San Diego Comic Con 2014 is in the bag. All that is left now is to sort through the hours of video we shot, read through the mounds of comics we purchased, and decide where we are going to hang all the art we bought. In short, this trip to the Mecca of comic fandom was another success.
I’d love to wax poetic about the miles of aisles we wandered (Keri’s pedometer clocked us in somewhere between seven and ten miles of walking each day) or the fantastic creators we talked with (come back each day for the next couple of weeks as we release interviews with a different creator each day), but I think I will leave that to some of the other sites out there (Yes, there are other sites. Hard to believe, I know.). Instead I’d like to write a bit about what I have come to think of as the Comic-Con Correction (TM).
Over the past decade or so (long-time attendees will probably point back to an even earlier time) San Diego Comic Con has seen explosive growth. I peg it back to 2004 when Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow “took over” San Diego with giant mecha placed around the con to promote the movie. From then on, Hollywood studios have inundated the convention specifically and the surrounding area in general with larger, flashier, and more expensive promotions.
The resulting crush of Hollywood money has led to a spike in rents in the surrounding area. Now, any space in the blocks in the area immediately surrounding the con (“immediately” = five block radius) costs a minimum of $45,000 for the week (and prime locations go for that a night.) While many restaurants and shops have found a way to turn this into their own July-version of Black Friday, this year seems to have marked the start of a correction in the market.
For those unfamiliar with stock market terms, a “correction” is when the market in general (or specific stocks) are over-valued. Stock holders get out while the getting is good, triggering a sell-off. The price of the stock falls until it gets back to a level where people feel it is in line with its actual value, and they begin to purchase again.
Any casual viewer/attendee of the con this year will have noticed fewer ads plastered on buildings, fewer branded pedi-cabs, and significantly fewer storefronts given over to licensed experiences or branding. The risk/gain ratio was just too great for all but the largest entertainment corporations to afford the rent on even the smallest of spaces, especially given the historically shaky success rate of con-launched properties. So, this year, the overall con experience was, for the first time in a decade, smaller than the previous year.
And maybe that is not a bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the circus atmosphere of the convention. I think it is fantastic that someone can get an amazing experience without ever stepping foot on the con floor. For all but the hardest of hardcore fans, that is probably enough. Does the average person who likes the Marvel movies and watches the Walking Dead (or reads their respective comics) really need to spend $200 to share that experience with 175,000 of their closest friends? Probably not.
Because the rents were so high, advertisers had to be very careful about how they spent their money. Instead of focusing on getting their name as big as possible but keeping the actual “good stuff” inside (see last year’s Ender’s Game experience), advertisers created more interactive fan experiences outside the con and invited the general public to participate, either actively, or as casual observers. From the Assassin’s Creed Ninja Warrior-inspired parkour course to the Gotham zipline and the Simpson’s Dome, there were plenty of experiences fans could have outside the con.
It would be great if San Diego Con could continue to have experiences like this. But, for that to happen, the overall Comic-Con Contraction (TM) needs to continue. Rents need to come down to a point where more intellectual properties can afford to have a presence outside the con floor. Wouldn’t it be great if Tr!ckster could afford to return to San Diego and have a presence in a location where casual fans could discover creator-owned comics? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a storefront dedicated to the Image Experience? Or the world of Bone? (Seriously, the Great Cow Race would be an awesome interactive experience!!!) For comics to re-take San Diego, the rent needs to come down to a level where someone other than Disney and Warner Bros. can afford it.
What is clear is that the surrounding businesses have found the upper ceiling of rents they can charge for the week of Comic-Con. In many cases, they surpassed that ceiling and were left without a high profile party or branded experience. Next year many places will have to reconsider their asking price.
I don’t think the con experience will continue to shrink forever. If the stock market has taught us anything, it is that corrections are temporary. The prices will drop, more people will enter the market, and prices will go back up. Personally, I am looking forward to next year, when the restaurants and storefronts, realizing that they did not get the exorbitant rates they asked for this year, drop their asking price to a level where it is more affordable. Who knows what properties will jump on the lower prices and open up their con experience. Here’s hoping that Jeff Smith reads this and we get a Great Cow Race! If not, I know I can still see him in his booth on the con floor.