Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A View From My Side

I'm frustrated. Although many people know that I'm involved in a local BDSM group (one of the longest running in our part of the country in fact), few know that I'm the education chair for that group.

As education chair, it's my mission to find qualified, interesting, and exciting people to present for our monthly class. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to book presenters for my group. I'm not really sure what all of the reasons for this are, but I think much of it has to do with something I call the "Mollena Effect" (ME).

ME happened several months ago when Mollena Williams (a national presenter at kink events) wrote a post about how she was pretty annoyed at event organizers who appear to be making shit tons of money off her appearing, while at the same time not paying her what she was worth. She talked about how presenting at kink events was her job; and that by insulting her by offering comped admission to the event in lieu of payment devalued her time, effort and skills. She talked about event organizers finding "sponsors" to cover the costs of her appearances, and she made a lot of todo about how it was wrong of people to ask her to present for free.

I'm not disagreeing with her point of view. If she wishes to be paid, then she should be. And she shouldn't accept those engagements which don't offer her exactly the remuneration she wishes, under the terms which are acceptable to her. I wouldn't take a job personally where I felt unvalued.

But the fallout from her post about this subject has hit smaller groups especially hard. The local groups who have under 200 members (many with less than 100); whose market won't support ticket prices of $50 or more for a few hour presentation. The local groups who have many kinksters who have to find babysitters, make travel arrangements, and travel for an hour or more, just to attend a presentation.  The local groups who have many more new members who have never heard of a Mollena Williams. The local groups with people whose first and sometimes only foray into kinkydom is that group. The people coming into the scene who have never heard of Dark Odyssey, Floating World or Shibaricon. The people finding their own version of the Fifty Shades of whatever floats them and need to learn to do this safely.

What the ME has done has created an "us vs. them" scenario. "Us" being the presenters; while "Them" being the event organizers.  The downside, is that even small event organizers are being lumped in with the national events, while every presenter now believes that he or she is "worth it".

My frustation comes from the short-sightedness of this attitude. And the fallout from it.

Every single presenter I've booked in the last several months has increased their fee to present almost beyond the point where we can afford to pay it. They're pricing themselves out of the small local markets, with the hope that they'll be able to translate their skills to a national market. The obvious problem is that even with the dozens of really large events that the kink world has going on in a year, there is still a pretty small market for those events.  Even local presenters, who would have happily presented for our group in the past for gas money, dinner and perhaps a membership to our group, now demand an ever increasing fee. Or worse- percentage of the door. Before expenses.

As a result, I've had to find other ways to fulfill my goal of providing a monthly class. I've tried to do it with sponsorships but I've run into two problems with this: first, there's not enough money to be had from kink-friendly companies to go around; and second, the presenters are more "well known" in their own small corner of kinkdom than they are to many of the companies.

I've tried to book local presenters. But these same people have read the threads on Fetlife and follow all of those top presenters, and instead of earning their chops by learning to present, they too have started asking for more.

And lest you think I'm a cheap bitch, I'll disclose here and say that we do pay our presenters. I'll also disclose here and tell you that I also have presented for various groups over the past few years. I've been on both sides now, and while I'm still very willing to present for any local group who might want me to, I don't expect to make my living from doing it.

I'll also tell you that every single class I booked last year, lost money. That's right. Every. Single. Class.  Even with those top presenters who assured us that they "would put butts in the chairs". Not a single one did. Top tier, brand new, it didn't matter. We lost money on every single class. Although I will say that the loss was much easier to take when the presenter was delivering what he/she promised.  Not many do. In fact, one presenter we'd lost a shit ton of money bringing in recently was bemoaning the fact that nobody was hiring him anymore.

My guess is here's why:

The cost for my venue at a local hotel willing to host our class is roughly $350.  My average attendee pays $10.00 per class. We've tried $20, but that dropped attendance too far. $10 for a two hour class, away from public transportation, is about what  this market will bear.  So, in order for me to break even, I have to fill 35 seats. Not unrealistic for the most part, right? We do that pretty regularly.

That presenter who complained about nobody hiring him anymore? Well he charged us 50% of the door. Before expenses. He assured us that he would bring in people, that he'd advertise for us. However, when the reality of the class came, he filled 36 seats. That's right. He brought one more person in. For that one person extra, we paid him $180.00 (1/2 of the door). We took in $360.00. We therefore netted minus $90.00.  That one extra person cost us $90.00.

Now, let's see about the presenter who presented last month for us. She cost us nothing. She did it for the price of her membership in our group for the year ($30). She is a relative no-name. She had 36 people in the class. We still technically lost money, but it wasn't nearly so hard losing $20 on a membership for the night as it was the $90 in cash. The other difference is is that she didn't make promises of putting butts in the chairs and she did advertise the class.

Who do you think I want to book the next time?

So why do we still do this you might ask.

Well, despite all of the aggravation we go through every single month to find a presenter, (notice I didn't say "educator"- that's another whole can of worms) I still think what we provide to the community is important.

We provide the gateway for all of those new people who will eventually find their way to the Floating Worlds, Shibaricons and Dark Odysseys.

We provide the means for people new to kink to "dip their toes" into the water without it becoming overwhelming at a three day conference with dozens and dozens of classes.

We provide the social, non-play, environment for people to get to know each other while learning something fun.

I would dearly love to bring many of the "name" presenters in to speak to our group. But I can't afford them, so I no longer ask. We've tried partnering with other groups to share the costs- but all that really does is increase the costs and therefore the loss (a class for each group costs more money- and really, there's few presenters people want to hear twice in a weekend, so attendance is split rather than doubled).  I no longer ask these people to present. I've found my way around that. I'm taking chances on brand new people. People who have energy, passion, and an interest in sharing a subject. People who are happy to cut their chops on a new group; people who want to try out new material; people who just want to share what they love. Instead of worrying that I'm losing money on top names, I'm grooming the next group of top names.

If there's one thing I can be absolutely sure about, it's that there's always someone else.

For another point of view- Sarah Sloane has written a great post here.