Are Anime Conventions Dying? Part 1

The number of anime conventions are shrinking. Is this a trend and if so, why?

We live in very interesting times. Anime conventions are no different, but they are getting the wrong type of excitement.  For the first time in modern recorded history1 the number of anime conventions will have shrunk from year-to-year. Granted, it is a small step back, but it undoes the growth from 2012 to 2013.

An empty pavilion in the Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre in Australia, before its use for Wai-con in 2012.(Image Source: Wai-con)

One could say it’s just an aberration, pointing out shows like Anime Expo pulling in record numbers, and pundits saying that cons are more popular than ever, despite what that might actually mean. Others, though, will say that this is another sign of what they already knew: the anime industry is doomed, and there’s little way to save it.

Who’s right? What do the numbers actually mean? I tried to find out for myself and drew some interesting conclusions, which I’ll take about over the course of these two articles. The second article will involve more complex math, but today we’ll keep it simple.

Methodology

All of the data I used was culled from the lists of conventions from animecons.com. For this article, I restricted myself to conventions in the United States that were strictly labeled as “anime conventions.2” Also, to prevent redundancies, in order for a con to count for a particular year, it had to begin in that year, so shows like MEW that consistently straddled New Year’s only counted for the old year and not the new.

Theory 1: Conventions are being cancelled

Sounds simple enough. Convention staff want to run but can’t. Shinkoukon would be a prime example of this situation, as would ConCerto, but for very different reasons.

1

Simply by measuring the number of conventions labeled with a “canceled” or “postponed” next to it, I found that the number of bailouts have been both consistent, and just as importantly, small. The number of bailouts this year (four) is the fewest I could find. There were 11 in 2010, 9 in three different years, 8 in 2008, and 5 in 2009. That’s about as steady as a rock.

You’ll note this chart only go back to 2007, even though animecons has data going back to 2001. That’s the first year for which a cancellation or postponement was recorded. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the data before then is inaccurate, but I find it just as likely that the records from 2001-2006 are incomplete than there being exactly zero last-minute issues with anime conventions during that frame.

2

Getting back on track, I plotted the number of bailouts separately, just for good measure. The thin line is a simple linear regression to show potential trends. Oddly enough, the number of cancellations seems to be decreasing.

Theory #2: No one wants just anime

Another potential explanation for the decrease in cons is that the attendees’ interests are changing. With stuff like the MCU, Game of Thrones, and let’s not talk about Homestuck, conventions are still around, just not anime ones.

3

For what I can tell, it’s a definite maybe. Removing the “anime” restriction shows that fan conventions in general aren’t doing as bad as just anime conventions, but there’s still some issues. The number of non-anime conventions tracked by AC increased 17% this year, and 74% since 2007, but the increases have come in sudden jumps rather than the consistent year-over-year increase like anime cons have. The yellow line tracks anime cons as a percentage of all shows (with the scale listed on the right), and that has been consistently hovering around 80%.

Of course, this is all assuming AC’s data is reliable, which I presume it isn’t for two reasons. First, as its name implies, it’s a site for anime conventions, so it’s likely to be prone to gaps in information. The second reason confirms the first, as I know of two series of events just in Pittsburgh that are omitted from AC’s listings. They aren’t new to the scene, and if there’s a reason for their exclusion, then we fall down a rabbit hole of trying to define what a “convention” truly is, and I really don’t want to do that, especially when this article is 800 words already. Long story short, there may be something to the theory of cons becoming non-anime, but there’s not enough data here to say anything definitive

So that’s two theories down, but that’s just looking at numbers superficially. Next time, we’ll look deeper and find out what the real story might be.

1-For all intents and purposes, “modern recorded history” will be everything from 2001 on. As the top image implies, Animecons.com does have records of earlier conventions, but as explained elsewhere in the article, I become more skeptical of data the older it gets.
2-So no San Diego Comic-Con, for example, or NYCC despite major anime-events happening there.