New York! New York?

The first sign that this expedition is not going to be all smooth sailing was when we checked into our Bronx Airbnb and found another man sleeping in one of the apartment’s rooms. That resulted in a quick check on our Airbnb listing to see if we have booked an apartment or a room. And even if we booked a room by mistake, where are all the other beds promised in the listing.

It turns out that ‘room’ was listed somewhere in the listing and we managed to dig out an inflatable mattress that even at its max inflation, slowly and surely deflates over the night. That will be how I slept for the rest of the week. Just like the convention we were here for, it started out promising but slowly deflates as the hours go by.

Flying the American flag up high.

By now, you would have read about Anime Fest @ NYCC. Anime News Network even ran an article about it that includes some choice quotations from us. However, it did not include some of the suggestions that I wrote within the email. Thus, it felt adequate for me to have a full blog post here to tell our story.

We were so young then.

As a disclaimer, CDS is the illustration studio that has worked on both the artworks for Anime Expo AND this inaugural Anime Fest. We know the organizers ourselves and we already have given most of the feedback to them privately. Before I sent out the email to Ms. Lynzee, I even gave the heads-up to Reedpop’s Global Director of Business Development. We should be as frank as possible so that the organizers can receive all the feedback and act accordingly.

CDS has always been interested in the idea of visiting a convention in New York. Anime Expo in Los Angeles was amazing. The Big Apple has to be just as awesome. So when the opportunity for us to participate in Anime Fest @ NYCC, we leaped at the chance. It made sense after all. We drew the key visual for it and we knew people in New York we wanted to meet. We thought that we will be able to enjoy similar footfall as NYCC. The combination of Anime Expo and NYCC has to be a winning combination.

Humble Brag

We were aware that Anime Fest @ NYCC convention in NYC would be located away from Javits Center at a different location but was not expecting both locations to be a mile apart. Some of us exhibitors probably thought that Anime Fest was a physical part of the NYCC convention, rather than a separate event. We were unaware of the condition of Pier 94 though. During our set-up, the warehouse feel to it reminded me of other Sunday bazaars that we’ve visited in the US before. However, despite its run-down feel, we thought that it can work out.

Very warehouse. I think the organizers should consider owning it and going full indie.

On hindsight, it was a case of severe miscommunication and heightened expectations among everyone that caused the fallout.

On Day 1 of the convention (Thursday, October 4th), we realized that the convention may not have been what we thought it was. Attendance was dismal and you could feel the heavy air of disappointment among those in the hall. A good number of booths actually packed up early and left. You can tell that the organizers (and definitely the person in charge of the artist alley) were aware of our concerns and consistently tried to reassure us that things would improve over the weekend.

The start of Day 1 is not encouraging. Not when even fellow exhibitors were kinda half-arsed about it.

Well, things did improve over the weekend. Especially on Saturday, October 6th, we saw significant foot traffic. I heard that at one point, Pier 94 even approached maximum capacity. However, the maximum capacity of Pier 94 happened to be 6500, which was nowhere near the kind of foot traffic you would expect from an NYCC-affiliated event, as NYCC averages six-digit attendance each year. Due to the distance between the two convention venues, NYCC cannibalized its own audience of potential Anime Fest attendees.

Photo of booths opposite us on Sunday, 11am. Good artists but obviously low in morale.

We (and probably other exhibitors) expected to enjoy incredible foot traffic. After all, despite being a first-time convention, the event had both AX’s and NYCC’s strong branding attached to it. With Anime Fest @ NYCC and NYCC happening in the same city and dates, though not the same venue, we expected visitor cross-pollination so that Anime Fest @ NYCC would have a good number of attendees coming in from NYCC.

That didn’t happen.

It totally stings that as an exhibitor here trying our best to maintain a cheery front, we know that 20 minutes away, NYCC was where you really want to be. It was fortunate that things picked up slightly over the weekend but it might be too little, too late by then. We discussed about it ourselves on those long, cold walks down Hell’s Kitchen and we came up with some analysis of our own regarding the event.

Lack of a unique selling point

To attendees, there was nothing unique about Anime Fest @ NYCC that NYCC did not already have. In fact, NYCC had significantly more anime-related content and Anime Fest is the convention with ‘anime’ attached to the name. The only prominent anime presences at Pier 94 were Good Smile Company and Bili Bili — which could also be found at NYCC. I think your average US fan would naturally choose to visit the convention featuring content with Dragonball, One Piece, and Boku no Hero Academia.

A Metro article about NYCC said:

“We’re not removing any anime content from New York Comic Con at all, this is simply an additive thing,” Armstrong notes. “A lot of the anime content creators, they value being able to target a broader pop culture audience like we have at New York Comic Con, but we weren’t really giving them an opportunity to hypertarget the hardcore anime fans.”

