General Disclaimer: I have never personally managed or been a director/official staff at a convention, though I tend to find myself gophering and helping out at cons I am not selling my wares at (and sometimes ones I am, since my husband was a director at FurFright) because I get bored just wandering around. I am an artist and a dealer, and this commentary is from a business (read: money is important) point-of-view. I am not trying to insult anyone or any convention, but I WILL be using conventions and my personal experience at them as examples.
The two big cons I have attended are ConnectiCon and AnthroCon:
• ConnectiCon is a multi-genre convention, meaning you find everything from anime to board/card games to pop culture to internet memes to video gaming. Last year’s attendance was somewhere around 15,000 people. It takes place at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, which has 140,000 square feet of exhibition space (usually divided in half for the convention: one side is the area for dealers/artists/special guests/etc., the other side is for board/card/video gaming) — I’m going to rough estimate that the Dealers Room is 70,000 square feet in this case. It is linked to the Hartford Marriott, though I think the amount of con-based events that go on in the attached hotel are minimal (they had the Nerd Prom there last year, and it was a capped attendance).
• Anthrocon is an anthropomorphic animal/furry-based convention. Though I’m relatively sure that the fandom is geeky enough that you could have a table of Doctor Who or Supernatural or any other number of fandoms’ stuff and do well at the con, that’s not what the convention is based around*; it focuses primarily on art, books (comics and novels), crafting, and more than ever lately, costumes. Last year’s attendance was 5,577 people. It takes place at the David L Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, which has a fuckton of exhibition space because it’s huge, but Anthrocon generally keeps its Dealers Den to Hall B which is 82,450 square feet, and its Artists Alley/Art Show is in Hall C, which is 45,100 square feet, for a total of 127,550 square feet…though I don’t think art show space should count towards vendors (though technically, if you’re buying art in the show, you’re not using that money for vendors). It is linked to the Westin Convention Center hotel, and a fair amount of panels/events are hosted in the hotel meeting rooms (or they were let time I went…folks, feel free to correct me here!).
Down to comparisons. The Connecticut Convention Center is set up on two floors: the exhibition hall and the ballrooms/panel rooms. The David L Lawrence Convention Center is 4 floors; 2 floors of exhibition halls, 2 floors of panel rooms. Anthrocon also uses the attached hotel meeting rooms for panels. The first floor of the convention center hasn’t been used, but apparently the Zoo (a major social gathering area) will be moved to Hall D this year**.
Because of the layout of both conventions, you COULD spend the entirety of each convention without ever going in the Dealers Room. It’d be a lot more difficult at ConnectiCon, though, because the Dealers Room generally shares a doorway with the gaming room. It would also mean you wouldn’t meet the famous nerd celebrities that ConnectiCon brings in, since they’re all situated in the Dealers Room; last year it was along the wall right next to the Artists Colony area. But, you could do it.
Anthrocon, it’s a LOT easier to avoid the Dealers Room. You used to have to walk through it to get to the Art Show. Now, they may have changed it last year (I didn’t go), but when I last went in 2012, you could actually just go into the Art Show through its own entrance (I may just be remembering the special artists’ event, though!), or just walk along the front wall of Hall B into Hall C. You’d see a few dealers, but not all that many. You could also see the Guest of Honor without any work; last time I was there, they were right towards the front of the room. Which makes sense, but also means you don’t actually have to see the rest of the Dealers Room at all (this is another thing they could have changed last year, again, feel free to tell me I’m using old knowledge!).
Another interesting thing to note about Anthrocon is that the Dealers Room is basically a whole lot of tables, or at least, it was last time I was there in 2012. Unlike the majority of large conventions (both comic-based and otherwise) that feature booths — typically an 8x8’ to 12x12’ area outfitted with cloth “curtains” and a table (some conventions, including ConnectiCon, have dealers that operate stores [online or off] that have setups that don’t use this, but the Artists Colony, Webcomics, etc., still use this sort of setup) — Anthrocon has…tables***. It’s basically a really big Artists Alley****, only you need to have a tax license and also it costs more to be a part of (you can also write it off as a business expense on your taxes, of course). Direct comparison: for the same cost as a table at Anthrocon — $200 for a full table & 2 vendor badges, and this is assuming you apply right when registration opens (currently weekend registration is $55 per person) — you can get a booth at, say, BronyCon ($200 = 10x10’ booth with 2 vendor badges).
