plain sucks any way you look at it. I'm an old Lefty at heart, and when I hear about trouble, I want to help out. The community pulling together in times of trouble is the kind of thing communities are there for in the first place.

At the same time... and I recognize that there are people who dearly love ConnectiCon and its role with the community... I'm far more interested in saving Matt Daigle and Briana Benn than ConnectiCon itself. I think there have been some core problems that seriously need resolution if they're going to put on ConnectiCon 2006 and beyond, and I think it doesn't do them any favors not to bring them up right at the forefront. This is especially true if we're going to look at this as a "Webcomics friendly" con -- and the Save ConnectiCon site is heavily webcomics driven. "They have been so wonderful to us. Now it's time to pay them back" is the message. And I'm down with that. But to save ConnectiCon, we also need to talk about what changes need to be made.

First off -- and I realize we don't have the full story here, or the organizational chart, or anything -- why on Earth is it Daigle and Benn's future on the line here? Most significant conventions form non-profit corporations or LLCs to shoulder the burdens and risks. This should be a movement to prevent ConnectiCon L.L.C. from filing for bankruptcy protection and canceling next year's con, not saving the financial future of the organizers. There's too much money involved in the production of one of these events to have it resting on the backs of the organizers.

(And if there is a non-profit or L.L.C. involved, we need to know that before we donate. It changes the dynamic significantly.)

Secondly -- if this convention really is shooting for the major Webcomics action... they seriously, seriously, seriously need to alter their schedules so it's not conflicting with San Diego. San Diego is the comics event of the year. The fact that so many of Dumbrella's cartoonists live within two hours of ConnectiCon, but (to my knowledge) all of them went to San Diego, says something. If ConnectiCon is going to be the core Webcomics con, that's fantastic, but they need to be smarter about how they do things.

Thirdly -- last I knew, there was a debate going on about their webcomics invitations -- if I remember correctly, they wanted proof of page views to tell you what sliding scale of invitation they'd extend. Now, obviously we already see that they've overextended themselves this year, financially, through little fault of their own. At the same time, I think they would be vastly better served by their sitting down in committee, working out what webcomics guests would best represent their commitment, offer them Special Guest and Guest of Honor status as a result, and give other comics a chance to buy tables or attend for free (but without room and board paid), like most other Cons. As it is, some of the top tier refused to have anything to do with them because they were offended by the very concept of "proving" they had an audience to them, and ConnectiCon as a whole got some bad press out of the affair. Which sucks, because they clearly were trying to be fair to their guests, but it's also the nature of the beast.

Finally, Daigle and Benn knew that ConnectiCon 2005 was a risk, according to what the website said. They were deeply increasing the overall expenses of the con by moving to the premier venue. Obviously, there are degrees to which they got shafted, but going put near forty-thousand dollars into debt over what was apparently a successfully attended event raises major red flags. If we're going to "save ConnectiCon" as opposed to saving Daigle and Benn, I think there also needs to be a major movement to build a board structure that can also more rigorously plan the event, research potential costs, and build an expense/income analysis. I think that board should be talking to the major successful cons of the area -- Arisia, Boskone, and Anime Boston all leap to mind as New England cons that apparently make their nut back every year without these kinds of major hits -- and building a new business plan that factors all these things. And I think that has to start today.

Also... call me a bit paranoid, but given that Save ConnectiCon is "a group effort by dozens of webcomics, artists, and related businesses working on behalf of Matt Daigle and Briana Benn of ConnectiCon to raise the money needed to save them from severe financial and legal problems, and to keep the convention alive," I'd kind of like a list of who those webcomics, artists and related businesses are. In part, that's because there's an advertising dimension. I happen to know (because I checked their site) that Ctrl-Alt-Del is one of the sites in question, because they're pushing it hard. (And kudos to Tim Buckley for pitching in with this -- he's a top tier webcartoonist who can get them a good amount of exposure and raise them a good amount of money.) The Save ConnectiCon site should be pushing that connection, both to raise legitimacy and to catch search engines looking for Ctrl-Alt-Del.

Am I saying "don't contribute?" No. Hell no. I'm tossing them some money. You should too. The house is on fire, and we don't stop to ask why the sprinkler system didn't go off until after the flames are quenched. It's easy for me to sit here and Monday Morning Quarterback, but Daigle and Benn are watching their lives go into tailspin.

But if we're doing more than bailing them out -- if in fact we're trying to save ConnectiCon -- then we need to recognize they need a lot more than money to do that.

