Otakon Is Looking Out For Us!

If I’m to take the internet at all seriously, Otakon changed their membership offerings to better suit the needs of their fans. If so, why does it feel like Otakon is alienating us? Posts on Twitter indicate that con-goers feel both positive and negative about the new structure. To me, it always seemed like it was a perk that Otakon offered one type of membership that I could get a discount if I purchased early. This year; however, Otakon is taking a new approach

I’ve definitely heard mumblings in the past that Otakon should offer cheaper entry for people who just want to enjoy a day or two of the con. One year I had a friend who lost his pass on Saturday and had to purchase a new three day at full price (Otakon did offer a refund when his original membership ID surfaced in the lost and found) so he could see a panel on Sunday. I bet he would have liked the opportunity to buy a one day or two-day membership given his situation at the time. 

New Membership Options Are Welcome but…

While the new membership options are nice since I’ve been limiting my own Otakon attendance in recent years, I don’t understand what they intend to accomplish from the new pricing structure. I used to attend all three days, late into the night, and I enjoyed it. Now I spend most of Friday wandering around the city and I try to be out of the convention by 4 PM on Saturday so I can spend more time “vacationing.”

A cure for this wouldn’t be a new pricing structure, but to have new content. In reality, Otakon is a popular convention because many North Easterners find it to be a fun opportunity to head down south for a vacation. It’s not incredibly unique when you realize we have Katsucon, Anime Next, Anime Boston, Anime NYC, and a few other conventions that pepper the east coast. I hate to say it, but even some publishers don’t think Otakon is that important and prefer to save their marketing dollars for Sakura-Con. So how can we change that? I don’t want to see Otakon go away, but there has been a drop in attendance and the con has struggled to break 35k in unique membership purchases. Every year I continue to hear from people on social media that they want to go to Otakon but can’t because “it’s not worth it.” 

We know that Otakon introduced more options to improve their attendance numbers because the bottom line is all that matters. I don’t mean to say this to be mean, I’m just being realistic about the nature of the business. Nonprofits aren’t protected from the cruelty of inflation but neither are the fans. It’s no secret that Otakon’s attendance reached a peak in 2013 and has declined since, with an uptick in 2016 (likely because of people wanting to enjoy one last Otakon in Baltimore) followed by a drop after the move to Washington, D.C. If Otakon is looking to recover from the move and encourage higher attendance rates than they need to seriously rethink their new pricing structure.

Otakon’s 2018 Membership Offerings

As it stands, for 2018 you can get the following memberships:

  • Early Bird Full Weekend: $85
  • Regular rate: $95
  • Partial Weekend Saturday to Sunday: $70
  • Sunday Only: $40
  • At the door: $100 (I assume this is for the Full Weekend)


Now, as I mentioned, I assume this is to improve attendance numbers, thus increasing the gold in the Otakon chest to justify continuing this event every year. Based on the attendance numbers from previous years, I don’t see this pricing structure improving attendance. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make sense. Sunday only kind of makes sense, but not really. Let’s start with the Early Bird and Partial Weekend memberships. They’re $85 and $70 which doesn’t seem so bad until you roll back to Otakon’s previous membership pricing. 

Let’s go back to 2014, one year after Otakon’s best year. They offered one membership with the above pricing structure. They kept the same pricing structure as in 2013, their best year ever based on membership purchases. In 2015 Otakon increased rates, explaining:

“This year, returning members will see a rate increase of $10, while new members will pay $15 more than last year. If we can find and verify an existing registration for you, you will get the discount. The primary reason for the increase is the rising cost of running Otakon and other events, as well as the organization that powers them. While it is a large rate increase, it is not an altogether unexpected one. We have historically raised rates every 2-3 years. This rate increase ensures we remain steady financially as we prepare for the move to Washington DC and manage the growing costs associated with putting on the best events we can.

