Wednesday, August 09, 2017

At-Home Con Recap

On Saturday, July 22nd, I held a 6 hour streaming event hosted through U-Stream.  Titled At-Home Con, I staged a convention table in my living room, hoping to make up some of the income lost by not tabling at Mechacon this year.  I don't normally stream my work- it's often difficult for me to talk and draw (especially during concept generation), and as I usually don't have access to the chat while I'm working, it's a bit like working in the dark.  Since I work traditionally, streaming is a bit more involved than turning on Wirecast or XSplit and sharing my desktop to Youtube or Twitch, and although I streamed frequently while at SCAD, I never developed an audience that were interested in watching me stream.

Ok, So What About Mechacon?

I'd tabled at Mechacon for the past seven years (starting in 2010), helping to train the convention going audience to purchase commissions and trust the artists to fulfill through years of fulfilled commissions.  I'd sold copies of 7" Kara at the show yearly since 2014, taught panels on Intro to Artist Alley, Watercolor, and Marker use, and watched Mechacon continue to grow.  I've had a long, and sometimes thorny relationship with the convention (and its staff), but I'd always spoken well of Mechacon to artists who'd asked.  I was eager to help the alley grow, and hoped that my efforts would be remembered.

Unfortunately that was not the case.  The Mechacon artist alley is first come, first serve, and the site crashed three minutes after the alley opened at noon one cold day in  January.  I contacted the Mechacon Artist Alley email immediately with the site issue, and requested to be wait listed, as I knew if the site was giving me errors, I'd probably lost my chance.  Apparently the site opened the alley earlier than the advertised noon, and had trouble keeping up with traffic. 

I hadn't heard back from Artist Alley staff regarding a waitlist, so I emailed them a couple more times over the following months with requests to be added to the waistlist, with no response.  This leads me to assume one of threethings- Mechacon doesn't respond to inquiries sent to that email, the one listed on their site, they're horrifically overwhelmed and need more AA staff, or were ignoring my inquiries.

So rather than mope or freak out about the significant loss of income, I decided to take matters into my own hands and stage my own one gal show. 



So why stream At-Home Con?

I'd hoped the novelty of the event-a convention from your living room!- would draw people in.  I'd also hoped that with enough promotion, I could bring the audience to me, rather than relying on an already developed stream audience.  I really needed to make up for lost income- the past four shows were busts for me, and missing Mechacon, which usually netted a fair share of my income, really put me at a financial disadvantage, and I hate feeling helpless.  Online sales have always been a bust for me, and online commissions were never a big sellers, but sales AND commissions are my bread and butter at conventions, and I'd hoped that by staging a show in my living room, I could capture a bit of that spirit. 

Going into it, I knew it was a long shot- my camcorder won't connect to Youtube, and Ustream wouldn't port the video to Youtube, so I couldn't bank on my Youtube audience to watch.  Convention audiences are notoriously bad about following up later, and I hadn't the courage to send an email blast to past Mechacon commission customers to let them know about the event, as I felt that would be intrusive (although in the future, a mailing list sign up for in-person customers might be wise)


If you missed the live event, and you want to see what happened, you can check out the Front of Table stream videos here:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/106112569
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/106112798
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/106117692
And the back of table videos (streamed to Youtube) here:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/106113293
https://youtu.be/jV6fyALUWq0
https://youtu.be/2RfvL1VCHIg

Promotion efforts:

Since I knew I didn't have an audience accustomed to me streaming, I figured I would need to promote At Home con the same way I would promote a physically attended convention.


On this blog:

This Announcement
A brand new Commission Info tab with examples and prices
Mirror to the stream (did it work?)


I knew I needed a way to show people what was for sale, and I decided a few short standalone videos might be the way to go- moving visuals often present more information.

On Youtube:
Mini Print Flipthru
At-Home Con Announcement and Con Goodies Preview
Mini Fanart Watercolors Flip Thru
Original Art Flip Thru
Con Announcement: At Home Con

On Twitter:
Numerous announcements leading up to the day of the event, including sneak peeks at merchandise, including links to everything from this blog and Youtube.

On Tumblr:
Reblogs of the material shared to Youtube and this blog.

On Instagram:
Static images of the small con goodies
Con announcement header


On Patreon:
Backer Exclusive access to the set up stream on Friday night, where I went through my setup and materials step by step.
Cross posted annoucenments.

Before the Stream:

I spent a couple days dusting off my much neglected U-Stream account, uploading new graphics and changing the links, making sure to share the UStream link to Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Patreon, and on here.


I also set my 'away'graphic to a slideshow of my commission examples.


During the stream:


Friday Night Setup:

As a treat for my backers, and to give them a special Backer Exclusive, I set up my table on stream.  Although the stream was intended to go to At-Home Con, it went to Patreon Backer Streams instead.  This ended up being for the best, because that's the stream I'd used when I did backer streams last year, but no one attended.

This stream gave us an opportunity to work out some kinks and figure out how to get the camcorder to stream to the correct channel.

How could this have gone better:

If I had been willing to have this stream available to the public, streaming it to Youtube via my phone would have ensured a larger audience, and better engagement.  Streaming for none is why I'd quit doing Backer Exclusive streams as a Community Goal reward.