(And now, I am going to be killed. Goodnight, everybody!)

25 Comments

You, er, want me to post some more Harry Potter spoilers here so we can make a sort of a controlled-burn firebreak, Eric?

No. No no no.

If there is going to be death, let it be for what I said.

(I'm tempted to moderate the discussion though, and require Paypal receipts for donations to the fund before coming in to yell at me.)

I wish I could say that I was suprised by this sort of thing, but I'm not. I am involved in two conventions here in the RTP area of NC, and I have learned two major things:

First: Cons should not be run by fans. They should be run by people who are good managers and organizers. Fans sometimes fall into this catagory, but rarely.

Second: Venues will try to screw you, and you need to stay sharp to avoid it. Matt and Briana just learned this the hard way.

As you pointed out, ConnetiCon needs to be put on by a non-profit or LLC to prevent this problem. But Matt and Briana should also look for experienced outside help for their convention.

Do I need a Paypal receipt to support you? 'Cause I could use a few donations myself right about now.

Geez... part of me wants to comment as just an average joe. But considering that I am a part of Anime Boston (AB 2006 Press Liaison), I really can't do that.

First off, we've naturally heard about the problems that ConnectiCon has had, and we wish them the best of luck in recovering from their problems.

I would also recommend setting up a LLC and bring on a few more people willing to put in the effort. As Eric says, it does make the entire process run more smoothly.

Finally, I would like to suggest that since webcomics are a central part to ConnectiCon, I would suggest that artists interested in saving the convention organize a fundraising auction, selling prints, comic prototypes, and the like to help raise the money. It will attract more attention than simply asking for donations.

Again, I'm deeply sorry to hear of the problems, and I hope you can overcome them in time for ConnectiCon 2006.

Rick Healey

Anime Boston 2006 Press Liaison

32 -- there seems to be some part of that. For example, after I donated I discovered a donation area with desktops and prints and the like from folks like Buckley and VG Cats -- they should be pimping that hard, I think.

Also, if you're a part of Anime Boston, then some friends of our friends are friends in common.

I posted much the same on this yesterday on my own blog. I won't consider making a donation until some level of transparency is added to the whole thing, plans for declaring an LLC or non-profit, a list of at least some supporters, a more public and detailed list of income and costs, particularly of the overruns, some plans for avoiding this kind of thing in the future, and a stated desire to run the con again once they are bailed out. There is a difference between saving a convention and subsidizing bad business decisions. I too would love to save a con that is friendly to web-comics but have little assurance that $35,000 will actually do that in this case.

The truth is, Eric, a lot of people can't afford to go to ComicCon. Heck, I've seen the same thing among fans of Maritza Campos's College Roomies from Hell who have been doing yearly get-togethers for three years now. Quite a few people can't make it. So there's thoughts of a BoardieCon East and a BoardieCon West (and I'm stuck scratching my head and wondering why people would even *want* to get together for what's basically a big fanclub instead of an event like an actual convention).

I've been unable to afford ComicCon for three years now. The only reason I didn't go to ConnectiCon is I've been having car troubles.

As for the business system of ConnectiCon, I'm completely in the dark about that. You have some valid concerns here, and no doubt Daigle and Benn will be looking into options on how to deal with these problems in the future.

Perhaps you should get involved with it and offer them some assistance. I suspect you know more about conventions and the bureaucracy behind them than quite a few people, so they might do well to have some of your suggestions on hand.

Personally, as I stated in yesterday's Tangents, I think there should be a larger organization here to help web cartoonists out. A Webcartoonist Assistance Fund or the like, to help cartoonists who run into problems like a broken scanner or the need for a new (or used) computer when their old one bites the bullet.

Sadly, I don't know what would be involved in creating such a fund. Obviously it wouldn't be too useful in the problem that Daigle and Benn are suffering, because the amount is just too high. Still, it would be nice to help out cartoonists in need on a larger level than just doing quick donation drives when someone has a problem.

But that's just me.

Robert A. Howard, Tangent Webcomic Reviews

http://tangents.keenspace.com/

The truth is, Eric, a lot of people can't afford to go to ComicCon.

