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 @ 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
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.
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?
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.