It sounds like Reedpop wanted to have their cake and eat it. As far as we could tell, there wasn’t any content in Anime Fest to target hardcore anime fans; most hardcore fans would make a beeline for NYCC.

Poor event planning knowledge despite experienced organizers

The concept of Anime Fest @ NYCC had much potential. Both the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation and Reedpop are extremely experienced and connected organizations when it comes to organizing successful events. With the NYCC brand attached to Anime Fest @ NYCC, people associated Anime Fest with NYCC and had high expectations, so the small number of exclusive content offerings at the showground disappointed. Anime Fest @ NYCC needed to have an exclusive, niche, anime-targeted content, and offer something other conventions, including and especially NYCC, cannot offer.

Anime Fest @ NYCC neither leveraged on the strengths of the NYCC brand nor managed to redirect human traffic from the ongoing NYCC. A solution might be to either have Anime Fest take place on a different date (someone at the Q&A session suggested spring) or to simply move Anime Fest into Javits Center. Maybe even do both!

Lessons learned

On my end, we made a loss of a couple of thousand USD from our preliminary count. In a shameless, desperate move, we even contacted the organizers on Friday to request if there is a possibility of moving us to NYCC for the weekend instead. It was a no go since NYCC is fully sold out in terms of booth.

To make up for our lack of sales, we quickly took up offers from Graphixly to do a live drawing demo and panel on Saturday.

All things considered, I attribute our financial loss to our unique situation, with a high initial cost including our flights from Singapore, accommodation, and transportation costs. It’s been an expensive lesson for Collateral Damage Studios and I can only lick our wounds while seeing this in as positive a light as possible.

However, it is important to note that as an event, even if they did not deliver the foot fall that we have hoped, Anime Fest @ NYCC was decent. While it was nothing to rave about, CDS enjoyed decent returns on Saturday. Unlike us, exhibitors based in New York would incur fewer costs and even profit from the event.

In conclusion, Anime Fest @ NYCC made for a good local event. If it had been organized by a first-time event organizer, it might even be considered a success. However, with the pedigree of the organizers involved, the event was held to a much higher standard but could not hold up.

I am not sure if Anime Fest @ NYCC will happen again. The organizers themselves were coy about it. Response to the convention were mixed. Of course, the negative press would be more visible. That said, there were plenty of attendees who enjoyed it as well. There were things that were done well and those were good places to start building on.

There are more tweets like this.

I do think that moving forward, the organizers of Anime Fest need to make a stance regarding the connection with NYCC. They need to either fully embrace it, which meant bringing Anime Fest back into the folds of NYCC and have them together at the same date and venue. OR they need to cut themselves off NYCC and go out on its own to build their own brand of convention for anime fans. That will meant doing things significantly different and even competing with their own flagship convention, NYCC.

CDS is in the business of illustration, not marketing nor events organizing. However, it is our hope that Reedpop and SPJA will take our feedback into consideration for future editions of the event.

As for the rest of our New York expedition, it was really really interesting. It was our first time in New York so everything was new to us. We visited the Met and the Natural History Museum. Since the Daily Show’s studio was so close to Pier 94, we even managed to queue up and get tickets for the show!

He didn’t though. Would have given him so many prints if he did.

There happened to be the Decolonize The Museum movement going on when we visited on the 8th Oct. It was an important lesson to re-contextualize the anthropological displays within the museum to reflect a more modern, progressive view.

In the end, once I’m past all those stages of grief, I consider it to be a really good, even if expensive af, holiday for us. It will be nice to be back again under better circumstances.

Finally, I’ll like to thank the following.

Dan of IOEA for keeping us company and for those insightful chats that helped give us a more nuanced view of the convention.

Fahim of Graphixly for giving us those opportunities to showcase ourselves at yours and WACOM booth. Thank you for giving Space Penguin a taste of the actual NYCC itself!

The Geekly Grind for interviewing us. You can read about the interview here.

George of Heroes by Design for coming all the way here to meet up! Thank you for taking up some of the prints from us. Here’s to an awesome experience for you at Anime NYC.

Our fellow exhibitors such as Jason for making the long wait a little more bearable.

The staff and crew of Anime Fest @ NYCC such as Jason Bisonnette who did everything they can to make sure that things ran smoothly for us.

And finally, our friends within the Anime Fest @ NYCC organizing team. We might criticize the event but I am glad to have caught up with you. If you want more of our feedback, we’ll be happy to do so privately so that together, we can make Anime Fest even better next time round.

At least there’s this. Our Moment of Zen.