This week the entire geek industry is decamping for its annual pilgrimage to San Diego. Even in an era of booming con attendance and regional megashows, somehow nothing quite matches the manic energy of Comic-Con International.

For the past decade, the show has been more than a fan festival and an industry gathering. It’s the intersection point for the big trends shaping entertainment, publishing, media, technology and creativity. It’s also the best vantage point for examining where some of those trends might be headed.

At this year’s Con, I have the privilege of participating in a bunch of panels exploring these themes from various perspectives. I’ll also be presenting some brand new research that puts real numbers behind the explosion of convention culture and the changing face of fandom in the 21st century.

The Future of Geek. On Friday afternoon at 1:00, veteran industry-watcher Heidi MacDonald (The Beat), financial reporter Tim Beyers (Motley Fool)  and I will sit down with moderator John Siuntres (of The Word Balloon podcast) to explore what’s coming next in the business publishing, entertainment and conventions.  Our methodology is simple:  we’ll follow the money.

Tim tracks the financial performance of the entertainment giants that control the geek industry at the highest levels, including Disney, Time Warner, Hasbro and Amazon. He’s got his ear to the ground about upcoming deals and new strategies that could reshape the business landscape in the next year.

Heidi not only has a perspective on publishing from her editorial role at Publishers Weekly, but has been working with data guru Brett Schenker on some Facebook analytics that trace fandom through social media and bust some long-standing myths about who likes what and why.

Finally, I’ll share the results of new market research from online ticketing platform Eventbrite, which recently surveyed more than 2600 fans on their attitudes and habits relating to convention attendance. This research sheds new light on who’s attending conventions, what genres they follow most closely, how much they spend on their fandom across retail and online channels as well as at the conventions themselves, and how they view the rise of giant conventions around the country. Anyone involved in the convention business, estimated at $600M in gross ticket sales alone (and a possible $5B total economic impact) might find this interesting.

Brands Gone Geek. The good folks at Bonfire Agency, an advertising and marketing firm specializing in helping brands reach the geek demographic, are hosting a panel at 4pm Friday, featuring agency principals Steve Rotterdam and Ed Catto, BOOM! Studio’s Flip Sablik, entertainment marketer Jeff Dellinger (Hero Complex), retailer Joe Field (Flying Colors), media strategist Kris Longo (Geek Riot Media), Heidi MacDonald and me.

There’s a pretty extensive set of perspectives represented on this panel and I hope we’ll have time for a good conversation. The volume of marketing around comics and related entertainment properties continues to rise, and the noise threatens to drown out the signal.

Marketing is also an area that’s becoming increasingly data-driven. I know Bonfire has good information on the size and value of the geek market and a ton of effective strategies that marketing and business pros of all stripes will appreciate.

Comics, Creativity and the Law. This panel, hosted by Marc Greenberg, a law professor at Golden Gate University and author of an upcoming book on intellectual property law as it relates to comics, is actually part of the Comic Arts Conference academic track but open to everyone. It’s on Thursday at noon.

Marc asked me to be part of the conversation because the legal framework under which creative enterprises operate has an enormous influence on the future trajectory of the business, and forthcoming social and technological innovations are advancing faster than current law can keep up. The agenda will include discussions of current issues including DC’s recent unfortunate assertion of trademark rights in a situation involving a memorial to a murdered child (a decision they since reconsidered); how small press and indy publishers might qualify for non-profit status under the law, and the ever-popular Kirby case.

There are also a bunch of panels that I’ll be enthusiastically attending from the audience, including several on the future of digital comics, crowdfunding, and comics journalism. And, oh yeah… a few on just plain comics!

San Diego Comic-Con may be a window into the future, but looking over my agenda, the biggest question in my immediate future is when I’ll find time to get any sleep!
Rob Salkowitz is author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture and a marketing consultant in Seattle. He has a business relationship with Eventbrite.