Mark Searby Exclaims: ‘The (Con) Job At The Con’

Pointing no fingers, telling no lies... Mark Searby has a story to tell. And, he suspects, it's one that has been repeated at conventions across the planet in recent years. The question he asks is, when are we going to put a stop to it?

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Last year, I attended the other-wise excellent and engaging MCM Comic Con, held at the enormous ExCel Centre in London, and I experienced something that caused me to stop and wonder if it was the new norm at conventions – it was also something that frustrated me greatly.

A whole raft of media guests of all shapes and sizes were on hand at this show – with one in particular, I was interested in getting them to sign a Blu-Ray of a film that they had starred in and I happen to own. This person is a horror legend and he/she have been in countless films and TV shows, and voiced many characters. It was a rare visit to the UK for them and, as such, I decided to take the opportunity to engage with them and possibly garner a personal scrawl on my own little item.

MCM Comic Con’s website said the autograph price would be £30 ($39). Okay, no problem: this person is worth paying that, I thought. However, as I approached the table, I spotted that there was a hand-scribbled sign behind the booth that stated: “Memorabilia £50”. Wait, what? What the hell??

What the heck was ‘memorabilia’, I thought, what defines that? Is it literally anything you show up to a table with – a Funko POP!, an action figure, And why is it twenty quid more expensive than an autograph? It turned out that, if you took your own item for this person to sign, it ended up that they were actually charging £50 ($63) for an autograph, the extra twenty quid on top. Okay, that’s a little better, I thought but still, I was surprised, I was gobsmacked – and I was not a little angry.

To make things worse, when I explained to the assigned person behind the table and handling the money that I only had £30, they replied with “Well, it is £50 if you want them to sign that Blu Ray. There is a cash point around the corner…” I explained that, on the MCM Comic Con website, it started that an autograph was £30 but the table assistant simply repeated and repeated that it was £50 for any memorabilia to be signed. Sigh. This was attitude that I just didn’t need.

We all have a rough idea of what we would pay to get an autograph with an individual at a convention. But when we have already invested in buying an item ourselves for them to sign, and then the guest punishing the fan by demanding extra money to sign it, it is not a good move on their part and I would hope would surely come back to haunt them.

It got me to thinking: when did this uplift become “a thing”? We, as fans, are already paying for an autograph – that’s understood, that’s the modern age of things – but to chuck on an extra twenty quid when bringing our own items for them to sign just reeks of money grabbing.

Having mentioned this to a few people in the aftermath, it seems this has happened at a few US cons as well (not with the same guest, I hasten to add, more across the board). Attendees find themselves being screwed out of additional cash by Special Guests at the table because they have personally bunked up the price of an autograph or photograph, often without the convention knowing. In that moment, we, as fans, have to make a split-second decision whether it is worth paying more.

The sad reality is that probably 99% of fans will agree to it because they don’t want to walk away from not getting an autograph, photo op, etc. In reality, however, I say we should walk away as that is hard earned cash that has been saved specifically for this occasion, but then been instantly fleeced of more money on the spot. You wouldn’t allow that to happen in most other walks of life so why do we allow it at a con?!

Okay, that’s a point we’ll all have come back to as a community some day – let’s quickly look back on how this despicable practice become a regular occurance in the first place. The simple answer as to why these Special Guests that are doing it is that they spot a stream of disposable income, seduced by the personality and the peer pressure at a convention, spied the easy extra money peeking out of the back pockets and they’ve jumped on it.

To me, this is bad business practice – not just for the Guest themselves but also for con culture on a whole. (Leonard: I’ll add here, as an example from a few years ago, of when a certain US actress stipulated a set of ‘no touching’ boundaries on photo shoots and ended up looking miserable in all the photos taken that day. Social media lit up like a Christmas tree and her reputation – and that of the convention she was appearing at – was set, for life. The point it: word travels fast.) It also puts a dampener on fandom to those actors, personalities, etc. that are mercilessly – and unapologetically – fleecing the fans for more.

In this particular instance, my admiration for the person in question has gone way down, it’s retrogradely tarnished my opinion of this person’s work and, quite frankly, I also have no interest in supporting their future output if they are going to treat fans at conventions with such disdain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9AbeALNVkk

DISCLAIMER: We reached out to MCM Comic Con repeatedly for a statement on this article, and the practices of the personality involved: we have received no response at time of publication.

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