Monday, July 15, 2013

Toaster's Ramblings - The High Price of Autographs Edition

What the hell is going on with the price of autographs? When I started going to comic book conventions in the mid 1990's, celebrity autographs were about $20 each. Back then I thought that was a bit expensive. After all, what are we really talking about here? Your paying for a name on a piece of paper. That said, for an opportunity to meet the right celebrity twenty bucks wasn't completely unreasonable. But in the past five years I have seen many of those prices more than double.

Celebrity 'meet & greets' and autograph sessions are nothing new to comic book conventions. In fact, they have become something of a fixture and are prominently advertised as the big draw to attending such a show. It seems like every convention is trying to be its own little San Diego Comic Con by featuring "big names" in pop culture, which usually amount to "random Imperial officer in a scene from The Empire Strikes Back" or "guy from early 80's action show." As of late though, bigger names have been making appearances at various conventions in cities not named San Diego, New York or Los Angeles. Maybe this is the problem. If the guy at the next table over is charging $40 for an autograph, why would you only charge $20?

I place a part of the blame on Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. A few years ago, these legends of professional wrestling decided to go to a few conventions and sell their appearances for extraordinary sums of cash. I don't remember the exact amounts, but I seem to think Warrior wanted around $150 per autograph and Hogan charged about $300. Apparently if you want to meet your childhood wrestling hero, be prepared to take out a second mortgage! I don't remember there being such a high price for an autograph session at a convention prior to that. An obvious reason for such a price tag is to keep crowds to a minimum. The Hulkster probably doesn't want to shake hands and sign for a few thousand fans at $20 a shot, which is a realistic scenario. However, I can't help but think like Hogan and Warrior should feel a little ashamed for their actions. It's excessively greedy considering how rich they already are. There are better ways to deal with crowds without gouging their fans, such as selling a limited number of tickets.

The true reason for paying for such an autograph is the guaranteed chance to meet and talk to your favorite actor or wrestler (though I don't think Virgil was anyone's favorite wrestler). But this isn't really much of a guarantee. Some celebs can be cool, but others are more concerned with getting you out of the way for the next buck. For instance, a few years back I had the chance to meet WWE star Chris Jericho. I paid around $25 for an autograph and like when I meet any celebrity I try to have a question ready. I asked "How do you feel about being the cause of the hatred of John Cena?" (For those who don't know, it was in a match against Jericho that fans started to boo the top good guy John Cena because of his inferior wrestling skills.) Jericho's reply? "Yeah, we were just talking about that." That was it. I was ushered aside for the next customer. That was lame. To be fair, this isn't necessarily the norm; I have had some great experiences meeting people like "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, George Lowe (the voice of Space Ghost), Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman (who I can't stress enough how cool he is).

I guess the biggest problem I have is that most of those asking $50 or more are not out of work. Many of these celebrities are in movies or get steady work in television, making hundreds of thousands if not millions. Do they really need their incomes supplemented by donations from their working class fans? I get that they don't want to deal with throngs of fans and high autograph prices can help limit those lines at around the same cash intake. I also understand that they deserve something for the time and effort involved in traveling to conventions and spending several days conversing and signing and such. But do they really need $50 from everyone who wants to talk to them? Most fans who attend these conventions are working class, middle class at best... yes, they have enough disposable income to go to a comic con, but $50 is still a lot of money when you remember this is all for a 2 minute encounter and a name on a piece of paper. Should only the upper class be entitled enough to meet their celluloid heroes? My feeling is if you don't really want to meet your fans, don't come to the convention. These people are celebrities because their fans have made them so. It would be nice if their fans were actually appreciated instead of being viewed and treated as walking wallets.

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