DoKomi 2021 - Reflections and Practical Advice for Artist Alley (Part II: The Merchandise)
Aktualisiert: 7. Mai 2022
Welcome to part II of this series! While the last post was dedicated to the table itself, this section addresses what you're selling on the table: the merchandise!
As a reminder for the division of this series, this is where we stand:
Expectations vs. Reality
This time, rather than discuss what "might" have gone better if had I done things differently, I will lay out the facts that would have better prepared me for reality.
The most important thing to consider when preparing for a convention is quantity. How many distinct things do I want to have at my table? How many of each thing do I want?
Here I would like to focus on "want" and not "need", because the honest truth is that you cannot know in advance what you "need".
Is it possible for you to carry 50 prints each of all your favorite designs? It may be possible, but it is perhaps more likely that you do not "want" to carry 50 prints each of all your designs. It is also quite possible that you do not have the budget to pay for 50 prints each of your favorite designs.
Especially if you are travelling with public transportation or responsible for getting all of your merch to the con by yourself, the first thing you should think about is what you want to carry. I certainly had too many prints because I thought I might "need" them and then proceeded to regret the decision-making process while my partner and I hauled oversized suitcases up and down staircases at the train station. If you didn't already know, prints are as heavy as rocks.
So what are some hard facts about quantity? If you are just starting out as an artist like me, for a whole day at a con you would probably be well (over?) prepared with:
10 copies of a postcard (you'll probably only sell 0-5)
3-5 copies of an A4 print (you'll probably sell only 0-2)
3-5 copies of an A3 print (you'll probably sell only 0-2)
1-2 pieces of more expensive items (in my case wooden pins, wooden charms and sticker sheets) (you'll probably sell only 0-2)
This was my experience based on having:*
25 postcard designs
15 A4 designs
10 A3 designs
8 wooden objects
2 sticker sheet designs
While these numbers might not seem like a lot, I would like to note that I ultimately broke even for my registration and travel costs, and think that it was an overall successful table for a n00b. However, if I consider the amount of money that I spent on table supplies (tablecloth, songmic squares, display items, etc.) as well as the high printing costs that I incurred by ordering way more prints than I could have ever sold, I lost a lot of money. Since I am planning on attending more cons frequently, however, I am sure that I will eventually recuperate these costs.
And since I will be attending other cons and markets, it is thus perfectly fine that I over-ordered prints, because I can just keep using them. In the long run, it is certainly cheaper to purchase enough prints for multiple cons than to go back to the printer each time.
To conclude, when ordering materials and packing them for transport, the most important factors to consider are thus:
What is your budget?
How much can you realistically expect to sell per day at a con?
How often will you attend cons?
How much can you comfortably carry?
tl;dr: you don't need as many prints for your first con as you think.
One of the reasons that you cannot know how many prints you will "need" is because (especially if it is your first con) you do not know what people will actually spend money on.
This is where diversity comes in.
"Diversity" in this case means that the displayed artworks contain discernably different characters, moods, colors, scenes, etc.
Diversity in your own merch also means that you can captivate the interest of a diverse audience. Speaking from my own experience, people want that one print that stands out from the rest. If all your art looks the same, then it will be hard for anything to stand out. The good news is that different prints stand out to different people, so a wider variety of subjects and themes not only creates lucrative contrast within in your art, but also appeals to more people.
Appealing to more people = more sales = fewer prints that you have to schlepp home.
Having a diverse spread of merch can also help you better identify what your comparative advantage is among the other dozens or hundreds of other artists at the con.
My assumption going into the con was that the artworks that received consistent likes and comments on Instagram would be the most successful. This was not true. As we all probably know by now, "pretty girls in dresses" do pretty well on Instagram (substitute the example as appropriate to your algorithm). The problem is that at a comic convention, lots of people are offering prints of "pretty girls in dresses". How well do your "pretty girls in dresses" stand up to the competition?
While I did sell several "pretty girls in dresses", my absolute bestsellers were the prints that were my personal favorites, but which I had thought were too niche and weird to be successful (human/bird chimeras, skeletons in armor, etc). Well, it turns out that my favorites are also other people's favorites. This is likely for the very simple reason that they were decidedly different from the standard "pretty girls in dresses".
In the same way that diversity can help one of your prints stand out from the rest of your prints, having a diverse table can help you stand out from the rest of the artists at the con.
True enough, the artists that have perfected the "pretty girls in dresses" sold more than me, but if I didn't have the creepy bird and skeleton people, I probably would have just made significantly fewer sales. The honest truth is that you may not be particularly competitive in the "mainstream" / "successful" categories, so take pride in what your competitive advantage actually is!
You may not be able to identify what will be successful before the con, but certainly be aware of the pitfall of "trying to sell what you think the people want" when actually "trying to sell the things you would want to buy" might ultimately be the better method.
Hope that was helpful! Next time I will address "The Customers"!
tl;dr update: you don't need half as many prints as you think, but if you can magically predict which will be your "popular" print, bring twice as many of that. 1 or 2 popular designs could potentially carry your whole able.
*I also collaborated with a bookseller to produce printed cloth bags. It was a wonderful idea, and we had very positive feedback from the publishers that we contacted. Nevertheless, at the con we sold almost none of them (online and in-store sales, however, are good). In general, textiles are very expensive and you will probably need to order a LOT of them to bring the price point down. Even then, you will probably make so little profit that the time and effort you sunk into making the designs is not worth it. If you are hoping to make any money with such items as a newbie artist... it will be very difficult and I wouldn't recommend it.