We are also providing more incentives for early registration to encourage continuity of membership and up-to-date membership information. Pre-registration is generally faster and more efficient for everyone, and saves the organization money by providing more accurate attendance estimates. This is why we are offering the $5 discount to anyone who renews their existing membership. We strongly encourage prior-year members to visit the Members Only area of our site and confirm their information. The discount applies to ANY previous online membership that you renew, provided it is in our system; so if your last Otakon was 2012, you can still get the $5 renewal discount. Prior to 2012, at-con registrations were handled differently from online ones. If you’re unable to locate your membership information and you registered at-con, please contact us for help.

Why The Increase?

The additional funding this increase provides is also going toward improvements to our infrastructure which will help the reliability of our systems. We’re also investing in some other improvements behind the scenes.

Remember, while nobody likes the idea of rate increases; our all-volunteer staff who voted for the increase will also see their dues increase by the same amount.” Source.

Further down the same page in 2015, Otakon showed their operating cost breakdown:

As I mentioned, I understand that operating costs increase, but if Otakon needs to increase their revenue it seems like they are doing at the expense of everyone who wants to attend instead of finding ways to attract former attendees and fresh blood. When conventions start offering single day or two day passes, it is usually to alleviate overcrowding. It makes it easier to monitor the number of people in the convention on a given day. Otakon has never popped 35k in unique memberships, so overcrowding is not the problem here. Operating costs seem to be the sole reason for the new pricing structure while telling the fans the new membership options will benefit them.

This new structure does two things:

It discourages Friday attendance, which will, no doubt have an impact on future programming for Fridays. Knowing that a lot of people travel for Otakon, this may even have an impact on the local economy of the convention site if people opt to use Friday as their check-in and unpacking day instead of Thursday. I think by offering a $70 two day option, Otakon unintentionally killed Fridays. Why should I pay $85 or $95 for three days when I can save a ton of money both in a hotel and on membership. $70 is essentially the old rate minus one day and with how expensive travel and hotel have become, it’s a mighty good deal to skip a day entirely. The Sunday only membership for $40 is a good idea, but it’s being implemented poorly. Again, Otakon has no worries when it comes to overcrowding since the con often struggles to break 30k memberships purchases.

If Otakon wants to offer entry for one day for $40, it should be for any day. If The $40 pass is supposed to entice more membership purchases, I don’t see how it benefits the con financially if most people opt for a Sunday only membership. Perhaps Sunday only was a clever ploy to discourage people from buying the one-day membership since Sunday is the shortest day – people are already packing and getting into their cars as early as 12 PM. It’s also not worthwhile for anyone who travels to just buy entry for a shortened day without anything particularly special happening. It could be a good way to introduce locals to the convention… but other than that I can’t think of anything else.

How Can Otakon Rekindle the Love Within Fans?

Ok, so this is really “Captain Obvious” if you take a moment to sit down and read some social media posts, or if you just take a random survey from people who attended before. You’ll come across the same responses – people stopped going because of cost and content. Otakon is simply not unique enough on the east coast to justify the price tag. Walter E. Washington Convention Center is a whopping 1,075,000 sq feet larger than Baltimore Convention Center, so crowding isn’t an issue. In fact, the Washington Convention Center is significantly bigger than New York City’s Jacob K. Javits convention (home to the largest east coast convention New York Comic Con.)

Additionally, another strike against Otakon is the distaste many fans and photographers have for the new home at Walter E. Washington Convention Center. I didn’t have any issues with Washington D.C. or the convention center since I feel like I unlocked a new area map. There is so much to explore and the food is pretty good. No, it’s not Baltimore and of course, it isn’t as pretty as the Inner Harbor and yes it is a slightly longer drive down for many attendees. Otakon should keep these things in mind and simply roll back to their old pricing structure – but this time keep more tickets available and find ways to attract new and old fans. While this might seem like a bad idea for a convention that needs to cover their operating costs, expecting less than 30k people to cover the expenses is insane as well. Why not turn Otakon into a 40k attendee event? I’m not a marketing specialist by any means but I think it’s possible with the right recipe.

I know Otakon is supposed to be about the fans and it also prides itself on being less crowded than other events. This new pricing structure doesn’t seem like it’s for the fans at all. I will be interested in what membership attendance looks like this for this year.