True story: A publisher made a deal to produce comics and posters featuring a popular YouTube celebrity. Glass House Graphics created 10 painted covers for the project. Because the celeb agreed to attend Comic-Con and spend the whole time signing at the booth, the publisher decided to release all the images as retail posters.

“We’ll make a million dollars at the Con!” the publisher told me during an in-person meeting.

I couldn’t find words at that moment. Seeing the look of confusion on my face, he explained further. “I’ll print them in China, air freight them in directly to the Con. I’ll even create a massive new booth with the celeb’s face gigantic on it. Ten posters, we’ll print 10,000 of each.”

“Jesus, that’s a lot of expense,” I said, running likely numbers in my head. “A new booth, airfreight shipping, the event’s Union costs to set it up, the drayage charges to store and forklift out that many posters….”

The publisher wasn’t hearing me. He was on a roll. “It’ll be $20 for one signed poster, a sliding scale, if they buy all 10 it’ll be $10 each, $100 for the set. We’ll move 100,000 posters at the show and make at least a million bucks.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Nope. I’d suggest printing 500 of each, maybe you’ll sell 5,000 total if you’re lucky,” I told him. “If he has time to sign any leftovers, you can sell them online later. Your math doesn’t match reality.”

“You’re an idiot,” he argued. “Of course it does.”

“The arithmetic…doesn’t…work,” I said, with deliberate emphasis. “The Convention is 10 hours a day, maybe four hours on Preview night. That’s 44 hours MAX. You’re expecting a lot for a celeb to be there every minute. Even if he intends to, he’ll have to break for lunch, to stretch his legs, bathroom breaks, probably have a meeting or two, some buddy will come by who he’ll need to chat with. It will all take away from his signing time.”

“I’m allowing for that. We’ll have hired staff to corral people through the line fast.”

“All right,” I said. “So someone goes through the line, selects a poster or two, pays for them, talks to the celeb, maybe hands him a gift, they chat for a few seconds, he makes a joke, they take a picture together, shake hands, then on to the next person. Their special moment, that’s maybe one minute.” I pulled out my phone and ran the calculator. “Sixty people an hour. In an ideal world, 44 hours x 60 people an hour is 2,650 people. If each buys a poster or two, you’ll MAYBE sell 5,000 posters at the outside.”

“You’re wrong,” he told me. “We’ll sell multiples.”

Of course, the publisher proceeded to do as he pleased: Pricey new booth, 100,000 posters air-freighted in at considerable expense, con staff expenses, celebrity costs, all of it.

After Comic-Con was over, I heard that roughly 4,800 posters got sold. While some of the 95,000+ leftover posters shipped to a warehouse, many were left on the convention floor to be trashed. The company imploded shortly thereafter.

And as you might suspect, the artists who painted those posters never received their comp copies OR a dime of their contracted royalties for the ones that did sell.


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