WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER: Do Comic Conventions Cost Too Much?

Kevin and Brent both mentioned in recent columns the uncertainty of getting value for money sometimes at shows. This got me thinking a little bit about comic conventions and whether or not they provide good value for the entertainment dollar.

Whosoever Holds This Hammer appear every Tuesday (more or less) exclusively on Comic Book Daily.

As all good fanboys and fangirls know, we are full bore into comic convention season. Wizard World, Toronto comicCON, C2E2, and Pittsburgh have all recently come and gone and there are a whole host of conventions still left to attend in the upcoming months.

Kevin and Brent both mentioned in recent columns the uncertainty of getting value for money sometimes at shows. This got me thinking a little bit about comic conventions and whether or not they provide good value for the entertainment dollar.

Here are the admission costs of several conventions in Canada and the United states (Thanks to Kevin Boyd for the info):

Fan Expo Canada 2010 costs (2011 still TBA)
BASIC 1day PASS: August 27 ‘ $29 CAD
BASIC 1day PASS: August 28 ‘ $35 CAD
BASIC 1day PASS: August 29 ‘ $29 CAD
DELUXE 3day PASS: August 27 ‘ 29 (includes access to special preview on August 27): $59 CAD
VIP PASS (includes special entrance, bag of stuff, free admission to other HSM events) $89 CAD
Kids 10 and under in free with adult admission

Basic 1Day Pass $20 (if purchased by 12/31/2010) $25 (until 3/16/2011) $30 (at the door)
Basic 3Day Pass $45 (if purchased by 12/31/2010) $50 (until 3/16/2011) $60 (at the door)

New York Comic Con
Basic 1Day Pass $35 (Fri/Sun) (until 10/11/2011) $40 (at the door)
Basic 1Day Pass $50 (Sat) (until 10/11/2011) $60 (at the door)
Basic 3Day Pass $65 (until 10/11/2011) $85 (at the door)
Basic 4Day Pass $85 (until 10/11/2011) $90 (at the door)

Basic 1Day Pass (Fri/Sat) $20 (in advance) $25 (at the door)
Basic 1Day Pass (Sun) $10 (in advance) $15 (at the door)
Basic 1Day Pass (Kids/Seniors) (Fri/Sat) $10 (in advance) $13 (at the door)
Basic 1Day Pass (Kids/Seniors) (Sun) $5 (in advance) $7 (at the door)
Basic 3Day $40 (advance) $50 (at the door)
Basic 3Day (Kids/Seniors) $20 (advance) $25 (at the door)

San Diego Comic Con
Four-day passes $105 (there’s also an additional price that includes access on Wednesday’s Preview Night)
Four-day passes Junior (age 12-17), Senior (60+), and active military with ID are $52.50.
One-day passes for Thursday, Friday and Saturday are $37 for adults, $18.50 for Junior/Senior;
One-day passes for Sunday are $20 for adults and $10 for Junior/Senior.

Admission is $25 for a single day ($23.96 in advance) or $60 ($56.45 in advance) for multi-day.

1-day Pass: $15 per person
3-day Pass: $30 per person
Kids 12 & Under get in FREE!

Emerald City Comic Con
Basic 1Day (Fri/Sun) $15 (advance)
Basic 1Day (Sat) $20 (advance)
Basic 3Day Pass $35 (advance)

So as you can see it is a bit of a mixed bag, but the range is generally $20-$40 for a single day and $40-$60 for a weekend pass. Variations are made for VIP tickets, students, etc. I won’t talk much about VIP passes and the like, for they are worth it if you are a fan of whatever the pass gets you, so more about personal taste than anything else.

Let’s say that you are on the higher end and pay $40 to attend a convention for a single day. $40 is a lot of money. Or is it? Admission costs are only one cost that any good nerd must factor into a convention. Food, travel, spending money, and accommodation all make up the total costs. So if you were coming into Toronto for a convention and set aside $2000 as your overall budget (which many people do), $40 is really nothing. It would only be 2 percent of the overall costs. But let’s say that you already live in Toronto and only have $100 to spend. Well, you need to think long and hard about attending that convention when 40% of your budget is gone before you enter the door.