While that's certainly true, I don't think it damages Eric's point that ConnectiCon would be a lot better off choosing a different weekend if it wants to become the premier webcomic convention. Yes, there people who can't afford to go to Comic-Con. For those people, it doesn't make a difference whether Connecticon is on the same weekend as Comic-Con or not, since they can't go to Comic-Con anyway. But there are also many people, and more to the point many webcartoonists, who can afford to go to both, but since the Comic-Con and ConnectiCon are on the same weekend they have to choose one or the other--and since Comic-Con is by far the bigger convention, most of them choose that one. (Note Eric's point about the Dumbrella cartoonists.) I don't think there's any doubt that Connecticon would get a bigger turnout among webcartoonists if it were on a different weekend from the San Diego Comic-Con.

I would have gone in a minute if it weren't the same weekend I had a spot at a table in San Diego. I live within an hour's drive.

I can echo 32's comments a bit. I help run Anime Detour here in Minnesota, and I can personally say I'd be terrified of something like this happening. It's part of the reason we created Anime Twin Cities - so if it all went to hell it would take the brunt of the impact.

Now, we've actually made money in our first two years (enough to keep putting on the con, at any rate), but I'd be lying if I said it was good business sense and not a whole hell of a lot of luck. I'm throwing in, and contacting our webmaster to have him throw something up on the site about the Save ConnectiCon site on our front page. I only hope that if we ended up in the same situation people would want to help save us to.

Kale Ganann

Head of Tech & Vice-Chairman

Anime Detour

Wow. I finally put Firefox on my work PC simply so I can login and comment on this. Congrats, Eric. I think I just violated our desktop software policy for you and ConnectiCon.

See, this is why I like working alongside Eric Burns. He thinks a lot better than I do.

I agree with essentially everything said in this piece. Essentially, because I'm very inexperienced in this "running a business" business and can only speculate.

But I agree, they need to form an organization dealy. In the short term, I'm doing what I can to help them financially.

I too am a bit concerned about bailing people out of poor business decisions. At least in part because if they don't have the money they can probably talk the venue down on what they owe. (Most businesses will take a partial payment over the possibility of no payment at all or selling to a collections agency, so long as they meet their own expenses)

I guess I'd like to see that they have spent money on some good business and legal advice, negotiated the fees and done as much as they can on their own before I'm ready to start giving money.

Of course, I'm generally one of those people who won't donate money but will buy merchandise from webcomics as I consider it a more sustainable business model and I prefer the feeling of getting neat stuff to the feeling of just giving my money to someone so they can pay their bandwidth for another month.

I feel terrible for Matt and Briana. My family is currently in quite a bit of debt as well, my parents having been left up to their own devices with credit cards years ago *snerk*. I want to know exactly how ConnetiCon got into as much debt as they have. Granted, they're as inexperienced as my parents were, and are probably rethinking how they run things. I hope they take some of your issues into considerations, Eric - they're well thought out. Hey, we should have an EricCon! *cough*

On another note, it's *incredible* to note that the money raised by concerned fans and people who have probably never heard of either Matt or Briana has come to $15,605.03 as of right this moment. This just proves that webcomic artists/readers, banded together, can do *anything*. God bless the web, and best of luck to Matt and Briana.

That...sucks. It really, really does, and I hope they get the money together to get everything sorted out.

That said however, I will not be attending Connecticon anytime in the forseeable future or as long as they keep scheduling the same weekend as Comicon. When it comes to a choice between one of the largest comics conventions in the world, (a convention that is starting to take more and more notice of webcomics - I believe it was stated that there were over twenty panels this year that were webcomic-related, which is a far cry from the two that I remember my first year out there) and a convention on the other side of the country, the large convention will win out, every time. There is NOTHING like San Diego, and I wouldn't pass up the opportunity to attend it for anything.

THAT said, I really *do* hope they stop scheduling it the same weekend/near the same weekend as Comicon, because I would really like to go to the east coast at least a few more times in my life, and there's a lot of east-coast cartoonists that I rarely ever see or simply haven't MET yet. I'd love to see it in mid-to-late June or hell, put it out in May - just something that doesn't conflict with San Diego.

Actually, I'd rather like for it to be after 15 November and before 15 April, since I seem to recall that being the useful window for inexpensive overseas plane fares these days.

Well. Inasmuch as such things can be inexpensive. The frequent flyer redemptions are certainly much easier to swing, I'll tell you that for free.

To answer some questions - no we're not set up as an LLC or non-profit at this time. We always felt that the $500 - 2000 in legal fees to get that type of business set up could be better spent on bringing in another web comic or giving away 10 more tables to lesser known web comics. We really put everything we have towards making the convention a success and this year it was a success we had over 2,500 people in attendance and over 30 web comickers from as far as the Netherlands (Liz from Stuff Sucks).

