[NiiftL] Can Anime Expo become a trade show?

It’s been a week after the psychotic expedition that was Anime Expo, and everything is coming together in terms of post-con information. This year’s AX exceeded 100k mark, another increase from last year. There have been few reviews, including ours, of Anime Expo. One of the interesting review I found was Mission Start Podcast’s review of the convention, written by Jeremy Wilson. When you have time, check it out. The review covers many aspects, some even we weren’t able to cover. The last part of that review is what interested me, where it mentions Anime Expo slowly becoming a trade show. Which brings up the question, can Anime Expo maintain a trade show format in the similar vein of E3 or San Diego Comic-Con?


There are two ways to see this issue:

It is possible because:

  • Industry Connection

Make no mistake about it, even on its worst day, Anime Expo still has the most anime industry connection in the West coast convention circle. They were even able to contact Anison, which in itself is a huge feat. Being one of the oldest anime convention in the existence, couple that with located in Southern California, Anime Expo can bring out amazing guests one way or another. Perhaps now that they have reached 100K, they can bring in some more industry booths to their fray.

  • History

Out of all the California anime conventions, Anime Expo has the deepest root within the community that started back in 1992. Sometimes, being an old guard of certain business has its benefits, where you are more likely to come up in conversation than any others. That puts Anime Expo in a comfortable area where they can grow exponentially due to consistent hype and visibility.


It is NOT possible because:

  • The Location

This is one of the main reason why Anime Expo will have hard time growing after this year. LA Convention Center area is terrible for the type of convention AX currently is. Because Downtown LA is predominantly business district, the traffic is terrible. Making it worse is the occasional movie/TV filming that occurs in the area, which can shut down a block or two easily. In addition, there aren’t many viable hotel options within the area. About half of the hotels within the walking area aren’t up to modern standard (I’m looking at you, Figueroa), and the hotels within the walking areas are balls-out expensive.

Worst of all, LACC is not built for 100K and above attendance. The convention itself stands at about 720K Sq Ft, as opposed to San Diego Convention Center’s 2.6 Million Sq Ft and Anaheim Convention Center’s 1.6 Million Sq Ft. Those that attended Anime Expo this year could’ve felt it, the sheer sense of claustrophobia and chaotic foot traffic within the convention center. 50K more attendees and you could have fire marshal shut down the whole event, and that will not look good on AX anyway you look at it.

  • Lack of Volunteers

100K attendees are no joke, and requires a lot of guidance and support. Unfortunately, Anime Expo seem to have trouble getting enough volunteers for the last few years. This year, Anime Expo was 100 volunteers short of ideal amount, and many people had to work overtime after overtime to compensate for it. The end result was disorganization on the floor, miscommunication among AX staff, and even tempers flaring between few volunteers and attendees. If there was ever a time for SPJA to address their volunteers problem, now would be a good time.

  • Stability

SPJA headquarter seem to have a revolving door, because there seems to be turnover internally each year. This year had Marc Perez suddenly resign, and Ray Chiang took over few months before Anime Expo. In addition, several key staff members left their post for unknown reason and it seems the change affected some parts of AX programming greatly.

  • Anime fans’ mentality

Anime fans have different mentality than that of general trade show or San Diego Comic-Con attendees. Their focus isn’t grandeur of industry booth and new anime trailers, although those are very nice bonus. They tend to put more focus on friends and community, participating in community generated events such as photoshoots and cosplay gatherings. One of the huge complaints for AX this year was that people had to plan out their convention routines a week before the con. To many, it was no longer a place where fans can come in, hang out with friends, stop by few panels, and have a great 4th of July weekend. It was a grueling work, where you had to decide which panels to go to, stand in autograph line from 1am just to meet their favorite voice actor, trudge through the congested hallway, miss out on catching up with friends because of plans, and more. I have seen several close friends already saying they might not attend next year’s AX , because fun isn’t there anymore.


In conclusion

Anime Expo needs to figure out the fine middle ground if they want to grow or at least maintain what they have. Because they cannot turn into full-fledged trade show with current issues. If they really do want to grow, they need to abandon LACC somehow. At the same time, they cannot alienate core fan base that made them what they are today. As long as they remember that this is not average convention attendees they are not dealing with, they may still have pulse for years to come.

– Stan

stan @ scarlet-rhapsody.com

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