A few months ago, Eventbrite released the results of its fan survey on convention trends.  Though we've spent a lot of time talking about the top line results, there are some interesting bits buried deeper in the data that relate to a question much on the minds of the professional community these days: who's spending money at shows?

The big picture.  The Eventbrite poll was fielded in June, 2014 and surveyed over 2600 respondents who attended a fandom convention in the past two years.  The poll covered a number of topics, including frequency of attendance, duration of fandom, genres of interest to fans, and demographics.  Findings in this area include:
  • Upwards of 80% of respondents attended more than one fan event in the past 12 months.  20% attended five or more.
  • Most fans have been going to shows for 2-5 years.  13% report going for 10 or more years.
  • In terms of gender, the overall survey response rate was 45% female/55% male.  For fans age 30 or under, the breakdown was almost exactly 50/50.
Eventbrite also polled on spending habits.  Over 70% of survey respondents listed "buy stuff I'm interested in" as one of their top three reasons to attend a con--by far the most popular answer.  But who, exactly, is spending how much on what?

Convention attendees are mostly middle class.  The income levels reported by respondents to the Eventbrite survey roughly match the income distribution of the US at large.  47% reported income under $35,000; 26% were $35-60K; 14% were $61-90K, 8% reported $91-130K, and 5% were over $130,000 per year.

Income correlated closely with age: older fans are generally more affluent.  As a practical matter, this means that as convention crowds skew younger, they also skew poorer, and this might be one of the major drivers of exhibitor discontent.  From a certain point of view, dealers are reasonably nostalgic for a hobby that appeals to old codgers with deep pockets instead of all those darned kids with their selfies, their manga and their giant student debts.

Who's spending what where?  Eventbrite asked fans how much they spend on their fan interests per year in each of three channels: local retailer, online (including merchandise orders and digital downloads), and at conventions (not including travel, lodging, food and parking).

The majority of fans with incomes under $60,000 reported spending between $100 and $500 per year in each channel, spending slightly more at conventions than online, and slightly more online than at retail stores.

Interestingly, spending patterns do not change much at higher income levels.  Wealthier fans who drop $1000, $5000 or more on their interests per year still divide their spending roughly equally across retail, online and conventions.

This data suggests that fans walking the aisles of convention exhibit halls are just as likely to spend money at the booth as they are on the website or at the store.  Fans are coming to buy, and there is no evidence that they are using the convention floors as "showrooms" for later purchases.

Is there a gender distinction among buyers?  A lot of exhibitors seem to think so, but the data does not support that observation.  68% of women ranked "buy stuff I'm interested in" as a primary motivation for attending cons (the #1 answer among women) compared to 70% of men.  Not a big difference.

Among fans who spend $500 or less per year at conventions (the vast majority of survey respondents), men and women rank almost exactly even.  But as you move up the pyramid to those who spend $500-$10,000 per year at conventions, you will find many more women than men.  Men at those levels spend more online.  For the record, of the three people who admitted to spending more than $10,000 per year at conventions, two were female and one was male.

Let me repeat that.  The data from this survey shows that gender is only a measurable factor in that big spenders at conventions are more likely to be women than men.

Cosplayers: just consumers in disguise.  What about cosplayers?  The impact of cosplayers on convention culture demands its own post, and I defer to the expertise of those who specialize in this area of study for a more thorough analysis.  However, those who listed cosplay as their top reason for attending conventions in the Eventbrite study exhibited exactly the same spending behaviors as fans attending for all other reasons.

In fact, at the sweet spot level of $100-500 annual spending, cosplayers tend to spend slightly more at conventions than other fans.  They also report spending more or "way more" than they expected at conventions more often than fans in general.

What are people buying?  That's one question that the Eventbrite survey didn't get into explicitly and a place where more study is definitely needed.  The crowds flocking to cons today are clearly different than those of years' past, not just in their numbers but in the variety of their interests and their media appetites.

Collectors used to be a dependable constituency.  Now, for a variety of reasons, they clearly do not make up the majority of attendees and may not even turn up in numbers sufficient to support exhibitors at mainstream pop culture (as opposed to specialty collectible) shows.

What's replaced them, and what has replaced vintage collectibles on attendees shopping lists?  Celebrity autographs?  Publisher exclusives?  Fashion and merchandise?  Tattoo and body art?

Sounds like a question that would make for a good survey.

--Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, will be talking about this survey and other topics related to "The Con Explosion" with a great panel of execs and experts, moderated by Heidi MacDonald, at the ICv2 Conference--The New Comics Customer at the Javits Center in New York City on Wednesday, October 8th.  Click here for more info.  He has a business relationship with Eventbrite.