Over the years I have worked several conventions such as Anime North, Fan Expo, Wizard World, and the Toronto Comic Convention. I would ask people what they brought to spend on product or fun show experiences. Most said $500-$1000. This might seem like a lot but these fans were saving up for an entire year. So if my incredibly non-scientific and anecdotal experiment is correct, even a $40 admission fee won’t dent attendance. As long as there is a lot for people to see and do once they are inside.

Show organizers try to have a wide variety of events, signings, games, dealers, and panels to entertain attendees. San Diego literally has dozens of events per hour. So again, as long as the convention has a lot to offer you personally you will get your money’s worth.

The final factor that I would like you all to consider is a comparison against other forms of entertainment. What else could you be doing with your money? I tend to use movies as a benchmark; theatre attendance is ubiquitous. The average movie is $12 for about 2 hours of entertainment. So it is a given that we will fork over $6 per hour to be entertained. $40 per day at a convention gets you about 8 hours of time so we are sitting at the $5-$6 mark. Of course this math comes with a few caveats: we need to assume that you will attend the full time and therefore need to assume that the convention has enough going on that you want to be there the entire day. I would also note that sometimes (not always) there is a cheaper admission fee for the short day (Thursday or Friday). The short day should always be a cheaper fee to recognize the reduction in available convention time.

What have we learned? Your budget dictates how much you can spend on admission fees. The events/dealers dictate whether or not you should attend. And finally, spending the day at a convention makes even the most expensive of events in line with other forms of entertainment. The bottom line is that conventions are, by and large, good value for your money. I would encourage all to get out this year and see what the industry has to offer.

Anthony Falcone
Anthony Falcone

Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.

Articles: 216


  1. $40 to go to Convention is a decent value, when you consider good tickets to the Blue Jays game would be $40 as well.  For me, it would cost the same to get to Rogers Centre as it does to get to Convention Center.

    When I go I take the admission into account and figure out how much I want to spend at the show, and have just plan to save up the extra for admission fees.   Plus I try to have a couple extra bucks just in case I come across that hard to find item that I can’t let slip by (for example my 2009 SDCC Cobra Commander in Blue, regular $50, but the guy gave me a deal for $35, couldn’t pass it up).

  2. My issue with pricing is comparable value. I’m lucky in that I rarely have to pay, but I often wonder how people perceive prices for events in their area. I think if Fan Expo is the benchmark for pricing, how do other comics events rate value-wise for the fan dollar? TCAF, for example, is free and offers a lot for indie comics fans. What about Wizard? Anime North? Etc.

  3. Fan Expo is seen by many fans as the benchmark, which is a good and bad thing. Because of its size, Fan Expo can leverage some economy of scale in what it does. The $30-$35 per day cost helps contribute to the size of the show, but is also because of it. Anime North has comparable pricing but longer hours and is able to target a specific audience. Wizard World is a more expensive per day (around the $40 mark) but has a lot of variety in its product and fans seem happy. However, if someone was to compare the prices for Wizard World and Fan Expo they would see that Fan Expo is less expensive for a larger show. I assume that is one of the factors considered when Wizard chose which time of year to hold their Toronto convention.

  4. The cost of Wizard World this year was one of the reasons I didn’t go.  Comicon Fan Appreciation a couple weeks ago, was perfect because it was free, but I wouldn’t have objected to paying $10 – $15 admission.

  5. Charlie, I used the baseball game as an example, because for me it would be the same cost to go to either event, that would take approximately the same amount of time to do each event. Anthony has a great point, that if you are looking for deals at a con, you need to consider the admission fee to see if you really are getting a deal, or with admission fee are you just paying the same as retail prices.

