This past weekend I was an exhibitor at the second annual FaerieCon (wiki) at the convention center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention has a different feel as compared to the science-fiction & media conventions that many of us in media fandom are used to; the convention is rather more like an indoor Renaissance Fair featuring vendors of truly high quality, beautiful wares, from artwork to jewelry to clothing and costuming supplies. Attendees don wings aplenty and, for a few days at least, summon the faerie world to reveal itself in the middle of this urban city. There is a positive, uplifting atmosphere to the convention again quite unlike those events I normally otherwise attend. A parade of Green Men pass through the convention hall on Saturday morning, singing and greeting all they pass with harvest blessings. Music fills the convention throughout the day from one of the main stages as well as in the evening balls, from the complex rhythmic beats of Trillian Green to the otherworldly sounds of Qntal. Everything and everyone from palm readers to leathersmiths, good faeries to wicked goblins, can be found at FaerieCon, along with many just curious to get a peek into what this other world is all about.
Sponsored by FaerieWorlds, a group which hosts an outdoor festival on the West Coast annually, it has been my viewpoint as an exhibitor that FaerieCon has had a harder time getting quite the same foothold here in Philadelphia. Perhaps this is partly because the cavernous, poorly lit convention center does not lend itself to creating a magical, spiritually uplifting environment. This year’s convention also suffered some setbacks when planned guest of honor, Alan Lee, was unable to attend at the last minute. Brian Froud was also absent due to an illness in the family, and the popular musical act, Qntal, barely made it in time for their scheduled headlining appearance at the Bad Faeries’ Ball Saturday night.
Last year the exhibitors spaces had completely sold out a month before the convention; this year, there were empty exhibit booths which were never sold, despite promises of larger attendance numbers. I was told at one point that the attendance figures were 15,000 for this year, as compared to 8,000 last year, but quite honestly it never felt like there were that many people there (and indeed to me often felt less well-attended than 2007.) Not to cast doubt on the convention organizers but I have to wonder if that 15,000 figure included the very large number of free passes which were given to each exhibitor to distribute to get people in the door – and of those passes which I had handed out before the convention, only 1 or 2 people actually showed up and appeared to have used them.
Many of the other exhibitors I spoke to summarized their experience with the show the same way I felt: “I didn’t make a great deal of money – in fact, I lost a great deal of money, but I had a good time.” For some, that will be enough for them to give the show another try next year, in wanting to support it and hope that it will grow and get better in the future. After all, with the financial situation in the United States at the moment, it is easy to understand why many would not feel able to spend money right now, particularly on non-necessary items. But at the same time, it is hard, when you’re at a show to sell merchandise first and have a good time second, to justify the hours spent preparing for and then working an event only to come home with less money in your pocket than you had before.
But such is the life of a convention huckster! Every show is a gamble when it comes down to it; an event can be extremely lucrative one year and the next you might barely cover your expenses if you’re lucky.