The high cost of conventions – when will it become TOO high?

July 8th, 2009 by sidewinder Leave a reply »

This morning I read an interesting blog about the increasing costs of conventions, which posed the question, “How much is too much?” As in, at what price do fans begin to balk and refuse to keep paying? Will they ever do so, or will they keep shelling out whatever amounts of money conventions and big name guests expect them to?

The blog was questioning this matter because it was just announced that Patrick Stewart would be appearing at this year’s Dragon*Con in Atlanta–but that he would be charging $200 per photo-op. This appears to be a record high price at such an event, although not a complete anomaly in the science fiction/media-convention industry where autographs, photo-ops, and just seeing the main-draw celebrity guests have become premium ticket items. Leonard Nimoy has been charging $65-75 an autograph lately, and attending his panel at a recent convention in Florida cost you $125-250 EXTRA, above the regular admission price of the convention. Mark Hamill is reportedly charging $100 per autograph as well, and the upcoming TwiCon for Twilight fans has caused some controversy over their prices and autograph policies. Within conventions there are no set prices, so a guest charigng $20 per autograph could be sitting next to someone charging $60–and many fans won’t know that price until they’re in line and ready to buy.

Is it all just getting to be too much? To the casual fan, I should imagine so. The days of spending $25 to get in to a convention for the weekend, attending all events, and getting at least one “free” autograph from each of the main guests seems long gone, at least on the celebrity/for-profit con circuit. The convention industry is starting to remind me a lot of the concert industry, with prices skyrocketing and the best seats only going to those with the fattest wallets (remember those Torchsong Chicago auctions for front row tickets that sold into the thousands of dollars?) Just like many music fans can only afford to go to small club shows these days and support local bands, maybe saving up to go to one big concert a year (and if they’re lucky, being able to even GET a ticket better than the nosebleeds), con goers are having to be more picky and choosy in what conventions they can get to–if they bother still attending at all. Meanwhile the smaller, independent fan cons can barely afford media guests if they want them–or if they can, those media guests charge high prices per autograph, giving none away for “free” to attendees, still increasing the cost for everyone.

And it’s not just the fans who are suffering. When attendees are nickled and dimed for every aspect of the con experience, paying out what can easily add up to hundreds if not thousands of dollars on photo-ops, autographs, guest banquets and cabarets, they have less left to spend on the independent artists and vendors who used to rely on the convention economy for their livelihood. Is the diehard Patrick Stewart fan who just spent $200 on that photo going to have anything left to go to the artshow and bid on a piece of fanart of Jean-Luc Picard? Or a Star Trek fanzine? Or an original book of science-fiction stories from a small-press publisher? What about the convention charities, which often depended on attendees opening their wallets to give to a good cause?

Con attendance is already suffering as airfares, gas prices, and hotel costs rise with every year. Many fans can no longer attend like they used to, and with things like autographs now costing so much, I can imagine the situation will only get worse. It becomes a downward spiral of rising prices and diminishing returns for all involved, and seems to fortell to me yet another ringing of the death knell for conventions as many fans once knew them. All we may be left with soon are a handful of “mega”-events that come with mega-pricetags for all attendees, and a few remaining small scale conventions which only serve local fan communities, unable to support or reach out to a wider audience in fandom. And that’s a change that makes me sad to contemplate.

  • torchwoodmom

    I attended the Torchsong Chicago convention with my daughter - our first of this sort. While several disasters befell this convention thru no fauld of those whoe were to appear, the promoters and staff were very unprofessional, arrogant, and made no attempts to officially compensate for the loss of the main draw, John Barrowman. While it John went above and beyond to make up to his fans, his opening statement was one that made it clear that John had been misled by the promoters that they were being blamed for his inability not to be there. In fact, the promoters to this date have performed with less than respect towards John and the Torchwood Fans. They have at two months and still waiting, not sent photos taken with the stars at the con. Numerous excuses have been provided yet the promoter responsible for the photos has managed to find the time to be at other conventions most recently Comic Con in CA.
    The price for this show was hefty. A trip to Chicago and 2 tickets and transprtation ran into the thousands. The only reply regarding a refund was that we would be given a discount at John's next venue with them. We were also told that the show cost money, they had expenses and we wouldnt get a refund. The promoters had no insurance to cover John in an emergency such as he had. Any promoter of quality and in promoting a show that centered around one individual would have had an insurance policy. Based on the unprofessional treatment of his fans and the complaints being placed with John's agency, it would be highly unlikely and hoped for that John would never associate himself with the promoters of TorchSong Chicago again.
    Just as the Baseball industry has run itself into the ground it appears that the sma may start happening or is happening with overpriced actors. Personally, I like Patrick Stewart, but he is not worth $200. 00. I would hope that is a rumor as I have always felt that he was well grounded and would not let his popularity in the Star Trek franchise swell his head.
    As for the other stars that appeard at TorchSong, they were all down to earth and very open both on and off the stage with the fans. They were approachable and down to earth, never showed a drop of rudeness, nor were any of them ever condescending to the fans - more than I can say for the promoters.
    To all promoters a reminder - the fans are your biggest paycheck - reagrdless of who you get to your conventions. If you treat us with disrespect you will get no respect back. While you may be of the opinion that we have no recourse in this matter we can and will do all we can to get our money back and to let the stars and their representation know what went on behind their backs. And one further note to one particular member of this promotion team - making faces behind a person's back as pictures are being taken does not bode well for your ability to be professional or act like an adult in the face of adversity, especially when that person knows and has worked with John Barrowman personnaly in his documentary.

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