The web comics decided to band together of their own accord to save the convention they love to attend and the people who have organized it for the past 3 years. These are some great, wonderful people I've become friends with over the past 3 years.

As for the business side of things. I did question the TBD amount of the contract for goods and services and was assured it shouldn't be more than $5000 - $10000 (so that is what we had budgeted for). They showed me the pricing sheet for additional convention center staff and projected the numbers out for me (too bad I never got a copy of that). This amount was to be paid in full 30 days before the convention began according to the contract. Apparently both the convention staff and the convention center staff were too busy to notice because it wasn't brought up again until July 5th when I was sent a new quote for goods and services with a jaw dropping number MUCH higher than anticipated or previously discussed. cancelling the event was not possible as the rent for the convention center is due even if the event is cancelled for any reason.

Like voting for president we were faced with two evils and we took the lesser of the two. Instead of being faced with over $80,000 of debt we're faced with $35,000.

We learned our lesson the hard way this year and will not be making any of these mistakes in the future. Incorporation is a must, lawyers looking over and helping negotiate the contracts also a must. Time of year (we're sticking with July) we're not going to schedule the same weekend as SDCC ever again (even if it means next year's dates not being announced until a month after ConnectiCon is over). Location (sadly, unless we move quite some distance) is also a must. There isn't a hotel in Hartford that can host a crowd much over 800 people (our first year's attendance).

Many things will be done differently next year to make absolutely certain that this NEVER happens again and that ConnectiCon is around for a long, long time to come so that when a web comic does decide that they'll finally attend ConnectiCon it will be there waiting for them, and to give them the "rockstar" treatment we give all to all web comics (at least if you believe Rob Balder's testimony on SaveConnectiCon.com), not that we spit on web comics or anything like that at ConnectiCon either. We love them all good or bad because they make the effort to get their creativity out there.

Hopefully, we'll get to see MANY of you at ConnectiCon next year.

Thank you all for your support,

Mathew Daigle

p.s. We're probably going to stick with the Tier System as well just in case there are folks that we missed in our never ending search for new web comics.

Tangent: A lot of people can't afford to go to ComicCon. A lot of people can't afford to go to ConnectiCon. It really depends on where you live (for me, visiting ConnectiCon would cost a lot more than going to San Deeg).

I've noticed that whenever the topic of a webcomics-based con comes up, the reactions are all "That'd be awesome! But I couldn't go unless it was near me".

BTW, Eric: why does Typekey seem to think that "two weeks" is two hours?

Gwalla: Nonsense! Everyone knows that 99% of the population of the U.S. lives on the East Coast, with .5% of the rest living in California, .4% living in Texas, and the remaining .1% scattered across the rest of the country. ;)

Don't let the presidential elections fool you. That's just a big conspiracy by the census to make people think that the West Coast has a lot of people living there. ;)

(Yes, I'm joking. Please note the winky-smiley faces.)

Rob, who has also noticed Typekey doesn't live up to its two-week promise

Killed? Whatever for?

However, as somebody who's founded a con and helped run a few others, there are some amusing misconceptions floating around. The following quotes are from both the comments and the original article.

1. "Most significant conventions form non-profit corporations or LLCs to shoulder the burdens and risks." True, but utterly irrelevant. That protects the organizers from lawsuits. But it's completely useless in this situation, as I will explain shortly....

2. "I too am a bit concerned about bailing people out of poor business decisions. At least in part because if they don't have the money they can probably talk the venue down on what they owe." Ha ha, and again, ha. They don't "owe" anybody but maybe their personal credit cards. LLC or not, the con doesn't get to "run up debt." It has no assets. The convention's cost pretty much have to be paid in full BEFORE the convention starts, or, if they're lucky, before it's over. That means that the convention has to have individuals who pony up the money, hoping that the convention can reimburse them from gate receipts after the fact.

See? You can LLC and 501c3 until the cows come home, but somebody's got to cough up the cash *first*. Now, f'rinstance, GameStorm in Portland was given a grant from OCSFI (sp?), the local umbrella organization for a number of large conventions in the area, most notably OryCon. Foolscap (the one I helped found), did not. Foolscap I ran about $4,000 to the red. F2-F6 have managed to break even, and some of the original seed loss has been repaid. But seven years later, a not-insignificant chunk of that's still due.

