Dealers at conventions

Well, the heading says plural but this is mainly going to be about The House of Murky Depths and our experience of conventions.

But before we discuss dealers we’ll look at the two main types of conventions. There’s one that requires you to purchase a membership for the weekend (or single-day memberships) – such as Eastercon, Fantasycon, etc – and there’s the kind that has a one-off entrance price – such as MCM Expo, SFX Weekender and most comic conventions. Similar, but the latter is usually far cheaper for the con-goer. The difference is more pronounced for the dealer. They will have to buy membership to the former (though will be unable to experience the benefits, like attending daytime talks or workshops) but also pay additionally for a table, whereas the latter require a single table cost that also includes entrance. Despite me always bemoaning the fact that there are two costs to bare at the likes of Eastercon and Fcon the combined cost of membership and a table is usually cheaper than the comic-type convention.

At a comic-type convention the dealers hall/s are generally as important as the panels, whereas at the more literary conventions the dealers are often squeezed into a pokey windowless room, seemingly as far as possible away from the main talks.

So, why do conventions have dealer rooms? In my mind they are offering the con-goer an additional experience, and somewhere to browse between panels or a place to find a book or item that has been recommended at one of the panels. Often the dealers will be offering special rates on some items – we always have – to make the trip to the dealers’ room an attractive proposition.

What do the convention organisers hope to gain from the dealers’ room? I’d expect the above to apply but sometimes wonder if the real reason is purely to generate more income – we’re just there to ensure the venue is paid for and entrance fees are a bonus. I’d arrived late to a convention once – the three-hour journey taking almost four-and-a-half because of traffic jams – to be told my table had been given to someone else!

What do dealers’ hope to gain from attending conventions? You’d expect the answer to be, ‘To sell shit loads.’ But with Murky Depths it was always about promoting the brand. Maybe the brand wasn’t what the punters wanted as sales from the website following conventions rarely increased. Since its demise though we’ve had loads of people – mostly writers – saying how important Murky Depths was; a shame only a few showed their support by subscribing.

I digress. Having been stung financially by the costs of producing a high quality print magazine we have to take far more care in choosing the conventions we attend. Distance, hotel costs, membership and, of course, table costs, are a major consideration. Over the last five years we have probably only broken even or made money at five or six – that’s barely 10% of the conventions we’re attended. Not good business. But from year to year you can’t guarantee a good convention (based on sales) will always be a good convention, and one that was bad one year can be good the next. Like the products we invest in – the book and comics we publish – the investment we put into a convention is just as much a risk.

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