Geek culture is now firmly entrenched in the mainstream, and in America mainstream means merchandising. Sure, superheroes and science fiction movies have a long tradition of being turned into toys and other products — it began with Walt Disney and boomed with Star Wars — but never before has the genre been such a gold mine.
From movie tickets and streaming service subscriptions to special apparel and collectibles, the interests and loyalties of geek fans have become very profitable. A constellation of companies and industries have staked much of their futures — and in some cases entire existences — on the continued hunger for branded swag. Funko, the company behind the ubiquitous block-headed character statuettes, recently went public on Nasdaq; the apparel company Her Universe, run by a Star Wars voice actor, is all-in on geek chic. The boom will last so long as fans have money to spend — so it’s worth asking, how much do fans spend?
In early January, SYFY WIRE published a survey that asked visitors a number of questions about their genre-related spending habits in 2017. Posted on our website and promoted on Facebook and Twitter, the anonymous survey was answered 1121 times before the responses were evaluated. We found a wide range of spending habits, from fans who spend lavishly on their fandom to those whose main expenditure is their attention and personal devotion. Some concentrate all of their resources on one category — often comics or cosplay — while others spread the wealth.
Comic book readers are some of the most regular spenders. On average, respondents spent $35 per month on comic books and graphic novels, while 9% of respondents shelled out $50 per month and 16% drop $75 or more per month. The frequency of the outlay also varies: 13% of readers visited the comic shop weekly, 7% made bi-weekly visits, and 25% dropped in once a month.
As for on-screen entertainment, respondents subscribed to an average of two streaming services, though a full 25% subscribe to three services and 2% subscribe to a whopping seven or more. As for leaving the house, fans saw an average of five “geeky” movies in theaters last year, while 27% of respondents saw 10 or more.
Conventions like local Comic Cons are also popular destinations, albeit far less convenient to visit on any frequent basis. On average, fans say they spent $86 in 2017 on convention tickets, though there is a broad range: Nearly half of respondents (48%) didn’t pay to go to any conventions, while 8% paid $400 or more. Oftentimes conventions are local, but fans did travel, as respondents said they devoted an average of $300 to convention-related travel and accommodations. Five respondents said they spent “too much.”
Toys and collectibles, whether purchased at conventions or elsewhere, were another major outlay for fans in 2017. Respondents said they spent an average of $455 on toys and collectibles, a category that encompassed many different things. Funko Pop! vinyls were the most popular single collectible, with 18% of respondents saying that was their favorite thing to buy. Action figures more generally were the toy of choice for 21% of fans, while 7% went for the presumably more expensive figurines or statuettes. Art, including books and prints, was selected by 5% of fans as the expenditure of choice.
Meanwhile, 8% of respondents said clothing and accessories made up the bulk of their geeky “collectible” outlay. In a separate question, they said they spent an average of $114 on geeky-themed clothing per year, though 7.5% of fans dropped $400 or more on nerd apparel.
As for cosplay, 52% of people didn't spend any money on making their own costumes, which skewed the average, which clocked in at $86 per year. However, 5% of respondents said they spent $500 or more per year on cosplay.
Respondents added that they spent an additional average of $345 per year on assorted expenditures, including meetup-ups, podcasts, food at conventions, and charitable donations.