How You Can Make Money on the Convention Circuit

A group of people dressed up as anime characters pose for a photo at a convention center.
Anime fans in costumes pose for photos at the annual Anime Expo held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown Los Angeles. The expo, which celebrates Japanese animation and comic book culture. Richard Vogel/AP Photo

If you’re a member of a large fandom, you may have attended a convention before. These often are huge events that draw in hundreds of thousands of people and serve as landmark events for their respective fandoms. While they are fun, you can also make money on the convention circuit.

The biggest and most well known conventions include events like Comic-Con, held in San Diego. It has grown from exclusively serving comic book fans to catering to the biggest parts of pop culture. The Anime Expo in Los Angeles caters to all Anime fandoms, and E3 was the biggest video game exposition of the year.

More than Fun: Make Money on the Convention Circuit

People love these events because they can come together to share their love of a shared interest or hobby. Another perk is that major companies often will use these conventions to showcase their latest products. Celebrities may attend the events and panels, and if you know how to work the convention floor, you can walk away with a tidy profit. Creative types, artists and enterprising fans of all stripes can make money on the convention circuit. Here are some of the ways they do it.

The Dealer’s Table

While not all conventions have this particular space, most do. It goes by many names — the Dealer’s Den, Artists’ Alley, Vendors’ Space, etc. This is where independent creators can sell fan art or original merchandise related to the convention. It is, one might say, the conventional way of making money during a convention.

There are rules and costs associated with it, however. First of all, the Artists’ Alley is the only space where people are allowed to sell their own merchandise. Trying to set up a space to sell items anywhere else can usually get you the boot. Almost every convention also will require you to buy tickets, and you’ll pay extra fees to run your own booth or reserve your own space.

These prices, on top of the price for tickets, most commonly are around $300 and $400. However, some smaller conventions may price their booths as low as $50. You may also need to send in an application and to get approval for what you plan to sell. If you have a knack for the creative and a love for a specific fandom, you may want to consider buying a booth.

Once you deal with these costs, there are nearly limitless possibilities of what you can sell. Illustrators offer sketches, art books or personalized commissions, but there is a wide range of items that people can sell.

Custom pins and buttons with popular characters are popular at the Anime Expo. Custom-made dice are popular at Gen Con, the biggest convention for tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. So are leather goods, custom T-shirts with original designs and figurines.

Overall, small items that are easy to carry around are going to be best sellers. Creating something eye-catching that’s reasonably priced will help you create the most profit. These can include prints, original figurines, pins and buttons. Some people sell themed baked goods and custom-made props from popular franchises.

Costs of Cosplay

One of the more popular activities at conventions, especially ones that revolve around specific franchises such as Disney’s own D23 event, is cosplay. Cosplay, a portmanteau of costume play, involves spending the day dressed as a popular character or pop culture icon. These costumes are often very elaborate. Some conventions, such as Blizzard’s Blizzcon, hold costume contests, some with prizes worth thousands of dollars.

And if you are a master costume designer, winning that prize money would be nice, but you make the real money selling to the contestants. If you have a talent in sewing, design, metal work or leather work, advertising your products or looking for commissions around popular events can help you make money on the convention circuit.

The average costume can vary in price, but larger commissions for complex outfits sell for as much as $500 to $1000. If you would rather do only a few, larger commissions, this may be a good time for you to do business.

The community built around cosplay is large, passionate and open. As it is a community built around freelancers often working together, transparency is important. Many people are willing to offer helpful advice and stories of their own experience.

Through Networking

If you can’t reserve a spot at the Artists’ Alley but still want to attend, there are still opportunities to advance your career. Many companies and industry professionals will have vested interests in these conventions and host events and discussion panels. Smaller companies also may rent booths to sell products to attendees and scout new talent.

Youtube’s own convention, Vidcon, will often have representatives from large companies looking to sponsor channels. Other conventions, such as the previously mentioned Gen Con, also will present opportunities for artists and writers that could be hired on to create material for Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons, or Paizo, the company that owns the Pathfinder tabletop roleplay game.

Other vendors may discuss working with other creators as well. People who attend conventions often are there to be social and see what new things are coming out of their chosen community, so if you have an idea to pitch, you can’t do much better for a venue and friendly audience.

Opportunities Outside the Convention Center

Like any large annual event, a popular convention is going to bring thousands of people into an area, which usually means an uptick for the service and hospitality industries. Hotel rooms will fill up very fast in the immediate area, and restaurants will also get a lot more business. If you’re in the gig economy, this can leave you with many opportunities to make money on the convention circuit.

Do you work for Doordash or Uber? Snatch up hours around the convention center. It’s going to be much busier than usual and orders will be everywhere, especially as tired con attendees want to order in or need a quick ride to a restaurant.

You also can rent out your home on a service like Vrbo or Airbnb. Hotel rooms will sell out quickly for large conventions. If you’re willing to rent out a room for a weekend to a major anime or comic book fan, you will be all set.

Conventions are more than opportunities to meet up with friends or see the latest updates to a favorite franchise. It’s also a challenge to turn a profit for anyone in an enterprising mood.

William Fewox has worked as a freelance writer since 2017, and his work is featured in literary magazines such as The Aquarian, The Navigator and The Historian. He has also self-published a handful of novels.