Saturday, At-Home Con

The stream was advertised as beginning at 12:00 Noon, but due to me sleeping poorly the night before and technical complications, we officially started at 12:45pm. 





I'd intended to have two streams and had hoped for camera in camera views.  My Panasonic camcorder can talk and capture video from my phone, but it apparently can't do that while streaming.  I attempted to stream the Behind the Table stream from my phone to UStream, but the UStream app is buggy on my phone.  After some finagling, I ended up streaming the Behind the Table stream to Youtube (with little fanfare) and really awful camera angles.

Surprisingly, my Youtube stream ended up with quite a few viewers- a handful more than my advertised UStream stream.  This is despite the terrible camera angles and minimal chat interaction on my part- I could really only keep up with one chat at a time.

Throughout the show, we played around with front camera (UStream) camera angles to give viewers a good look at the table and the merchandise.  I'd hoped that this sort of view would encourage the purchase of original art pieces, mini watercolors, and cute accessories, but it didn't seem to make a difference- nothing sold but commissions during this stream.

Although sales were a little disappointing, chat engagement was fun and lively, and I was entertained throughout the stream.  I was delighted that so many people showed up and hung out with me during this 6 hour long stream, and put up with my numerous technical issues.

I developed a headache around 6, and ended the stream at 6:30PM, making for a six hour stream.

How This Could Have Gone Better:

I believe if the stream had gone to Youtube, and had been advertised as being on YouTube from the start, the stream would have been better attended.  Apparently, my Youtube sub stream earned me a little advertiser money- UStream doesn't pay small fish like me, so even just hanging out in the stream on Youtube earned me a little money, which was nice.

Getting my camera angles fixed, regardless of where the stream ended up, will be an important focus for my next stream.

Having my shop up and running (it is actually up, but it throws errors fairly frequently, so I did not promote it during the stream), might help facilitate the sale of small items like rings, barrettes, and bows, as well as the sale of larger originals.  I'm interested in setting up an Etsy again for my originals, but I'm hesitant to go to the effort of listing the smaller impulse items- I've done this in the past to poor effect, and most are too inexpensive to be worth the time of listing. 

If any of you who sell a lot of smaller stock have any advice on how to list such items and not lose an arm and a leg, please let me know!

Pros:
  • People actually showed up
  • Sold a couple commissions- worked on them on air
  • Had a lot of fun
  • Finally felt comfortable, and happy, while streaming- felt in my element
  • Learned A LOT

Cons:
  • Didn't sell any physical items
  • All my streams and promotion were all over the place- not in once central place
  • Couldn't stream my main stream to Youtube, feel like I lost a lot of potential audience there- had to bring people over to Ustream, where I have no audience
  • Phone camera work was all over the place- upside down, backwards
  • No 'fans' from Mechacon stopped by- it truly seems like my convention audience and my online audience have no overlap
  • Took a lot of time to set up the table and break it down after
  • Sold none of the ready made smaller items that I'd hoped to sell
  • No one showed up for the setup stream

What I would Change:
Need an easier ordering system- would be nice if my site/shop were up and in order to facilitate ordering
Need all the flip through and preview videos in one place- ideally the same place I'm streaming
Should be hosted on Youtube, where I already have an audience
I'm starting a mailing list for convention customers- perhaps emailing them directly about important events like At Home Con will see better engagement


So would I do it again?

Yes, but not to the extent of setting up a full table.  A scheduled and promoted streaming event- something a little more than a casual 'come hang out with me while I draw' that focused on promoting requests and commissions might be feasible every couple months.  If I am able to switch it to Youtube, I might even be able to make a little extra income doing it.

Sometimes it's hard not to be frustrated by how events turn out.  I'd had middling hopes for At-Home Con, and it didn't perform to expectations.  I'd scheduled it the weekend before Mechacon, and used the Mechacon hashtag when crossposting to Tumblr, in hopes that my fans would see it.  The one response I got was from someone who said they were excited to see me at Mechacon this year, and were excited to buy cute fluff from me there.  While the sentiment was appreciated, it also hurt to know just how little agency I had over my own income.

Of course, I should also remember that a lot went wrong during the stream itself, and that there were a lot of missed opportunities that could be improved upon.  As someone who streams infrequently, it may be a bit much to expect people to make time to swing by midday on a Saturday, and I may need to find a better day of the week for scheduled streaming.  It also didn't help that my shop is down, and many of the items I had on the table aren't items I usually sell in shop- many are convention only- and may be difficult or frustrating to buy using the method I'd cobbled together for At-Home Con.

Most disappointing of all was the fact that none of my Mechacon customers made it to the stream.  This stream was specifically held to help me recoup just a little of the income lost from not tabling this year, and I went to great lengths to promote it anywhere that audience might be.  It really illustrates the gap between convention audience and online audience, and how fleeting popularity can be.  You can be swamped with commissions from arrival to departure at a show, and see no sales from the same audience from an online event, because there's a disconnect between At Con and At Home.

If I am blunt, situations such as At-Home Con and a lack of Mechacon customer sales leaves me feeling like I hold little agency over my life, and illustrates why artists cannot be reliant on conventions for goodwill or for reliable income. 

What Sold:

Two commissions