What is the Value of a Name?

Now that the dust has settled from yet another fan convention, I’d like to get real with ya’ll for a moment.

Let’s talk about celebrity autograph fees.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a fan of a celebrity (any celebrity) and you read an announcement telling you that they are going to be appearing at an event in or near your town and that (gasp) they will be signing autographs. You can bring your own photo or object to sign, but not to worry, photos will be made available at the event; the announcement goes on to say that there will be a $25 autograph fee, but does not say whether or not this fee is going to a charity, or if it’s just to line the celebrity’s pocket. Either way, you think, $25 isn’t really unreasonable and you’ve always wanted to meet said celebrity. You go to the store, use your debit card buy a pack of gum, get $25 cash back, then head over to the event location.

You arrive and wow is there a line. At least 150 people ahead of you, which means a two hour or more wait just to get 30 seconds (or less) face-to-face with this person whom you so admire. But you decide it’s worth the wait, and that $25 is eagerly burning a hole in your pocket. So you diligently inch forward every minute or so until you’re 75 people closer to the signing table and you’ve discovered that if you lean slightly to the left and go up on your toes you can almost see the top of the celebrity’s head through the admiring throng. But then something happens. Something unexpected. A person, presumably in the employ of the celeb, walks over to the herd of waiting devotees and makes the following announcement:

“Your attention please. It’s $25 for an autograph. If you didn’t bring something to sign, it’s $5 for a souvenir photo. If you want it personalized, it’s $20 more. So $50 total. Cash only. Again, $25 for the autograph, $5 for a photo (you pick!) and $20 if you want it personalized. Cash only, everybody, ok?”

Then this person (Assistant? Manager? Agent?) goes back to wherever they came from, leaving everyone shifting nervously in their shoes. Suddenly, the $25 (arguably reasonable) fee has DOUBLED. You only brought the $25 as advertised. There was nothing in the press announcement about having to pay for the photos they were offering but (even though you don’t have the cash) $5 doesn’t sound like crazy request – it probably covers the cost of printing the photos. What gets your mind reeling is the $20 personalization fee!! $20 for the celeb, this person whom you admire and look up to, to add the words “To: [Your Name]” above their signature which you are already paying $25 for?!

You debate getting out of line. You don’t have anything meaningful for the celebrity to sign. You suppose they could sign your arm – but that would just wash off. You’re not fanatical enough to have it tattooed permanently. You could have them sign your shirt, but you really like the shirt you’re wearing and don’t want to retire it from your wardrobe. You have a piece of crumpled receipt paper in your wallet that could work, but the lameness of this option depresses you.  Instead of feeling excited to finally meet this person, you feel taken advantage of and also a bit insulted and you don’t know who to blame.

Maybe the celeb has nothing to do with the pricing. Maybe it’s all their manager’s idea. You get on board with this idea for the moment (to mentally preserve the small pedestal you keep the celebrity on) and continue to inch forward in line still uncertain whether or not to bail out. You start fishing through every available pocket of your jeans and jacket to see if, magically, a $5 bill appears so that you can at least have a decent photo for them to sign if you decide to stick it out. You’ve already been in line for almost two hours, and you hate to think that all of this time spent would have been for nothing. You’re less than twenty people away from the table now and starting to sweat nervously that you’re going to make a fool of yourself by offering a dirty receipt paper to have signed. You wanted to come away from this meeting with positive memories and now you’re so distracted by money and not having anything to sign and looking foolish and unprepared that the whole encounter has been ruined before it’s even started. Glumly, defeated, you step out of line. You stand over to the side for a few moments so that you can get a good look at your celebrity – just to see them at least – to be this close.

I saw this scenario happen routinely at ECCC this year. But instead of the prices surprise-jumping from $25 to $50, they were jumping from $50 to $75, and even (in one case) $75 to $100! Last year at ECCC the most expensive autograph fee was for the Weasley Twins (James and Oliver Phelps) for $90. But the thought behind it was $45 for each actor’s autograph, and no surprise souvenir photo fees at the table. The average cost of an autograph last year was $20, with the occasional $5 charge for a souvenir photo (so $25). A few celebs were charging $30-$40 and one or two were signing for free (e.g., Wil Wheaton, because he’s awesome like that).

However, this year, the average fee jumped from $20 to $30 dollars and there were LOTS of “surprise” fees (souvenir photo, “personalization” fees) at the table. It really, really, felt like fans were being taken horrible advantage of.

I’m completely certain that there were a number of fans who found themselves using money they had otherwise allotted to food and other necessities (perhaps even bill money) to pay these exceptional “surprise” costs rather than step out of line and miss the chance to meet their idol.

I disagree with the idea of autograph fees in general, but I’m willing to bend a bit if the fee is being contributed to charity, or (at the very least) is not wholly unreasonable (like $20-$30 or less). I like to break it down as if the celeb is earning an hourly wage. Assuming (generously) that the average time the celeb spends with each person is 30 seconds, you can then can extrapolate that you’re paying $20 for 30 seconds of time. So a minute is worth $40. Multiply $40 by 60 minutes and you get $2400/hr. I think we can all agree that this is a more than generous wage for ANYONE.

Using this same thought process means that if a celeb is charging $75, they are earning $9000/hr. NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS AN HOUR. Now, I understand that this probably seems like a pittance to someone who may earn $1 Million dollars a day on a movie set, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Besides, if they’re earning this kind of money regularly one can assume that they are financially stable enough that they don’t need to be charging fans for the luxury of breathing the same air as them for 30 seconds or less. (And don’t even get me started on celebs who charge this much or more and then have the nerve to act aloof and bored with the fans…).

As you know, I am a regular convention attendee, so it’s easy for me to see the not-so-slow inflation of autograph fees over time. Adding “personalization fees” to the mix is simply abhorrent. It’s price gauging. It’s taking blatant advantage of people and their wallets, and it’s certainly not ingratiating the celebs with their fans. You know, the fans? The people who helped them to attain their status as a celebrity?

Somehow, this has to stop. Something needs to be done. Reality needs to be checked.

Who’s with me?

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One thought on “What is the Value of a Name?

  1. I think the only way it will stop is if convention attendance plummets and fans picket the venues.
    It does sound outrageous, though they can only charge that if people are willing to pay.

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