Conventions: Are They Worth It For Small Publishers?

This year, 6d6 have attended five events with a trade table since May. We have spent the best part of a £1000 on travel, accommodation and other costs. Yet we have only sold about £500 worth of goods. So has it been worth it, will we be doing it again and should other small publishers attend conventions?

A Quick Round-Up

6d6 RPG at Indiecon

6d6 @ Indiecon

At the beginning of May we attended Con-Quest with our first sales table. We sold £144 worth of stock with negligible costs due it is convenient location. Next was Irregular Miniature Painting event in Sheffield. We hoped our range of miniatures would do well there but it turned into a disaster with almost no one at the event. In total we sold a copy of the 6d6 Core for £15 but thankfully, our costs were low (a half-tank of petrol).

Our next event was in October and the fun little con that was Oddcon. This is a great, friendly little con but we did very poorly selling only £45 worth of stock against £125 of transport and accommodation costs. Two weeks later there was Indiecon, the home of the indie gaming scene in the UK. Another heartily recommended convention full of gamers keen to experiment. We sold £237.50 worth of stock but the costs were £408 due to its remote (from us anyway) location. Finally, last weekend we did Dragonmeet where we sold £149.50 in return for £285 of costs (London is expensive to visit even for a day).

Total expenditure for the five events was at least £818 with an income of £591. This excludes the costs of the items we sold. If those are factored in, total costs were in the region of £1200. This leaves 6d6 roughly £600 out of pocket despite all our hard work.

Why Didn’t We Sell More?

There are two main reasons:

  • Product Recognition
  • Product Range

Product Recognition

There are three types of trade tables selling RPGs at conventions – The Big Publisher (e.g. Cubicle 7, Mongoose); The Shop (e.g. Leisure Games); and The Independent (e.g. 6d6, Silver Branch Games). What both The Big Publisher and The Shop have but The Independent doesn’t is product or brand recognition.

People may not have heard of Cubicle 7 or Mongoose or Leisure Games but they heard of the games on their stall. Whether its D&D, Traveller, Cthulhu, or any of numerous other games, they are products customers know about and have probably played. Selling supplements or new editions of these well known brands is (comparatively) easy because the customer already has a good idea what they are getting.

The Independent does not have the luxury of familiarity. Lots of people will ignore a stand if they don’t spot something familiar on it. For those who do take the time to investigate, the selling process has to start from scratch. This takes longer and is harder so there are less sales.

Product Range

6d6 @ Oddcon

6d6 Running a demonstration game at Oddcon

Most Independents have one or two books to sell. With 6d6 we have eleven different products but that is only if count all the little add-ons like binder rings and blank cards. The Big Publisher and The Shop will have at least 100 different products on sale and this makes a big difference.

To make sale you need a product that matches the customer’s interests and price range. With a good sales technique you can stretch their interests and price range but there is only so far this can go. You are never going to sell an expensive indie game to a cash-strapped hard-core D&D player.

Simply put, the more products a stall has, the more chance there is that a product fits the customer’s interests and budget. Without a big range, The Independent only appeals to a very narrow set of interests and finances and hence can only achieve a small number of sales.

So Cons Are A Waste Of Time Then?

No.

Conventions are a great opportunity to test things out. In demo games you can try out new rules and scenarios. On the trade table, you can test out packaging, presentation, pricing and your pitch or spiel. These are vital things that a small publisher has to understand and perfect if they are to be successful. Events are also a great place to network. To meet and share information with other traders and to connect with writers and artist.

At a convention you can learn in a day more about your product and the market than you can in a year of online activity.

Should You Take a Trade Table?

This is a judgement call every trader has to make for themselves but for a small publisher, you might as well forget about making money. At least on the first few cons whilst you’re building up your product range and customer awareness.

Instead, make a budget for attending the convention and then just write it off. Wasting your time agonising over your low sales and wasted money is counter-productive. Treat the convention as a training course and judge it’s value by how much you learnt by attending. As your name recognition and product range grows, this equation will change but for your first year in business, conventions are not about the money.

