When last Valentines’ dismal heart-breaker of a con called Amore a Venezia as well as the issue about Cebu City’s Cosmaze Carnival treatment of its Guests and Participants first hit the internet via Facebook, we had some really long and slightly belligerent posts prepared on the blog. After three days of sitting on the Cosmaze post in particular, we decided to not publish it — choosing instead to concentrate on the good vibes from our upcoming trip to Japan.
However barely two months after the Cebu incident and another shitstorm involving Olongapo City’s Kosupure Maru has hit the local cosplay community. In circumstances eerily similar to that of Cosmaze Festival, Kosupure Maru has not only aggravated its participants but has defrauded them of their hard-earned cash as well.
All in all, 2013 seems to have a bumper crop of questionable conventions. In this post, we’ll attempt to answer the Hows and Whys of the situation, as well as provide suggestions on how future event organizers can avoid these pitfalls.
Lack of Experience
An event is an event is an event — as least in the eyes of “professional events organizers”; never mind that the events they are used to handling may run more along the lines of barangay beauty pageants and the occasional wedding. Same goes for people who think that just because they attended one (ONE!) anime-related con, they can pull off the same thing with little to no effort.
However, what these people fail to realize is that organizing a convention is not simple at all. It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place; you have two choices to make, and they don’t always play well with each other. On one hand, you have the participants who are clamoring for as many fun activities as possible but want to pay as little in admission as possible, as well as the sponsors who want to get the most media mileage for as little cash-out as possible (preferring X-deals, or the F-word in organizing events: “free”).
On the other hand, you have all these activities that you want to have at your event that you need to fund — but with the participants and sponsors pressuring you into making budget cuts, you’re left with the hard choice of either cutting back on your plans in order to break even, or pushing ahead with your strategy but operate at a loss. The art and science of organizing events is finding the happy medium between the two, and that takes a lot of time and experience.
Which isn’t to say that lack of experience is a valid excuse to poorly execute a convention — as evidenced by the Artfield Media team, who organized Cosmaze Carnival. Even if they lacked experience, they had youth on their side. If they were really as determined as they claimed in their open letter about holding the event, they should have banked on their boundless supply of youthful energy to find a way to make things work.
They also had the advantage of having Google-sensei helping them organize their con. If they need to figure out a way to to something (and do it well), they have the technology to get the answers quickly and easily — which was not the case back in 2000 when us old fogies were organizing cons for the first time. Back then it was the blind leading the blind, but now you had access to all this information and you didn’t use it? RU SRS?!
Reading the Signs Wrong
Or not reading the signs at all! Some organizers can’t seem to get their heads wrapped around the concept of “market research”. The Philippines is a huge country, and just because certain things are bankable in Manila — asking a “local cosplay celeb” to attend for example, it doesn’t automatically mean that it will have the same pull on the audience in Legazpi or Cebu or Davao.
Market research doesn’t have to be complicated. With the advent of the internet and social media, market research can be as simple as going on Facebook to post a poll. You can even make it fun for the polling public by turning it into a contest or a giveaway — at the very least, that will guarantee that a majority of the responses are valid, as opposed to one person spamming the poll just to make sure you invite Ms. Gamer Guuuuurl to your event.
Another way to do market research is to attend events yourself. And don’t just limit yourself to one — try to attend as many events as possible. No two events are exactly identical (even if some local organizers have been accused of making cookie-cutter cons LAWL), and you can pick up a thing or two from the organizers. By attending other cons, you can come up with a list of things you can emulate, as well as a list of things to avoid when putting up your own con.
From anecdotal evidence, this seems to be the case with the Amore a Venezia people. Sure, they did their homework — they held the event during Valentines just like the late lamented Victorian Valentine series; they picked a theme-appropriate venue ala Fantasy Quest; they even invited international cosplayers just like Cosplay Mania. However, one thing they seemed to have neglected to do was plain-and-simple market research.
The date they picked was actually too close to Valentines Day — which meant that a lot of prospective participants were unavailable due to their dates with their significant others. The venue they selected was too inconvenient for ordinary con-goers who did not posses their own transport. And tiered ticketing for what is essentially an open event in a public square?! It has “lack of foresight” written all over it. To their credit at least, they admitted to their mistakes — which is a lot more than what the Cosmaze Carnival and Korupurei Maru people ever did.
Cosplay Conventions as Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
As a scam there are easier, more profitable ways — compared to putting up a convention. I mean look at this asshole who ran a Ponzi scheme in Mindanao: not only did he defraud businessmen and government officials, but he nearly got off scot-free. Now compare that to Artfield Media and Kosupure Maru, who are being flagellated online for their mistakes, and probably ruining their future careers (Google forgives, but does not forget).
Personally, if I had PhP 250K to run an event I wouldn’t bother with setting up a cosplay convention — there are plenty of other ways to make that seed fund grow. And let’s face it: Kosupure Maru’s PhP 250K fund? That’s peanuts. We once handled an event that had well over PhP 1M in funds and we still had to scale down on some of the proposed projects (to be fair though, the event was free and open to the public); throwing around that figure as if it justified the success (or failure) of their event shows bad taste.
If you have your heart set on earning money from what’s supposed to be a hobby (that discussion is better left for another day), there are other ways to bank on your talents. You could venture into the extremely lucrative business of cosplay commissions — making props and costumes for other people who do not have the time or talent but have plenty of cash to swish around.
You could go into the buy-and-sell business — putting up a shop (permanent or pop-up at local cons) to sell anime and cosplay goods to fellow fans; with the way the Peso-Yen conversion is turning out these days you are sure to turn in a profit. Lastly, you can put your exceptional photography skills to good use and hold studio shoots for cosplayers for a small fee — the same way portrait photographers charge engaged couples for prenuptual shoots.
There are plenty of other ideas we haven’t tackled — but the main idea is the same: putting up a convention strictly for profit is never a good idea. There are too many unpredictable variables and expensive factors to take into consideration — it will probably take you the better part of three years to turn your event from a money pit into a profitable business. In the meantime, it will take every ounce of passion and patience and love on your part to see the event through while it’s languishing in negative profit hell.
TL;DR: just don’t. Do it for the love, not for the money.
See our follow-up to this post: Cosplay Conventions as Get-Rich-Quick Schemes: A Follow-Up. On a related note, here’s more examples of failcons: No-Go Kaisho and Project Nu-Otaku Scam-pack. And for further reading: How to Put Together an Anime Convention in Five Easy Steps.