  6. Wizard World generates a mixed message. I noted that you didn’t include their prices in the cost analysis – their costs vary from show to show but in TO I believe they charged $33 (incl.fees) in advance and $38 (incl. fees) at the door for a one day pass and $59 for 3 days (I think).
    On one hand, as a for profit comics show, I think it offered a lot less to the comics fan than the Fan Appreciation show that we offered Free Admission to. But, as an overall pop culture show that appeals to the people that think Comic Con should be like San Diego or Fan Expo, it was a one panel per hour show with lower profile celebrity guests in a space approx. 20% of the size of Fan Expo and charging more per day than the biggest for profit con in the region.
    The message that my bosses walk away with is that people will pay anything – that admission doesn’t matter. Which is, I think, what you were suggesting was the case, that fans take admission prices at face value and don’t cost compare or do any value comparison shopping as to where they spend their dollars.
    I still believe it does matter.
    Now Anime North, Polaris, Ad Astra, etc., while not comics focused are all fan committee run events and need to charge different rates, they determine a cost that will pay for the show itself, so I’m more forgiving of the rates they charge and don’t tend to cost compare them to those prices charged by for profit companies like Wizard and Hobbystar. They don’t generally subsidize their convention costs by selling exhibitor space.
    That being said, San Diego Comic Con and WonderCon are not-for-profit enterprises, and the funds raised pay for the show and any profit goes to charity.

  7. I think we value the Fan Appreciation show at approx. $10/day. In previous years the admission fee for Saturday has been $10, with admission on Sunday being free is $10 was spent on goods at a local shop, but if not the admission was $10 and they received a coupon good for $10 merchandise at any dealer booth at the show. If I were setting a price for the weekend (no coupons, etc.) I would suggest $10 day/ $15 weekend.

  8. Not really a fair comparison Ed. If I pay for a Jays game or a movie, I’m paying for the entertainment. If I pay to get into a Con… it’s just for access. Sure, there is value in looking around and talking to people but I can do this elsewhere for free. A Con is essentially a market place… It seems odd that I need to pay to spend money. I still go sometimes but the admission price is the main reason I don’t go regularly.

    I understand the venue/promos costs money but at the end of the day, if a market cannot sustain itself, no matter how many “free comic book days” you have, it wont survive. Maybe Warner and Disney should pony up for the rent since the shows support their properties. With every movie they crank out, they’ve pretty much got a guaranteed audience. Their summer movies tend to rake in $200-$500m worldwide… What’s a $100k scattered around the cities in exchange for a captive audience.

  9. I think that you are right in that admission prices do matter, but only once they hit a high end breaking point. Wizard World was well attended this year and while it did not have as much for comic book fans as the Fan Appreciation show, the Fan Appreciation show didn’t have as much for sci-fi, anime and gaming fans. We have discussed how that wasn’t the point of the con, and that a comic book convention should be about comic books but fans will pay for what they are interested in.  Wizard World would not be able to charge more than Fan Expo if it took place in early August, but a March time-slot means it can have a $40 admission and keep fans happy.

  10. No, Ed’s comparison is quite accurate. You are paying for entertainment. If you are only going to a convention to purchase items you are missing out on everything a comic con has to offer. And if you are going just to shop or get great deals then you would need to analyse whether or not you would still save money on purchases after paying your admission fee. Otherwise, yes it would be better for you to simply visit your local shop and buy things there.

  11. I don’t think time of year really matters, other than whether or not it conflicts with school and/or regular holidays. I think Wizard was arguably well attended in it’s smaller space on the Saturday, and if people were happy paying $38 to get into that space, then I know that others will look at it and think if they can get away with charging $38 for that, then they should raise their prices because of that precedent.
    As always, my focus is comics, and (a) that a high priced “comic con” with less comics content than a free show (be that show Fan Appreciation or TCAF) is clearly alienating to comics folks, and (b) if a comics show doesn’t have scifi, anime, or gaming elements to appeal to a “comic con” crowd then those people don’t come out, as evidenced by the Fan App show two weekends ago.

