Nicole Marrokal has been photographing events with us for some time now, and is not known for exaggeration. She is very pleasant, patient and, prone to wearing costumes herself, is understanding of the trials of this hobby. One thing she'd never thought she would hear is a dollar amount in reply to a picture request...
"One just flat out said it was $1 for a picture. Another cosplayer dressed as Spock would only let you take his picture for a $2 "donation". I was in costume and had no money on me, which I expressed to him and he told me he was there the whole convention, find him later. There was a Hulk who was collecting money as donations for a children's hospital. We also spotted a Groot cosplayer with a sign that said "Tips make Groot grow". At least this one let you take pictures of them anyway."
I have mixed feelings on this. While people should be allowed to answer anything they want in reply to someone's picture request, there's a comfort level that gets shattered when that answer is "pay me". I'm reminded of the bootleg characters in Times Square who run up to tourists to take pictures with them and harass them for "tips" after the fact. Yes, this request for cash is up front, but there are several problems that will undoubtedly arise should this increase in regularity.
1. Conventions will no doubt crack down on the action. Shaking down convention guests for cash when you aren't an exhibitor, and worse, doing so on the show floor..hallways..surrounding areas, will no doubt be frowned upon by the convention organizers. I'd expect if it comes out that this was a frequent thing at SDCC, there may be a clear cut policy stated immediately.
2. Copyright. While we've enjoyed the ability to dress as our favorite characters in celebration of the cartoons, movies and anime they are a part of with no fear of a company yelling at us for it, we've been lucky the companies allow things like models paid for photo shoots dressed as licensed characters, selling prints of themselves dressed as said characters and appearing in booths at conventions in costumes of characters not owned by them. Until now, it's been seen as a further promotion of these properties, and while the company doesn't outright give a thumbs us, they turn a blind eye. When an individual is asked to pay money just to take a picture of someone dressed as a company's licensed character, there may be a negative reaction to the request and thus, negative feelings associated with the character. No company would want that, and a crack down, however possible, would be inevitable. Could we see licensed/sponsored cosplayers one day?
3. The impact on the cosplaying community would be mostly negative. If this becomes a widespread occurrence, I see media outlets, professional photographers and fans avoiding cosplayers like the plague, not wanting to even risk a confrontation over a request for money. From the actual cosplayers perspective, we may see a significant drop in people perusing the hobby. I know a lot of cosplayers that are rather shy out of costume. If they think putting on a costume means people might suspect they will shake them down for cash for their picture, they may stop wearing costumes all together.
UPDATE 1 7/14: People commenting below identified the Spock in question as "Spock Vegas". We showed his picture to our photographer who stated this is the Spock cosplayer she mentioned in this article. We contacted the individual who gave this statement:
"Only professional cosplayers with a comped table or paid booth are allowed to charge for pictures, and at their table only, nowhere else inside. Or, if they are outside the center, they can do what they want unless a busker's permit is required by a by law officer in that specific city."
UPDATE 2 7/15: We contacted San Diego Comic-Con directly to see what their policy is on this behavior at their convention. SDCC staff called the information an "eye-opener" and forwarded us to David Glanzer, Director of PR and Marketing, who made this statement:
"Any sales or money transactions occurring at Comic-Con must be in accordance with California State law and conducted from an area/location that has been designated for that purpose and is prohibited in aisles, lobby's and public spaces on Convention Center property."
I'm very interested to hear what people think about this topic. Did anyone else at San Diego Comic-Con or other conventions this year get asked for money from cosplayers? Sound off in the comments!