21 May 2013

(Comic) Cons Leave Lasting Economic Impact

San Diego's Colossal Comic Convention by BuyCostumes.com

Hey everyone, long time no see! I’m smack dab in the middle of summer con season, but today I wanted to share an interesting infographic sent my way last week. It highlights the economic impact of Comic Con on the local community. Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, since many of us who routinely attend cons knows about the beneficial impact of the convention on local business. In a word, powerful. Whether it be a con the size of SDCC/NYCC, or even one as small as BAMcon (which I attended last weekend), conventions bring people to a central location, and give them plenty of spaces to spend their money. 

By now, I’m sure most of you know about the economic impact of Otakon on Baltimore. For years it has been voted one of the best events in the City, because of both its draw and the colorful characters who parade around the Inner Harbor each summer. Anime Boston has been given similar accolades, infusing a wonderful dose of character and culture into an already overflowing urban center known for being colorful in its own right. But aside from them, many smaller towns and cities benefit from having the con in town.

Normally, this is where I would throw the pilgrimage analogy out there: from Reader to Turner, the economic impact of the pilgrimage (or indeed any specialized, collective gathering of like-minded folks) universally builds up local markets and pumps much-needed capital into the surrounding area. As far back as Durkheim’s day, annual ritual events would come with their own purveyors of goods, alongside any local merchants willing to set up shop. Much like a modern dealer’s room, in many cases. But there were also the local shops and cafes that would exist on the periphery, for those “adventurous” enough to venture outside the “sacred space,” in search of new experiences. I’ve written before about the parallels between fan conventions and sacred events, so no need to elaborate that again. It’s one of the constants involved in travel. 

A good recent example would be this year’s Zenkaikon event, held in Lancaster. Local businesses spread the word about discounts and offers to people in cosplay, there was at least one special menu I ran across for anyone wearing a badge, and local vendors had a ball talking with the attendees about why they were there, why they were dressed up, and how much fun the event was. Cons bring people together, give them a positive demeanor, and contribute to a good deal of generosity from both vendor and attendee. 

Now Zenkaikon is a mid-sized convention held in a small city. Imagine the kind of impact a giant convention would hold on a major city? 

Back in 2007, I attended the first New York Anime Fest. Back then, I was just a fan, looking for a good time. One of the limitations that year, however, was the location of the Javits Center in NY. Access to food required a solid walk away from the con, which few people back then were willing to undertake. Fast forward to 2009, and the convention book was actively highlighting local places to hit up for food or additional “geek culture” goods. The partnership continues today.

It’s so tempting to just chalk a lot of this up to “geeks spend money on whatever they see,” but that would also be a fallacy. While it’s been a traditional aspect of a lot of geek events, many of my friends and associates are also very aware of what we have, and what we spend. We weigh our options. Many more reserve money for things other than the con. Going back to the Zenkaikon example, I spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon with my friend Ink (over at Anigamers) wandering around Lancaster, specifically looking for something local to spend money on (not that I hadn’t already, thank you Doug Wilder...). I had specifically been looking for the chance all weekend, since I’ve never been to Lancaster, and wanted something I couldn’t get elsewhere. I never did find it, but the “con special” at the local creamery made up for that fact. But the point is, myself, Ink, Doug, and a bunch of other attendees made special concessions specifically for the local merchants. 

It’s easy to forget that, aside from the con itself, doing a con weekend is also a chance to travel, and occasionally the ONLY chance a lot of attendees get. So they make the most of it. And travel frequently associates itself with money. Money on food, money on rooms, money on mementos- there’s a lot that goes into it, chronicled by better scholars than I. The con is just one part of that, the nexus point that brings the people together, and gives them the venue to explore on their own. Don’t understand? Next time you hit Otakon, look at how many people are at the BCC, and how many are wandering Baltimore. Ditto for Anime Boston. Ditto especially for Comic Con. New York looks especially colorful that time of year. 

Colossal Comic-Con infographic created by BuyCostumes.com.

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