3. "I want to know exactly how ConnetiCon got into as much debt as they have." Is that important? All I know is that there was a venue change, and apparently things got approved without a contract or signed document with numbers on it. Or somebody's an idiot and approved the numbers.

Nevertheless, the "Save ConnetiCon" part's kind of irrelevant. If ConnetiCon can't pay off the debt it owes Daigle and Benn, then those two can't provide seed money for the *next* convention. Whether the convention ever again sees the light of day isn't the point. You're not raising money for future conventions, you're raising it to pay back the people who've been putting in time, effort, and their own money as seed capital for the *past* conventions.

If you, Dear Reader, feel as websnark does that you don't want to just donate the money without some assurance that it won't all happen again, then bail out the poor organizers, and then drop them a note that if it happens again, you're not gonna bail them out. Could this all have been avoided? Maybe. But people all over the country take risks like this all the time. Usually, it works. In fact, the World Science Fiction Convention re-enacts the entire "birth of a convention" cycle *every year* on a massive scale (add another zero to ConnetiCon's numbers, for starters), and hasn't gone down in horrible searing flames yet (although some years have been toasty).

Which leads us to the last misconception:

4. "Cons should not be run by fans. They should be run by people who are good managers and organizers." Yea, right. Except people who are good convention managers and organizers are called "professionals." And you, Dear Conventioneer, are far too tightfisted to cough up the cash it takes to pay them. Why do you think 'normal' conventions cost $400 - $1,400 for a three day event with far fewer events and exhibits than SF/comic/game/fannish conventions? Fans Work For Free. No, that's not true. They PAY to work at conventions. They buy a membership, then spend all their time running things. Or they loan the convention money; possibly tens of thousands of dollars (ahem).

The simple reality is that fannish cons CANNOT be run by anybody BUT fans. Period. Ever. The economics flat-out don't leave other options. But whoever the organizing body is (it can't be the convention, because each one exists for only one year. There has to be some parent org that provides the needed permanence. The LLC or 501c3 or committee or cabal or whatever) had better make sure that at least some of the *fans* they pick are good managers and organizers. But they have to be fans. The "good manager" part is the optional component.

And if these convention-throwing yahoos haven't gotten their asses to a SMOFcon, good god, somebody buy them a plane ticket now. There's nothing a con can do now that some other con didn't do decades ago, years ago, months ago, and last week, and each year, there's a convention for fans who run conventions. In the Northwest, there's also ConComCon. I don't know if there are other regional convention running conventions, but throwing a convention without being tapped into the hundreds of absurdly capable and competent convention-running fans is, well, draw your own conclusion. Use crayon if necessary.

snarke (no relation to websnark. Orig. snark@wizards.com, circa 1991.)

If you, Dear Reader, feel as websnark does that you don't want to just donate the money without some assurance that it won't all happen again...

A fast note:

I don't want assurance that it won't happen again before donating. I have in fact already donated. This isn't an academic issue -- there are people here honestly in trouble, and I'm not holding onto my wallet waiting for a prospectus before I help to bail them out.

However, if we're going to look at this as "Save ConnectiCon" instead of "Save Daigle and Benn," then it's in everyone's interests that we discuss What Went Wrong And What Can Be Done About It right now.

As for the L.L.C. -- the difference is, had they been an L.L.C. or the like, even if they had put up their own seed money to start with, it would be the L.L.C. in trouble now, and there are whole levels of debt protection and restructuring available to a Limited Liability Corporation that don't exist for individuals or D.B.As. They wouldn't get any money for incorporating, but they get some modicum of protection for it. And while there would still be a major problem right now, it wouldn't be involving the pair having to worry about the rest of their lives.

Many things will be done differently next year to make absolutely certain that this NEVER happens again and that ConnectiCon is around for a long, long time to come so that when a web comic does decide that they'll finally attend ConnectiCon it will be there waiting for them....

Good on you and good luck, sir. Setting aside the tier system as "irrelevant to the current discussion," I think it's safe to say people want this to work out as a win for everyone.

They don't "owe" anybody but maybe their personal credit cards. LLC or not, the con doesn't get to "run up debt." It has no assets.

This was not ConnetiCon's first year. First year cons require somebody to put up, but after that they should be continuing their assest year to year.

Except people who are good convention managers and organizers are called "professionals."

Or "Professional" volunteers. Animazement here in the Triangle was started by fans, but is now run by non-fans. We're doing well enough that the organization behind it is considering branching out and doing a second yearly event.

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