With security and overcrowding issues of past years mostly resolved, New York Comic-Con actually managed to grow in 2013, with an announced attendance of 133,000—roughly the same number as attend July’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. That’s up from an announced 116,000 attendees in 2012.
How did the show manage to grow while getting less crowded? It’s all due to the new RFID technology used on badges. For the first time this year, attendees were asked to “tap in and tap out” to eliminate counterfeit badges and fraud. ReedPOP’s global v-p, Lance Fensterman, who oversees their shows around the world, said the new technology was a huge success. “On Friday morning between 9-11 am we successfully moved in 60,000 people,” he told PW. “That’s 500 people a minute.”
With concerns over crowd safety a huge priority this year, the RFID badges enabled Fensterman and his crew to get an idea of how big the counterfeiting and fraud were last year. By using the technology, ReedPOP was able to know exactly how many people were in the building at any time. He estimates that more than 20,000 people may have entered last year without badges.
They also determined that exhibitors are “by far the biggest perpetrators of badge fraud,” said Fensterman, mostly by sharing badges and using the time tested going out with a badge in the pocket technique. By “tapping in” it was determined which badges hadn’t been tapped out—and it was mostly exhibitors doing it.
Prior to the show, availability of exhibitor badges had decreased, with tables unable to get badges for booth workers, and even exhibitors with large expensive booths unable to purchase more badges. While aware of this, Fensterman said that more badges for booths mean fewer badges for paying fans, and that is always ReedPOP’s priority.
While this is obviously something that will need to be addressed in future years, the crackdown on the badgeless and counterfeits did overall reduce crowding on the floor. “Even at 2 pm on Saturday, the busiest time of the show, I never felt I couldn’t move,” said Fensterman.
However the RFID system also led to the biggest embarrassment of the show: the sending of unauthorized tweets when users checked in to the con. When badges were mailed out, attendees were urged to register them online; doing so, as previously reported in PW, enabled users to get 50 free Comixology comics and enter a contest to win a car. Attendees could also “opt in” to register with Facebook or Twitter, a common practice for today’s social media users.
However, as the show opened, those who had elected to do this were shocked to find their Facebook and Twitter accounts suddenly taken over by New York Comic-Con, with such messages as "So much pop culture to digest! Can't. handle. the. awesome. #NYCC," "I can't get enough #NYCC!" and "So much to see, so much to do! #NYCC 2013 I love you!" and a link to the NYCC Facebook page. These promotional tweets were even sent from such media figures as Harry Knowles.
The move generated immediate outrage and was shut down by Friday morning with an apology. Fensterman acknowledges that “it was a dumb idea from a dumb place. It was terrible and I wish we hadn’t done it.” Although this use of the potential for individual tracking was overzealous, he remains excited about future uses for badges. “The technology allows us to do so much” from scavenger hunts to individual check ins at booths.
Another controversy was the branding of Arizona Iced Tea’s “I Heart Big Cans’ campaign which took over the Empire Stage and appeared on the floor—the campaign includes full-figured women talking about tea and cans, and you can probably figure out the rest. A video featuring a woman pouring tea over herself appeared before many of he con’s biggest panels before being shut down on Friday night after yet more outrage. Fensterman agrees this was a mistake, too—an early version of a print ad was rejected, but the entire campaign should have been reviewed, he acknowledges. NYCC’s attendee’s are about 40% female.
For all the missteps, it was still a record-breaking year for the show; yet with attendance under control, NYCC now has the same problems as San Diego—no room to grow. The Javits Center is notoriously inhospitable to large consumer crowds, even as NYCC has become a marketer’s bonanza—not just for comics and video game companies, but national brands. Intel, Chevy, Geico and Verizon were just a few of the companies one wouldn’t normally expect at a “nerd fest.” But of course, comic-cons are now so much more than that.
Fensterman said the show was able to make the entire Javits part of the show by putting the consumer tap-in area outside. This definitely helped give the crowd more room, but in future years Fensterman hopes to spread the event out into the city at large, just as San Diego has spread throughout the Gaslamp district. “We turn down great programing every year, imagine having events at the Paley Center,” he said.