  12. I don’t pay to attend sports events (other than my nephew’s hockey games) at all unless I’m given a ticket because I think the prices are too high for the entertainment value to me. For free, I’m entertained. Normally I get into conventions for free to work, so I don’t ascribe a value to them other than my work goals. However, I did pay $18 to get into the Pittsburgh ComiCon last weekend, and I think I overpaid (I would feel less bad about it if the price was $15). I thought that there was little to see and do there. I did get my books autographed, and did buy some art and some books, but I was done in about 2 hours. I get better value at a first run movie for $15 or watching a movie on blu-ray in the comfort of my own home. Especially considering I paid gas (my share was approx. $60) and lodging (my share was $100) to get there.

  13. The time of year does matter. For both the holiday reasons you mention and in relation to other conventions. If fans had a choice to pay $40 or wait 3 weeks for a larger show and pay $30 many would decide to wait. But Wizard World and Fan Expo are 5 months apart, and thus such concerns are eliminated.

  14. I don’t think they would wait if they were three weeks or even one week apart, and that’s the lesson I learned when the Fan Appreciation event used to take place right around the time of the old Paradise show. People came out to both.  I think fans base their decisions to go more upon who is there then when and where.  If they want to see a guest at both shows they go to both shows and pay the ticket prices. They’ll think after the fact that they may have overpaid for one or the other, but in the end they still go to both. One show may get their disposable income first though, so vendors at one event may do better than at the other.

  15. And honestly, we see this all of the time on the convention circuit in major cities across North America, especially on the east coast where shows are not spaced out by months but by weeks. Baltimore and New York are close, and spaced only month+ apart. People go to both if the event interests them.

  16. Fair enough, I can accept that argument  ^_^  since what entertains us is personal in nature. But many people enjoy going to malls as well but if Cadillac Fairview ever started charging admission to Yorkdale Mall, I’m sure there would be some backlash. I make exceptions to venues like the auto show… Although you can buy a car there, it’s still primarily a show. Comic Cons have evolved over the years but I still see it as a market place… If they waived the admission, I’d make an effort to attend. Once I’m there, I’m sure I’d ending up spending more than $40 (great for vendors).

    I went to one show last summer and nothing really grabbed me… but with a pocket full of cash, I was itchin’ to spend so I ended up buying a DD#131 for a $100 bucks knowing that I could have picked it up online a bit cheaper. I just didn’t want to walk out empty handed. With that kind of mentality, imagine if I went to more shows?

    Mind you, I’m only semi-concious most days so I’m probably not a good representation of your typical fan boy.

  17. Waiving the admission would not necessarily have the positive outcome you expect. Show promoters receive funds from 2 main sources: admission and vendor fees. If admission is free they (basically) have one of 2 choices: absorb the costs or increase the vendor fees. If the vendor fees are increased then vendors have one of 2 choices: absorb the costs or increase prices on goods. If goods are more expensive you as a customer might not spend as much meaning a smaller profit for vendors. Everything is connected.

  18. Sure, I totally get that which is why I suggested that Warner and Disney pitch in. I would never set up myself cause the table cost would eat up any profit so I understand the challenges that vendors face and I’m sympathetic to guys who do it full time. I also know that DC and Marvel are struggling but if Warner and Disney thought it worth while picking up these companies, why not go the extra step and promote their properties via sponsorship. Maybe they feel it’s to grassroots for them…

    Hobby Star can also choose to make less profit (but who are we kidding here). Considering the pond is drying up, it seems short sighted that big fish always wanna eat up all the small fish without consideration of sustainability.

    The rivalry between Hobby Star and Wizard is like the cable networks fighting over TV ownership when people are moving online. It’s all moot. You’d think there’d be more of a coordinated effort to cross sell the shows… but human behaviour is a much bigger topic… so I digress.