Does this make Anthrocon less professional? Well, in my opinion…yeah, a little bit.
It IS worth noting: ConnectiCon’s Dealers Room/Artists Alley/etc. basically have you register and then present you with “We hope you know what you’re doing because you get to do this on your own” thing. Anthrocon — and for that matter, all furry cons I’ve been a dealer with — is much better on basically showing you the ropes by providing information before the convention and during setup. That’s a thing that really lacks appreciation and should get a lot more of it, but I think a lot of dealers at furry cons ONLY go to furry cons and haven’t attempted much outside of them, especially those who are artists who focus on selling art/commissions and not other things. Which is great, but it also means you lose the experience that you get at other conventions and so there’s no comparison.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I know Anthrocon’s Dealers Room is almost sold out at this point, even though it’s massive. And that’s great! A lot of cons that AREN’T in massive convention centers sell out in minutes*****, and that leaves a lot of grumbling artists. But sometimes trying to please everyone ends in a mediocre fashion.
I’m kind of just rambling now, because it’s a lot of thoughts on one subject and this is my journal so I can ramble all I like, but here’s my sum-up:
• Having to make the Dealers Room a destination instead of something that may catch your eye on the way to somewhere else isn’t great for business, outside of for the folks in the Dealers Room that people are visiting the room for. If my options are “Go spend money on art” or “Hang with friends in room watching videos on YouTube, spend all money on booze & condoms”…well, as an artist, I’d choose art, but I think a lot of folks don’t =p
• Size DOES matter, but bigger isn’t necessarily better. Having more space to spread out in is FANTASTIC. Filling that space with as much as you can possibly cram into it, not so much. There’s a finite amount of dollars to be spent, and the ratios for dealers don’t work out well (I did a post about this awhile back).
So, if you only read those two bullet points, you probably got what I wanted this post to mean. This has been sitting on my desktop since the holidays so I'm gonna post the damn thing now =p All opinions and comments are welcomed, just follow Wheaton's Law.
* The only true “brother” fandom, in my opinion (and at this point in time; I’m sure there have been others), is the bronies, and this is because a large chunk of them seem utterly unwilling to admit that they are technically members of the furry fandom.
** This was a surprise to me, and a sign that Anthrocon is basically a huge party. I go to conventions to have fun, but also to promote myself and sell my wares, generally not to party (I’m working too hard to party, dammit); I took this as a sign that my choosing not to go to Anthrocon for a while is a good plan.
*** Please keep in mind that I’m referring to conventions that take place in actual convention centers! Conventions that take place in hotels that have convention space — meeting rooms, small ballrooms, etc. — such as FurFright, Small Press eXpo, etc., don’t have room for booths like this.
**** Actually, I think Artists Alley might work better than the Dealers Room in this aspect because it’s in a smaller space. Last time I was a dealer at Anthrocon, the person who was the other half of the table spent the whole time socializing. Which is great — it’s part of what conventions are for! — but when your very drunk (at noon on Saturday) friend comes around and then hangs out the whole day because there’s room for them…yeah…that’s…something that makes you wish you had a booth.
***** This leads to the “Is having a Dealers Room that sells out in minutes really a good idea?” thing, which, speaking as a dealer, FUCK NO. I much prefer the idea of a lottery system, and I have no idea why many conventions (both furry and otherwise) haven’t switched over to that (I know K’gra did last year for FurFright). Small Press eXpo in Maryland is operating a half lottery/half invitation system this year, which I think is a really smart way of doing things with the space they have to operate in (and, assuming it’s the same space I went to years ago, it’s not all that much!): they can invite bigger names for publicity, and still allow new folks to the scene a shot at getting in. I was honestly considering RainFurrest this year, and I missed the dealers room signup, and it sold out in like 4 minutes. I’d rather be spending my Saturday out and about, not staring at a computer screen waiting for a POSSIBLE chance at business/travel later in the year.