4 comments

  1. So why go to these things?
    Well in order to gain any recognition one need to market a product. Otherwise you will be stuck in a loop of Low recognition > low sales > low expectations from yourselves > low sales activity and eventually all will be lost.

    The solution is what you decide to do at these events in order to GAIN recognition. Standing at a table with your book won’t be enough.

    Trade fairs need careful planning with events, intenisve meet and greet in front of the table to bring people in. One clue is in the picture of your table at the top here. You have your table as a barrier between you and your audience. As long as your product is unknown – YOU are the selling point.

    Make use of you enthusiasm, drag people IN and put your product in the back – you in the front and talk to people while you place things in their hands to look at and touch.

    Be bold. 🙂

    And good luck!

    1. Hi BoH,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. You are absolutely right that at this stage the individual seller is a key part of the marketing and that cons are important in creating product awareness.

      This is why we, generally, bring three or four of the 6d6 Crew with me. They not only mean we can reach more people but different personalities work with different types of customers. It also means we can run more demo games, talk to more people in the bar and generally get our message to more people.

      However the idea of being in front of the table, meeting and greeting people as they walk past will not work at most conventions (certainly most British cons).

      For example, Oddcon had around 80 members and our table was in the main gaming space. With a hour of arriving, each member knew I was there just by walking into the games room. Plus, most of the time the members were walking into the room to play a game so stopping them to talk about 6d6 would of been rude and invasive. Not the sort of behaviour that turns passer-bys into good customers.

      Only at Dragonmeet, where there was a much larger crowd and traders were in a room separate from the gamers does the meet-and-greet approach have any real hope of success. Even here, most people do not want to be hassled or harangued. It will irritate far more people than it converts into a customer.

      The real secret is to use permission based selling.

      Ignore those people who walk past without looking at the table. They are not interested / busy and trying to get their attention will only generate negative feelings.

      But anyone who glances at your products or you has given their permission to be approached and is fair game.

      Depending on the person and situation, it might be just a smile to break the ice and to see if the customer wants attention or prefers to simply browse in peace. Or the right approach might be to dive straight in and offer a demo. Judging the right approach so that you don’t hassle a customer so that they leave or let a customer leave because you haven’t engaged with them is the real trick.

      The bottom line is that different people require different approaches. Also different products require different approaches and different situations require different approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all guaranteed method of selling anything

      All the best.

      Chris

      1. I don’t believe in one-size-fit-all fixes. And haranguing people never work in any place at any time. In an optimal sales talk the customer have done 80 % of the talking.
        But in the end it all starts with communication. It is up to you to be as open and inviting to that as is humanly possible. It’s like asking someone for a date! 😀
        I am sure you do all of this and there is no real news here, but look at the picture again, try to see it from a customers point of view. What do you communicate with the table you have?

        I have run training for trade fair exibitioners for a long time and basically everyone have the same apprehension about really reaching out. But let me ask you this as i guess you all are gamers at heart. If you are at a gaming convention and as you walk around someone would say to you, “Hey have you ever played an RPG as a robot?” Would you be offended? I know i would be intriqued.

        It isn’t at all about being an annoying sonuvabitch… It’s about sharing something fun with people of a similar frame of mind and interests as you, because if they did not share any of those things, they would not be there in the first place.

        Try to set some goals for the next event. Not in terms of monetary turnover, you are simply not quite there yet, but set the goal to be presentations held, people talked to, litterture handed out, e-mails taken or something along those lines.

        Create some ways to measure success by and the dynamic will be different.

        Have fun!

        1. Thanks for the advice.

          Its not an apprehension about approaching people that is a problem. I’ve been selling at these sort of events for 20 years and got over any embarrassment a long time ago.

          It simply that tactics that work in a trade fair with 1000s of new visitors everyday do not work when you are trapped in a hotel with the same 100 gamers for a weekend.

          The table provides a base and focus for our efforts at a convention. When we run demo games, it is somewhere we can take interested customer back to. When we chat to people in the bar, we can tell them where to find us in the morning. And when we aren’t there, it is an advertisement and chance gives people a chance browse.

          Its about using the right tactics for the right setting.

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