Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alternative Press Expo 2015 post-mortem

Last weekend my good friend Inkyung Lee and I had a booth at APE (Alternative Press Expo) in San Jose. I had low expectations for this show for two reasons. First of all, this year APE was changing management and moving from San Francisco to San Jose. I expected that this would probably mean a lower turnout as the event went through growing pains.

Secondly, APE put on a terribly unprofessional Kickstarter in attempt to sell more tickets to the show. The campaign failed, having raised $330 out of their goal of $2,000. This greatly reduced my confidence in the competence of the event organizers.

I attended anyway because last year was a lot of fun, and I have many friends in the area I was hoping to meet. The thing I like about APE is that there isn't a big emphasis on fanart. Many artists sell their original creations, unique stuff that is way more interesting than anything you could buy in a store.

The show was in the "south hall" of the San Jose Convention Center. It was a gigantic tent, and the aisles and our booths were generously proportioned.

The first hour of the first day was awesome. The first attendees were hardcore APE fans who attend the show every year. Some of them had even brought small rolling suitcases to carry all the books they intended to buy. People practically pounced on me and Inkyung's table, and it was by far the highest sales I have ever seen in a single hour. But once that initial wave of enthusiasts rolled through, sales died down. Sunday was particularly slow.

If the show had had the attendance of last year's show in San Francisco, the gigantic tent would have been great.

(last year's APE.) (image source)

...But it didn't. I estimate that the attendance was maybe a quarter of last year. So the tent seemed positively cavernous.

(Sunday afternoon. Insert crickets chirping)

I also noticed that the general level of artists seemed lower than last year. It seemed as if many professional artists and artist alley veterans had passed up this year and their places were taken by newbies. There were very few names I recognized.

Despite these drawbacks, I had a good show as far as sales. I earned more than I did two weeks ago at Rose City Comic Con, which had a vastly higher attendance, and more than I did at last year's APE.

I am cautiously optimistic about next year's show. If the organizers can listen to the feedback from artists and attendees, APE can find a new home in San Jose. But if the organizers don't find ways to increase public awareness of the show, and attract big-name artists to exhibit, I predict that APE will not survive its uprooting from San Francisco.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts. Our attendance at the door (paid and the free retailer and librarian admission) was a little over 2,000, with the number including exhibitors putting it well over 3,000. About half of what Comic-Con reported for the previous year. Not giving people wit Comic-Con or Wondercon badges free admission contributed to a drop in a certain segment of the customer base, as was our inability to market directly to people who attended previous APE's. So given that and the change of venue I am pretty happy with the result. I reduced the number of exhibitors from close to 400 to just a little over 250 to not spread business too thin.

    I feel like one of the things that contributed to the sparse feel was the switching of the exhibit space from a six foot table to a 10x10 booth. The same number of people in a smaller space would have felt a lot more crowded and perhaps added to the energy level, but I feel like we were in a position to offer exhibitors more for their money and I am hoping in future years that some people, now realizing what the space is like, will make better use of the space.

    Signage is an issue we are going to correct, one major issue was that the doors to the fron of the main convention center were locked because nothing was going on there. Had they been unlocked the digital signage would have pointed to where APE and the South Hall was and people would have been able to cut through the convention center to where the south hall was. We were caught off guard by this and tried to course correct on the fly by having volunteers out there directing people.

    We are certainly going to be working hard to increase awareness of our event. What we are hoping for is that APE can become a larger, multi-venue city-wide (or at least area wide) event in the style of European comics conventions like Angouleme and Lucca festivals. We took a nice first step towards that I feel by not centralizing everything going on in one building. As a publisher and comics professional of 30 plus years, I cannot tell you how much I hate seeing nothing but a convention center for three or four days in a row.

    I expected, and was prepared for, people from the north and east bay to abandon the event and I know they will only come back reluctantly when the show becomes successful, someone noted on twitter that it seemed that more artists came from southern california than did from SF or the East Bay.

    I would like to comment on the things that I felt we did right. One of the things was to get a lot of new blood into the show. The other was to market to people who actually spend money at shows. While not everyone had your experience, many people told me they did better at APE this year than in previous years and most of those were people who did interesting things with the space, or at least seemed to be professional in their approach. I think different people experienced different times in the day when they sold most of their stuff.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Dan Vado

  2. Thanks for the post mortem, Kelley! Doing some research on which cons to apply to and was looking for something like this. Still debating but great info!


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