MomoCon Not Free Anymore
One of the largest free anime conventions, with over 10,000 annual attendees, has decided to adopt a pay model for it's 2012 convention after seven years as a free convention.
MomoCon started in 2005 with 700 attendees, and has grown dramatically over the past several years, with a huge jump from just under 5,000 attendees to over 7,000 just a couple years ago in 2009.
Every year, convention attendees were admitted to the convention for free, with T-shirt sales and other donations keeping the convention running. However, convention organizers have said that they just can't keep up with the growth without charging admission, and that the donation model wouldn't work forever.
This year, pre-registration for MomoCon starts at $20 to $25 to pre-register, or attendees can pay to register at the door for $30, as the convention moves to the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta.
"In 2011 we used the largest reservable space available to us on Georgia Tech campus, and it was still not nearly large enough to accommodate the attendees (we were blessed with good weather, which helped)," said Jess Merriman on behalf of the convention. "If we were return to our pre-2010 location on campus we would have to cap attendance at half of the 2011 levels."
Cosplayers at MomoCon This new space has 160,000 square feet of meeting space, with the largest space being a 25,000 square foot ballroom (enough for a two to three thousand people to sit). CVent.com lists last year's space at the Technology Square complex as having only 20,000 square feet of space total.
Some attendees feel the change leaves Georgia fans without a convention for first-time congoers, and have started an online petition to make the convention free again.
"Momo is suppose to be a stepping stone that introduce people to conventions, anime, and cosplay with costing a year of allowance," said CalwWalker in the Anime_Freaks VampireFreaks.com board. "We like it this way because people who normally don't have the money to get into conventions (let alone buy merchandise at cons) can still go, enjoy themselves with other otakus and introduces more people into anime (especially a younger audience)."
Some believe the convention won't get as many attendees now there is an admission charge. Event organizers say that they are counteracting the registration fee with more new events.
"We're also adding events that we were not able to have under a free model and on campus, including industry and voice actor guests, a rave-style dance, three days worth of con (as opposed to the previous two), etc."
The petition only has 17 signatures right now, though there are others commenting elsewhere online. "Momo Con is one of the best cons ever plus it WAS free. I hate to say it but if it's not free then I'm not going. >_>", said one response to the petition.
There may be an impact on other conventions in the area, as attendees may have to choose which conventions they can afford to attend. Conventions in Atlanta include Furry Weekend Atlanta, TrekTrax Atlanta, Atlanta Anime Day, Anime Weekend Atlanta, Dragon*Con, Atlanta Game Fest, and Outlantacon.
"Atlanta already has Anime Weekend Atlanta, Seishun Con, and of course Dragon Con which are all very expensive to get into (the highest being Dragon Con with $120 for a 4 day pass) and all have numerous special guests and events," said CalwWalker.
Convention organizers emphasize that the move is to keep existing, rather than to keep growing. They are offering numerous opportunities for free memberships, including giveaways and free admission with a stay in the hotel.
Regular attendees may still be confused at the switch, as it's not address on the convention's FAQ. (Edit: There is a separate FAQ.) The only way to get comment is to contact the convention or read their livejournal page.
The change also has it's supporters among congoers.
One reviewer said, "Honestly, I think MomoCon should just suck it up, move to a real venue (that is not on a college campus) and charge people. Sure, the teen-boopers will complain, but who cares? I think making it NOT free will help with crowd control, give staff less of a headache, and provide an overall better atmosphere in general."
Other commenters agreed, saying "I think making it into a real con and charging people for badges would help regulate traffic."
One VampireFreaks commenter suggested the change wouldn't affect the convention's style.
"It will still be a more personable con where it's more about the people that are there rather than everything else thats going on."
Organizers of MomoCon pointed out that they aren't the only free convention to have to move to a pay model. Kami-Con moved from being free for it's first three years, to a pay model for it's upcoming 2012 convention.
Some other free conventions, such as Numa Rei-No Con in Louisiana, have simply disappeared.
Other free anime conventions are still operating as free events. JAFAX in Michigan has been free for the past 16 years, with thousands of attendees coming since the event's ninth year. There are other conventions such as Animarathon, and Nashua Library in New Hampshire encourages libraries to hold a free anime con.
When there isn't a free convention around, tough economic times also become an issue for some attendees.
"I've seen some people are unhappy because they are in tight economic times, and some concerned about parking and the hotel costs," said Jess from MomoCon. "We're trying our best to help with that through the giveaways, discounts on memberships, encouragement of MARTA (public transit) usage, and including the free admissions with the hotel stay. Most people online and in-person at AWA this past weekend have been very understanding and supportive, which we are very grateful for."
Updated: Updated attendance to 2011 numbers and small corrections.