Friday, August 28, 2015

Why are Large Anime Conventions Growing?

Convention growth 2015 (Year over year)
San Japan: +25.2%
A-Kon: +17.9%
Anime North: +5.2%
Anime Expo: +13.1%
Anime Central: +3.4%
AnimeNEXT: +21.4%
Otakon: -17.4%
AnimazeMent: +0.2%
SakuraCon: +0.3%

Anime Expo 2015 had 90,500 unique attendees
With September coming along fast, most of the big conventions have completed their run for 2015. When you look at this list of over 10,000 attendee conventions, there seems to be a common trend among these large conventions. The trend is that Anime Conventions are increasing by impressive percentages in 2015 (save for Otakon, I will explore that topic on another post). That leads me to the big question, why are the big anime conventions growing so fast in the United States. I will explore why anime conventions are going in an upward trend in the last two years.

When you look at the anime industry, anime seems to be going through a little mainstream revival in North America. Anime is now seen on programming blocks in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim again. To accommodate for the growing need of instant anime, multiple streaming sources have emerged as legitimate, legal ways to view anime. Daisuki is a free streaming service that is a consortium of anime studios publishing anime in foreign markets. Improving their services, Crunchyroll and Funimation are licensing a majority of current seasonal anime. For the streaming sites, anime is readily available in English 1 day after release in Japan. The easy accessibility of anime makes it easier than ever to become a fan of the hobby. There is also a wider variety of places to watch anime, whether it is TV, computers, tablets, smartphones, and video game consoles.

Being a fan of anime is now mainstream and socially acceptable. The same wave of “nerd cool” that led to the popularity of comic books and comic book movies have captured the medium of Japanese Animation. What used to be a social taboo are now more socially acceptable thanks to 30+ years of exposure. Once could argue that the level of social acceptability of anime and manga is higher than most markets, save for maybe France in Europe. When something is considered socially acceptable, people are more likely to go to events that celebrate it, and bring in friends who may have casual or even tangential interest in the storytelling medium.

Cosplay in Anime Cons
What makes an anime convention grow? Talking with many of my convention-running friends, the variety of responses tells me that there is no “secret sauce” to success and long-term growth. In general, a convention gains a growth momentum if a majority of fans who attended the convention had a great time. While there is always a natural attrition rate of people who stop attending an anime convention because they moved on, or they personally had a bad experience. As long as the number of people coming back and the number of new attendees outpace the attrition rate, the convention is growing. It takes a combination of good mindshare, a mastery of the local (and national market) needs, good marketing, and momentum that leads to growth.

The important part I have to stress is that this topic generally focuses on large conventions with over 10,000 attendees. When you go to smaller and midsized anime conventions, the dynamic between attendance growth is vastly different than a large convention. Looking at the small convention and midsized convention landscape, the market has not really changed much. There are many conventions that fail; in the year Anime Expo hit 90,500 unique attendees, Japan Expo USA, Anime Vegas, and several others shut down with several others in danger of shutting down before the end of 2015. There are many smaller and midsized conventions failing or dying, but many new ones are sprouting up to replace them.

In the end, we seem to be in a period where established large anime conventions are having very good years. It is easier than ever to see the newest anime on television, on a computer, or a tablet. Like with comic books, the “cool nerd” factor seems to have a net positive effect on the perception of the Japanese Animation industry. Of course, there is no secret to success, each convention is its own case study for success, what will work in one market will not work in another. Finally yet importantly, almost across the board, large anime conventions are growing, but when it comes to small and midsized anime conventions, there is more or a normal distribution of conventions who fail and who succeed and become future mega-conventions.

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