  19. Pow! Well, I think Disney and Warner are spending big money to promote their properties. You’ll see pretty heavy presence from both at the big cons this year, and they don’t do it for free… they are putting quite a bit of money behind Green Lantern, et al. In the case of both publishers the parent companies are pushing for better visibility of their properties — who’d of though that Thor would be a major motion picture? For both companies, comics are just part of the licensing machines.
    As I’ve been saying, when Hobbystar sees that others are charging more and getting it, the message they take is that they should charge more. We do try to hold a line on pricing but bigger venues and bigger guests costs more money. It doesn’t help the fan that just wants to shop, that type of person – like yourself – doesn’t see the value in guests and programming, but no one is forcing anyone to go if they don’t want to. We do get along with an work with many of the other conventions on the circuit including those within the city. We sponsored some social events at Ad Astra, we work with Polaris. When I was with Paradise years ago I spent a lot of time trying to work things out with Hobbystar and we even came up with some very fair offers that would have allowed for a much more friendlier environment. You would be surprised to learn about the things we do behind the scenes to work with other conventions.
    In the past, larger promoters avoided each others’ “turfs”, but both Reed and Wizard decided to invade each others’ territory a few years ago and then Wizard made the decision that every market is fair game for their tour. While the situation is a little personal for me (they turned something I created to be comics only into a second rate media con), I don’t see why we need a Wizard con in this market when we have TCAF, Anime North, Polaris, Fan Expo, the new Steampunk event, etc. It saturates an already over-saturated market.
    Now the cable tv analogy would work if attendance at these events were actually dwindling, but there’s been no indication that this is the case. Major events keep growing exponentially – San Diego is currently at the wall, but other cons like NYCC, C2E2, Fan Expo, Baltimore, Emerald City, Boston, Montreal, DragonCon, Calgary, the Paxes (East and West)… these events keep getting bigger each year. So no, it really doesn’t matter where the fans are getting their fixes as long as they maintain an interest in personal contact with those that create (be they actors or comics creators or publishers and manufacturers).

  20. $40 isn’t a bad price to pay for admission if you are a fan boy/ girl. But, if they lower the prices of admission they might get a new audience,  like people in who normally wouldn’t go to Con’s or people who want to come with their fan boy/girl friend. Once they are in, you never know they might be hooked for life. Plus, they tend to spend money on prints and collectibles.

  21. Kevin, can you be specific about what I’m missing out on. I know that the bigger (Toronto) events have conference style talks, meet and greet sessions in the smaller rooms and stuff like “the Stan Experience” but isn’t there an extra cost for these. If I remember correctly, I think it was $250 bucks to hang out with Stan… Can I assume that you guys get half of this?

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed seeing Mr. Nimoy, Mary McDonald and Linda Hamilton a couple years back but standing in line for an hour to tell them how great they are is not my cup of tea. As you know, I’m not a very talkative guy in person… it comes part and parcel with being a repressed Asian. I don’t know what your guests are paid (if any) but I have to believe that appearing at these shows is also a great way to promote themselves and/or their projects, so to Anthony’s point… yes, I see the connections.

    “The market is “fair game” but why do we need Wizard to put on a 2nd rate show?” Kevin, Kevin… Let’s not kid a kidder ^_^

    I find what you say very interesting. If the comic book market is dwindling… how is it that the shows are doing so well? What’s you’re take on this? I don’t go to shows outside of the city so I can’t compare.

    But, here’s a theory: As Anthony and Ed pointed out, if these shows are an entertainment venue in itself and only a select group of people are there for the back issues… And we all know that the back issue market is shrinking… then it is foreseeable that, moving forward comics will occupy less and less floor space. If this is the trend, then who or what will replace the comic vendors? I don’t expect this to happen over night but it could be that these shows will eventually evolve into a “media con”… So does this mean that Wizard is ahead of the curve? Take your best shot. ^_^

    In any case, my TV analogy was more about the comic industry as a whole. The rumour is that Bill Sienkiewicz was asked not to attend (by thugs in dark glasses and trench coats wearing a star). No need to humour me on this but if true, the fans are getting screwed in the process. Bill’s work is awesome, his works way undervalued (hint, hint Walter) so all things considered, I’m glad I didn’t attend.