Despite all the distractions, the show managed to draw in a lot of comics consumers who made it mostly a success. Artist Alley was held in a separate building and despite worries that there would be no traffic, it was humming all four days, with almost universally high sales reported from the audience.
Around the Floor
The crowds surging through the Javits Center —there seemed to be throngs of people in every area of the building—seemed to be paying off in sales. Conversations with publishers around the floor were generally upbeat with many praising the new RFID system as well as sales. Archie CEO Jon Goldwater said sales at his large booth had been “explosive.” And Abrams ComicArts’ Charles Kochman, Yen Press’s Tania Biswas, Papercutz’ Jesse Post and Robert McGuire, publisher of GENManga all characterized sales over the weekend as good to great on the exhibition floor.
Anomaly Publishing, which released the massive sci-fi graphic novel of the same name last year, was back with a new new sci-fi thriller, Shifter: The Graphic Novel by the same creative team of Skip Brittenham, Hollywood entertainment lawyer turned sci-fi writer/publisher, and artist Brian Haberlin. Like Anomaly, Shifter is augmented reality enhanced, and when viewed through the Anomaly scanner on an iphone or iPad, offers 3-D animation and sound effects. The original work, Anomaly—a 400 page graphic novel about a doomed spaced expedition in the far future—had sold about 7,000 copies and plans for “a movie is in the works,” said Haberlin. Relativity Media optioned the rights, Haberlin said, and Ed Ricourt is writing the screenplay. Haberlin said a sequel to Anomaly is coming in the end of 2014 and Anomaly Publishing is also launching a kids line of AR-enhanced picture books also coming in 2014.
Tony award-winning producer and now comics writer Vivek’s Tiwary’s The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story publishes this month in three different editions—a standard hardcover ($19.99), a collectors hardcocover edition ($49.99) with bonus materials, and a limited edition hardcover (1,500 copies) with a tip-in sheet signed by the creators (Tiwary, Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker) and a bonus section ($99.99). Here is a graphic novel trailer for the book. Tiwary was giving interviews at the Dark Horse booth and also outlined a partnership with Freedom to Marry, a same-sex marriage equality group that is endorsing and promoting the book, a group he emphasized that he supported long before the Fifth Beatle project started. He has also finished a draft of a screenplay for the planned film adaptation (Tiwary has the rights to use the Beatle’s music in the film) and Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen (American Beauty, Milk and other films) will be his coproducer. A project driven by his passion for the Beatles and comics, as well as his admiration for Epstein, Tiwary said his parents, now passed away, “loved comics and the Beatles and they would have loved to be here to see this book.”
Vital Shift Debuts
Launched on the eve of New York Comic Con by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Vital Shift is a religion focused graphic novel imprint intended to bring both comics visual story telling and Transmedia franchise extensions to the Christian publishing marketplace. HCP’s lead title is Messiah: Origin by Mark Arey and Matt Dorff, the first in a series of seven graphic novels that will detail the life of Christ as translated from the ancient Gospel manuscripts. But in a panel held on Sunday morning at NYCC, HCP publisher Chip Brown outlined a vision of the Vital Shift imprint as a platform to produce serious comics works that ultimately can also be translated into a broad universe of interconnected Transmedia properties marketed to a global Christian marketplace.
“The bible is a transmedia property,” Brown said at a panel alongside Transmedia guru Jeff Gomez, CEO and cofounder of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a firm that specializes in producing Transmedia properties. Gomez has produced Transmedia projects for Disney, Coke and other big brands and was on hand to outline how the media strategy—Transmedia is the process of extending branded properties into new media formats, from comics to videogames to prose novels, animation, film, webisodes and more—can be conceived, produced, applied and managed. It seems likely that Gomez and Vital Shift will be involved in some kind of content deal—both parties declined to comment on the possibility of collaboration—as both Gomez and Brown took turns during the panel to outline the potential of Transmedia to transform the traditional publishing market and on its likely impact on the Christian market in particular.
