After its first successful year in 2018, the steampunk maker expo Aethertopia is canceling with just days to go.
One of the most remarkable and vibrant steampunk convention experiences in North America is Aethertopia, Its conceipt is that it is a city, uncoupled in time and space, which touches down in our reality once per year so that its citizens may comingle with the outside world and entertain thousands of guests. Aethertopia is a steampunk city of makers, and has the feel more of an alternate history’s World’s Fair than anything else.
This morning on its web site, the founder and curator of Aethertopia, Mr. Anthony Sakovich, has posted a notice that the convention is canceled, and with just days to go before its June 29 start. Based on the convention’s prior experience with ticket sales from previous years, they had been expecting a post-MegaCon surge in new memberships. This year that surge did not arrive, leaving Sakovich holding the bag for all the new developments and construction being done for the convention scene settings and arrangements.
Because the money on these arrangements is already spent, Sakovich says he’s going to have to run the refunds out of his own pocket instead of the convention coffers, and asks those who purchased memberships to be take note of the situation and be patient, promising that the refunds will come.
The Announcement from the Aethertopia web site
Anthony Sakovich posted the following announcement this morning, June 26th, 2019:
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I’m sorry to say that Aethertopia 2019 is cancelled. I know each and every one of you shared in the dream, but there simply aren’t enough ticket sales to support the event. I know some of you have major travel plans, so I’m reaching out to you as soon as possible in the hopes you aren’t hurt too much by the cancellation.
Ticket sales started strong, and we thought we were going to do very well this year. That’s why we added on things like the giant arches, new street lamps, fog machines, and Abney Park. But then, just before MegaCon, ticket sales simply evaporated. This happened last year as well, but it recovered after MegaCon.
This year there was no recovery. The initial surge appears to have been all of our happy, loyal fans from last year returning to lock in their tickets for this year. But then, it just stopped. Our social media activity was through the roof. Our Facebook page added on over a thousand more fans… but it just didn’t translate into ticket sales.
I’m sorry. Celebrating the Genius of Steampunk Makers isn’t just a tag line for me. It’s a mission. I thought this was the best way to carry out that mission, and I was wrong. I am committed to finding a new way to carry out that mission, and give you, our loyal Steampunk community, the venue you deserve for the amazing work you create.
So, let’s talk about refunds. Yes. I will be refunding people their money, but I have to do it out of my own pocket now. The money that came in was spent on the event preparations, including deposits, airline tickets for the band, set building, and a thousand other things that needed to be bought to make Aethertopia the event you expected. There’s nothing left. I’ve been putting my own money behind it for some time now, hoping we would have a last minute surge. But that hasn’t happened. Funding an event like this through ongoing ticket sales is a fairly normal process,( even EventBrite lists it as a policy accommodation within their services framework), but we never anticipated a complete drop off in sales, to the point where the entire month of June was down 90% from last year. Last year we saw a drop around MegaCon, but this year there was no recovery afterwards.
It’s going to take me time to give you your money back. I’m just a person like you, and although we officially have a “no refund” policy within our Terms of Service agreement on the website, I can’t do that to you. You trusted me, and I have to earn back that trust.
I’m still reeling from this, but I think the fair thing to do is to start with the people who first bought their tickets, and then start the refund process in chronological order. I don’t know how long it will take, because I will likely have to take on a second job to help pay this back. At the very least I will be selling lots of my personal items and collectibles either on Facebook or EBay.
Here’s the part where we still need your help. In order to make refunds, I need to continue earning money through my company, Apseom. In order to sell my stuff, I need to be able to take PayPal. If people start filing disputes or challenging the charges, two things will happen:
The challenges will be denied because of our “no refund” policy
We will have our ability to accept credit card payments from our other customers turned off, thus prohibiting us from earning the money to pay people back.
So I’m asking you to not contact your card company or PayPal. We WILL be making good on these, but if a few people decide to try to cut the line, it will ruin it for everyone.
I know you’re unhappy. I get it, believe me. Refunds will start up as soon as my accounts have cleared all their show-related debits and I can get a grip on what little is actually left.
About the Future
I think you will agree that the core event itself, the Maker Exhibition, the classes, the sharing of knowledge, the promotion of individual genius, is what made Aethertopia so attractive to so many. And that is a direction I think we will be pursuing for 2020. It has been my passion to see these amazing creative people receive the attention and credit they deserve for the work they do, and I’m not giving up on that. Instead of a Jetpack or a Nerf gun mod, Aethertopia was MY maker project, and the 2019 version has failed. But that doesn’t mean the idea is bad, or the dream needs to die. You had faith in that dream as well, and I want to make sure that we can all rally together once again to promote Steampunk, and its Maker Mentality, next year, and beyond.
Thank you for being patient with me. I’ll be getting back to everyone as we roll forward. I look forward to continuing to serve all of you in the years to come.
Fan Conventions at Risk
This is not the first time a fan convention has had trouble, nor even the first time such a convention has been canceled in the past year. In October of last year, Anglicon 2018 canceled from poor ticket sales. As recently as three months ago, ReGeneration WHO also had to throw in the towel after several successful years, with just days to go before the convention was to have taken place.
Smaller fan run conventions are at continuous risk of extinction due to the larger conventions sucking all the air out of the room, and even the smaller commercial ones are finding their ticket sales being canabalized by larger conventions.
The proliferation of giant commercial comic cons appears to be straining the geek culture economy to the point where not even all the big ones can draw enough attendees to keep going. In May of last year, Phoenix Fan Fast had to fold up and regroup.
Of the fan run conventions, Aethertopia is one of the more innovative ones, and Sakovich hopes to regroup and try again in 2020.
Perhaps the convention will do better in ticket sales if it repositions itself on the calendar such that it doesn’t have to compete with MegaCon for fan dollars. Either way, the glut of giant commercial convention franchises represents an existential threat not only to Aethertopia but to all fan conventions. The solutions aren’t clear, but we specualte that they probably involve a return to the smaller conventions run by fans instead of corporations out to make a fast buck.