As many of our friends and fans know, we’ve been a vendor at Hal-Con now for 7 years. This would have been 8, except… I’ve finally reached my limit.
To start with, please know that we have loved our time at the con for the last 7 years and that we appreciate our friends and supporters and this was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make. But as you’ll notice, we won’t be attending Hal-Con this year and unless things change, we won’t be back.
We’ve already received messages from some of you asking why we aren’t on the vendor list and some already know about our story, but I wanted to say something publicly because Hal-Con doesn’t seem to get it.
Hal-Con has always said that the vendor registrations are selected to give the most variety to attendees and to minimize duplication and allow the most diverse group of vendors possible. To be completely clear, I 100% support this philosophy. My first year at Hal-Con, we rented 2 table spaces and ended up crammed next to a catering table on the top floor of the WHCC. We had a complete *blast* and our space cost a total of $160.
The problems started four years ago and I’m telling this part of the story from memory, so it may not be 100% accurate.
In 2015, we booked 2 booths, for the first time because the vendor team said they couldn’t accommodate the crowd at our booth and the new layout didn’t leave us a corner somewhere that we could be out of the way and still have some visibility. Then, a couple of months before the con that year, we learned that the booths, due to this “new layout” would be restricted to 8×8 feet. My booth requires at least 10-12 feet across to accommodate the 9 foot green or blue roll of seamless paper and the stands. So we asked about possibly expanding to 3 and were told that “policy” restricted rentals to only 2 spaces so they would be happy to give us back our rental fee that had already been paid. While I took a day or two to consider our options, I received an email from PayPal informing me of a refund being issued. Now I had zero booth space and because the space was cancelled, we lost our vendor passes. Since Hal-Con was sold out at this point, we couldn’t even attend!!
That was the year I decided to hold green screen photo sessions down the street at my rental studio on Barrington St. just a few blocks from the con. We booked many of our regulars and still had a fun time although the studio rental far outweighed any income from the limited number of sessions we made time to accommodate. Studio rental that year cost $450. Again, this isn’t something we do to get rich. We just love the people, personalities and cosplays as well as being a part of the community that much.
Then, after much consideration, three years ago, we once again secured space at the end of one of the side aisles where there would be a “little extra” room at the end if we needed it.
Well, 2 other photo booth equipped vendors popped up on the vendor floor that year. Both offering “free selfies” to anyone who stopped into their booth. One as a ploy to get you into a booth to recruit for an insurance company call center and the other for a “donation” to their cause. When I talked to the vendor team, their response was confusing – “We didn’t know, but don’t worry, you’re the only one doing green screen.” My booth space that year cost about $750.
Last year, the first at the new Nova Center, I had no real choice except to take a “Premium” booth space at a significant premium over the “regular” space fees. Just around the corner from me was a group offering photos in a beautifully detailed and full size Death Star dungeon for a donation. But again, I’m “the only one offering Green Screen.”
My booth space cost $1150.
So far, I know, it sounds like I’m complaining about other vendors. Sadly, these other photo booths aren’t really the problem. There is some truth to the “You’re the only one doing green screen” argument.
It’s true that some people, even whole families, come to the con, specifically to see us and we absolutely LOVE you for that. I cannot tell you how much all your continued support has meant to us over the years. It’s been a blessing and we love you all. 🙂
So, other photo booth vendors are a tiny part of the problem,really, just the first sign of a vendor team with conflicting mandates.
There have always been “photographers” on the con floor taking pictures and sharing them all over the internet. After all, cosplay has become a major attraction to cons around the world! The first truly significant problem started 3 years ago when quite a few photographers started booking “off-site” cosplay photo sessions and advertising them in the Hal-Con Facebook page. As I recall, even one or two from outside of Halifax chose to come to town and book sessions during Hal-Con.
As an “official” vendor, we get one “shout out” in the weeks leading up to the con and we can buy space in the program book and while at the WTCC space could be had on the jumbotron. When I started seeing photographers offering to book photo shoots outside the con location around downtown for ridiculously low fees on the Hal-Con official page, I complained to Hal-Con. Their response was “Sorry, we can’t control it.”
My response was “Seriously? It’s your page!?!?!”
Over the last couple of years, it’s gotten worse. To the point that now there’s even an entire “unofficial” page where “Cosplayers and photographers can plan for meetups and book photo shoots!”
To be clear, I’m a photographer and I’ve been in business for 11 years now, so I understand that we need to hustle to earn a living and cover the bills. I’ve actually got no problem with photographers earning a living. None. There are some incredible cosplay photographers in this city and I’m a fan of their work.
I’ve been told everything from “Chill dude!” to “Why is this really a bad thing?” to “Suck it up princess!”
Some of these comments came from my photography peers and family and some from cosplayers and con attendees. I don’t think I’m the bad guy here and I get that people want options. I do. So let me lay out some facts and details for you…
This year, once again, Hal-Con reduced their booth sizes to 8 feet x 8 feet. So, in order to fit my green screen and two editing stations, I either need to pay the upgraded fee for two “premium” 10 foot x 10 foot spaces or book three 8×8 spaces. In any case, my booth this year would have cost me at least $1350. Nearly double the cost from three years ago.
I have a staff that I need to help at our booth. If you’ve been to the con and dropped by, you know how busy we get and I personally love to take the time to talk with *every* person who comes in for a photo. Last year was our first price increase in 5 years. We were charging $25 plus tax for an 8.5×11 print while you waited. The last 4 years have been $25 *including* HST, so about a 15% increase.
At Hal-Con 2018, we sold about 150 print and digital images over the course of the weekend and in all honesty, we brought in just about $4000 in sales.
With a staff of 4 people who I pay $15 an hour – because I want to pay them fairly and minimum wage isn’t exactly fair – I paid out $2100 in salaries to my staff. I paid $1150 in booth fees and between paper, ink, software, computer and camera lease, coffee, breakfast for my staff, gas and parking, I paid another $600 in expenses and submitted $600 in HST to the government for a total output of $4450.
Resulting in a net loss to attend Hal-Con last year of $450. Oh, and I’m not included in the 4 staff number either, so to be clear, I didn’t pay myself anything since there was nothing left to be paid. So I *obviously* don’t do this for the money.
But here’s the problem…
You’ve got all these photographers running around offering cosplay photos during the con and not a single one of them is paying a fee as a vendor to support the con. Not one. Some are at least buying a pass, but some aren’t even buying a ticket! They are meeting their clients off-site and shooting at locations around the city. Hal-Con doesn’t get a single penny or any benefit at all from them. Yet my booth fees keep climbing and my space keeps getting smaller as they cram in more and more vendors.
Yet there’s *nothing* they can do.
I completely get that people don’t have a lot of money and these deals for cheap photo shoots help spread that limited budget around, but if these photographers aren’t supporting the con itself by paying vendor fees, and the the vendor spaces keep increasing in cost, how am I supposed to be able to offer a fairly priced product that people can afford and still pay my expenses?
I’ve emailed the vendor team this year asking for clarification and have received no response to date.
So, as the late Frank Zappa sang, “the crux of the biscuit” – at least until until the management and vendor team figures out how to control this – is that I simply cannot support them going forward.
Finally, I truly want you, our friends and supporters to know, we would not take back any of our experiences over the last 7 years and we *love* all the people we got to meet and know at Hal-Con. I truly hope you enjoy the guests, companionship and friends at Hal-Con this year.