Brown described the bible as a “transmedia property written over 1500 years by more than 40 writers with more characters than anyone can count.” He noted that “one out over three people is a self-identified Christian, 78% of U.S. citizens claim to be Christians and we see this market reflected in shows like Duck Dynasty, game shows like the American Bible Challenge and feature films.” Brown said the goal is start with comics but ultimately create “a pervasive story world,” that can be translated to a variety of formats for just such a broad marketplace of Christian consumers. “Jesus didn’t have a marketing department; he gave away content for free. If you do it well, the marketing side can go away.”
Gomez discussed the advantages Transmedia can have for publishers and for the content creators—if the publishers are willing to make the necessary investments in a content strategy that is not always understood by traditional publishing companies. Unlike dealing with movie studios, Gomez said, who want to own everything, “publishing offers the opportunity to share equity; it can be structured as a partnership” between the various principals.
Update on Comics Plus: Library Edition
Comics Plus Library Edition is a new cloud-based digital comics lending program that offers school and public librarians an online service that lets library patrons borrow comics and graphic novels on a cost-per-checkout basis. It offers unlimited simultaneous checkouts and pre-set budget limits. The service launched in June at American Library Association convention in Chicago and iVerse Media CEO and founder Michael Murphy and Josh Elder, iVerse account director and CPLE developer, and consultant John Shableski were on hand at New York Comic Con to update PW on the service. Since its launch back in June, Murphy said, CPLE has enrolled about 25 library systems including the Houston Public Library and the Essex County Library System in Canada. Murphy said the service is in a soft rollout and using feedback from librarian clients to upgrade the search feature.
Murphy outlined how the digital lending service can help support print collection development with the data and analytics the system retrieves on what digital comics are being borrowed. Murphy said an interested library can go from demo to signup in about 2 months. Brodart, the library distributor, is acting as a sales representative for the service and he said the service has about 80 publishers now (among them Viz Media, Archie and Andrews McMeel) and more on the way. Asked about interest from the Big Two—Marvel and DC—Murphy declined to comment specifically but said, “we’re asking publishers to leap into a new model so the market is moving slowly but more publishers are coming in the future.”
Changes on the Floor
Another new feature this year was DC Entertainment’s altered presence—instead of a booth on the floor, they split their exhibit between an impressive looking display of Superman costumes at one less trafficked part of the hall, and signings in Artist Alley. The exhibit, which was a traditional booth, just not one located on the show “floor,” was a success with engaged crowds all weekend. The signing area will probably need to be rethought, as fans appeared to prefer getting autographs at the artists’ own tables.
While New York Comic-Con displayed many uniquely local features, it was also a showcase for the global expansion of comics and nerd culture. At a booth for the Indian Comic-Con, Eshita Ghosh and Jatin Varma spoke about how they are expanding their shows in India with three permanent events and one pop with more to come. “We can’t meet the demand [for guests and material],” said Varma, founder of the event. “Our audiences want more and more. This is a global entertainment culture now; people all watch the last episode of Breaking Bad the same day and tweet about it.” The two were there to serve as ambassadors for the Indian comic cons and also invite more Western publishers and creators to come. Indie titans like Robert Crumb, Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly and Self Made Hero have already made appearances to big crowds—“our audiences like independent comics as much as superheroes,” said Varma.
Diamond Books’ v-p sales and marketing Kuo-Yu Liang echoed the growth in the global channel for comics publishing. “India is a huge English language market, even though the distribution system is a challenge” he told PW. “But we send more material and it sells, we double it and it sells, and so on.” There’s been a surge in interest in foreign publishing from comics publishers, he said, something that many had put off in the past. But now, with basic problems solved and comics sales up in recent years, the industry can act on the next level plans. “The biggest problem is not enough time to pursue all the opportunities,” he said.
ReedPOP is also looking at foriegn expansion, with several emerging comics markets under consideration for future events. While New York Comic Con has its problems—programming was generally lackluster and there were issues with getting in and out of programming rooms and conflict with security reported here and there—it’s clearly not going anywhere. And Fensterman is already preparing his team for a future that includes a subway extension to the West Side and wider development of the entire area around the Javits. “For the first time, I really see how this has become an institution,” he said. “We estimate the economic impact to New York as $60 million now,” but that may someday be merely a fraction of the total worth.