SPX Changes Exhibitor Registration Ratio

SPX logo

SPX, the Small Press Expo held every September in Bethesda, Maryland, has an enviable problem — too many people want to exhibit at their show. They’re at the limit of their location (which is booked through 2020) with about 270 tables available, but there’s no other similar-but-larger space available in the area, and within the limits of their show hours, it’s already a struggle for visitors to see all the vendors. Adding more exhibitors would mean less chance for anyone to make money.

They could go invite-only, as other art festivals do, but they feel that wouldn’t honor the community. In the past, they’ve combined invitations (many based on legacy, or a history of appearing at the show) with a table lottery in roughly a 50/50 split. This year, however, things are changing. From their schedule announcement:

SPX 2016 banner by Sophie Goldstein

SPX 2016 banner by Sophie Goldstein

Starting this year, we’ll be evaluating our list of invited exhibitors on an annual basis. This will help us ensure that we can continue to bring in diverse, talented creators that we feel will enrich the SPX experience for everyone.

Year by year, we’ll do our best to ensure that invitees to SPX will include a diverse, vibrant cast of characters — a mix of our long-time exhibitors, large and small independent publishers, self-publishing cartoonists, international creators as well as newcomers to comics.

This year, invitations went out on Thursday, February 4. Those exhibitors have until February 20 to confirm that they want the space. The table lottery will open on February 12, closing on February 26. Those exhibitors will hear if they won a placement in early March, with a wait list of about 50 more built at the same time. Payment if selected is due by March 22.

For those who were hanging onto a table at the show because they’ve always gone, this might be discouraging, because that’s no longer a sure thing. But the show has to take more control to ensure that they’re providing the exhibitors that reflect what they want the show to be. Plus, entrenched setups sometimes don’t change fast enough to reflect changes in audience interest and concerns, particularly when it comes to diversity.

One reason given for the change to yearly invite list revisions is to make sure that the previous year’s Ignatz winners have a chance to exhibit, a good choice. And those who don’t get formal invitations can take their chance on the lottery, where a minimum of 100 tables are available.

Note that also, if I’m reading this right, they have changed the proportion of lottery/invited from 50/50 to 37% lottery, although that percentage will go up if invitees decline. It’s becoming more of a curated experience, which seems ok to me.

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