    The bottom line is… everything is expensive! Food, housing, gas, movies… and yes, admission to comic cons. And yet the average house hold income has remained stagnant for the past 20 years. I just wish I could be a globe trotting comic promoter like yourself surrounded by high grade comics and girls in spandex costumes… What else is there in life.


  22. Most conventions are more than just dealers, booths, an artist alley and a celebrity signing area. For example, we put on over 15 programming events per hour at Fan Expo, and they are free with your admission so clearly you are missing out on quite a bit Charlie. The “Experience” packages you mention are usually external events that take place off site. At the show, every hour on the hour there are Q&As with the celebrities, sketch duels with the artists, screenings, panels and talks with the publishers, gaming demos, workshops, premieres for upcoming films and television shows and a zillion other things happening … it’s all in the programming area. Which is on the 700 level in the South building. I have to coordinate 3 specific comic book related events per hour so I know I’m pretty busy.
    Why are the bigger comic shows doing so well while the periodical market is dwindling? I might say that the fans are still out there, but they just are more selective about what they spend their money on. With the growth of webcomics and, sadly, illegal downloading of comics, there’s still a fair number of people reading comics in one form or another beyond buying single issues or hardcovers and trades. There’s also a number of fans who have shifted to buying original art and sketches. The collectors go if the right dealers are there, or the artists they want to get sketches/original art from. Many people still look for better deals on trades and hardcover, as well as surf the dollar bins.
    As for your theory – yes, I do foresee that the need for back issues is something that appears to be shrinking. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need for comics related merchandise – the dealers that specialize in older books still have a clientele that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If anything some dealers have shifted away from long boxes of comics to boxes of books, statues, action figures and the like.
    Maybe Wizard is ahead of the curve. If that’s the curve we go on then I’ll be happy to retire and do other things than try to emulate that model.
    Everything is expensive, I agree. We continually pay more for less, and often stick our heads in the sand as to what’s going on in the world around us. We are generally creatures of want and need. No one needs to go to these events, but people do in larger numbers each year at certain events, so so far the price is right.

  23. Next weekend there are 2 major cons taking place: Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con and the Boston Comic Con — if you have any interest in this subject, for an interesting comparison of how comic collectors see the two events and the inherent value they contain to them, read through these threads over at the Collector’s Society website: ANAHEIM and BOSTON.

  24. Last year, the Ultimate Stan Lee Package (limited to 100 people) was $150 and included a party, front row access to his panel, an autograph and photo opportunity. Photo and autograph costs were $80 at the con. Additional cost was for front of the line access and the party. Most of that money went directly to Stan.

  25. Ever the promoter… Okay Kevin, I haven’t been to a workshops in over 20 years so I’m going check them out this summer. You got my $40 bucks!
    But I really hope those Q&A sessions are more interesting then the usual stock answers given by guests (can’t risk offending any one and jeopardizing your project or popularity). I assume most people who attend these activities are there mostly for the atmosphere… But I have to be honest… the fanboy culture is a turn off. I was chatting with Francis Manapul at one of the shows when some dufuss cut in and got all emotional about DC cancelling the Legion… (okay… that might have been me). I also remember a time when Stan would sign books for free. I guess eBay has changed everything.
    In any case… you had me at **free** (with admission).

  26. All I’m trying to get across is that cons do a lot of work to produce more than a vendors area, an artist alley and some signing areas.  San Diego has something like 30+ things going on every hour outside of those areas. The smaller the show, the less there is to do at the con and is one of the reasons why I think high prices for a small show are a bit of a rip. If you are just charging a fee to get into a room with dealers and guests then the price should reflect that.

  27. Kev, is Hobby Star your full time gig now? When I met you I think you were with Paradise P/T before Wiz picked it up…

  28. My full time gig is cancer research, but outside of that I run the Joe Shuster Awards and do contract work for Hobbystar on their shows as the Canadian guest/Artist Alley/Comics Programming event coordinator. For financial and personal reasons I left the Paradise con after the 2007 event, long before they gave it away to Wizard.

Comments are closed.