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.