STAPLE! Expo, Austin's celebration of independent media, was this past weekend. Let me find a diplomatic way to say this: while the event is well-organized and thoroughly enjoyable, the economics don't add up. Every year the attendance is lower than I expect. STAPLE should grab comics fans from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and even the more dedicated folk from Dallas and Fort Worth, but it often seems vendors outnumber attendees. And the people aren't in a spending mood (poor UT students saving their money for beer?). Blame the economy, but it wasn't just my table; this was a general consensus among the other comic creators I talked to. Is Austin suffering from "indie exhaustion?"
Sure, I sold some books -- but when you factor the cost of the table (reasonably priced), the hotel for two nights (group discount), gas ($3.59 a gallon), food, and the basic costs of getting your merchandise together -- it's hard to turn a profit. I will need to get more clever in the future to make it work: one night hotel stay, share the room, share a ride with someone, split a table, and keep the merchandise cheap.
The organizers need to double (triple?) the attendance. This might require some difficult choices. Change of venue? More big names? Creative funding? Free admission? Partnering with another organization? Website overhaul? Some promotion on popular blogs like The Beat and Robot 6? I didn't see any for 2012. It's hard to be too critical, because I don't know the solution and everyone has an opinion. Geographically, an indie comic book convention in Austin makes sense.
On the positive side, the weekend itself is a lot of fun. Uncle Staple is a great guy. Austin Books hosts a party on Friday night. On Saturday night, exhibitors were invited to Franklin BBQ for dinner. Afterward, there's the live art show. I always look forward to STAPLE, but I may need to adjust my expectations. Is this work or play?
Square App. Being able to accept credit cards made a huge difference. Huge.
Cats. Cats seem to be "a thing" right now. I saw a lot of cat prints, comics, and other related merchandise.
Best practices. The Houston Indie Book Festival might serve as a model.
Franklin BBQ. I had the ribs. They were really, really good.
Next year. As I wrote previously, I need to be smarter about how I manage this convention if I choose to attend again. Any advice from people who have been able to turn a profit at small shows?