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The Vexing Verification

I'm not the most avid follower of comic books and maybe I am not as rabid about science fiction films and television series as some, but I have always enjoyed my weekends at New York ComicCon, the years I have gotten a ticket to attend, and I have loved sharing elements of the con here on LJ and via my other social media: on twitter and instagram.

The Javits Center gets a superhero makeover in October as thousands of people, some in costume, others just gawking to see, come to sample the wares of artists and authors, attend panels that give insights to various media, be they comics, or entertainment for the big, small, computer or video game screen, and get to view sneak peeks at some episodes of a new or favorite program, usually with some of the principals in attendance to talk about it, and to answer questions from adoring fans.

It's still not the ultimate con - that remains the Comic-Con International: San Diego which happens each July. But looking at how San Diego operates their Con is clearly what the New York organizers have been doing, but with a twist.

This year, something new was announced in the process of acquiring tickets to NYCC. Billed as "Fan Verification," this additional step requires everyone who wants to attend any day of the 4 day Con to fill out a profile. It's apparently not something that can or should be done quickly, as the ComicCon website suggests in their description of the process:

We strongly recommend taking your time as you fill out your Fan Verification profile. If your profile is not complete, it will be cancelled. You have almost a full month to fill it out completely and correctly.

We'll have our first look at this profile form when it goes live on Friday, May 20th.

I brought up San Diego because New York ComicCon clearly wants to get to that level, but also because the San Diego Con has a somewhat similar process, involving a "Member ID" which you register for first, then get on their mailing list and receive info about purchasing badges to the event.

Ostensibly, this NYCC Fan Verification is to prevent scalpers from buying tickets and selling them at a profit. But I had a few questions, so I jotted them down and sent them off. I received a somewhat robotic and incredibly brief response to my questions. Let's go through it. First, here are the questions I asked:

1. I understand the need to try and prevent scalpers from purchasing blocks of tickets for NYCC and then selling them at a profit. What I don't understand is an in-depth element to verifying for ticket purchase. Granted I don't know how long a form this is, but the hint given on the website is it will take you a month to fill it out "properly." What purpose does all of that information serve to you, specific to preventing people from purchasing tickets that they may decide to resell at a profit?

2. Is this verification form actually more of a marketing tool being brought out to determine what fans are looking for at the Con, i.e. a PR device to either show an interest to potential artists/studios/corporations to get them on board if they were on the fence about committing to sign on, or to lock in attendance numbers prior to sales? And if it were that, why not just tell us that?

3. Who is actually going to cull through all of these applications and read all the comments and elements included? Or is this simply going into some database that will track the trends for this marketing tool concept and no one will actually look at any of these forms at all?

4. Is part of this "verification" process the point that the tickets purchased going to be "branded" to the person who bought them?

5. Plans change and emergencies come up, especially when planning for something months in advance. If you purchase a ticket, then, for whatever reason, cannot attend NYCC, there seems to be no contingent for a refund directly from NYCC (that was never the case previously, but under these new conditions that might have been a useful and equitable option - to allow NYCC to retain control of all tickets), no ability to sell your ticket at face value through a service like StubHub, not even the ability to give your ticket to a relative/friend/coworker, or any other option that won't leave you holding a ticket you cannot use (and will likewise deny a person who might have otherwise gone, the ability to attend). This seems like an element that could wind up being more unfair to fans. What was the mindset for this decision and is there any possible way to resolve a circumstance like that?

6. How else will you use the information you receive in these fan verification applications? Is this information about likes/dislikes/faves and our email addresses going to be sold to potential sponsors, exhibitors, and others that may want it for their own uses? There was no mention that this information was going to stay exclusive to NYCC in this message, so it's natural to ask if it will.

7. If you are a costumed character, what sort of identification will be necessary? People enter wearing helmets, prosthetics, make up and other things that render them unrecognizable with a picture ID. How do you monitor people who are fully geared up to make sure they are who they say they are?

8. The bane of everyone's existence is entering the Javits Center. Will this verification have ANY impact on streamlining the long lines just to get in?

9. And finally, did security, or a need/desire to increase security, play any role in prompting these changes?

The response I received back was this terse and redundant paragraph, listed as being from the autonomous "Customer Service":

The verification process will not take a month. It will just be available from May 20 – June 13th. The process is to eliminate the resell of tickets. Everyone who completes the profile will receive a link for the opportunity to purchase tickets to the show. Our show team will track this information. This process is to eliminate the resell of tickets and give fans the opportunity to purchase tickets fairly. This process does not have any effects on the lines. Photo ID will need to be provided and anything that will not allow us to confirm your identity will need to be removed in order to do so.

Notably, the phrase "process is to eliminate the resell of tickets" appears twice in the paragraph, when it didn't even need to appear once.

It's interesting what was and what was not answered of my questions.

The fact is, that even if you don't purchase or aren't able to purchase tickets to NYCC, they will still have your profile, submitted before tickets go on sale. They did not say they were not going to sell people's information - names, email addresses, likes and interests, etc. to third party companies for a profit or use that information as leverage to get exhibitors to buy floor space at the Con. In that sense, NYCC potentially gets to make a profit two ways - the first from demonstrating to media companies likely attendance and interest in particular topics and subjects - getting more money from the corporate side, but also the concept that they are creating a mailing list that can be sliced up by genre interest and sold to... comic book producers, movie studios, even other Convention organizers to email you tons of material about their works.

In going through the San Diego process, there doesn't seem to be a step that requires potential attendees to share additional information about what they like and don't like, why they are attending that con, or anything related to that. You just need a unique email, your Member ID and some good timing to purchase your tickets. That really suggests this NYCC fan verification method is specifically for marketing, not for preventing scalping.

Another bothersome element is the concept that you need a Photo ID with you. People do full make up and do wear masks and other accoutrements to make their costumes look fantastic. Forcing people wipe off their makeup or dismantle their costume will create some serious time lag, not to mention create a lot of upset fans. Even if you are barefaced and in street clothing, the extra few seconds it will take for a spotter to look at a photo ID, match it up to your badge and to your face before letting you through the gates multiplied by tens of thousands of people? This could potentially double the length of time it'll take to enter. That'll make last year's system seem like the Autobahn and there's nothing helpful to the fans about that at all.

And the other major problem is that NYCC will keep your money if you cannot attend. There is absolutely no way to get any kind of reimbursement for a ticket that can't be used. The ticket can't even be given to someone else, let alone sold at face value. From the Con side of the ledger, this is great, as it means the money is in their coffers and will stay there, and any cancellations mean one fewer person on the show floor. But for someone who has to deal with an unexpected turn in life? Grandma died a day before you were flying to NYC. Sorry! SOL!

Our nameless, faceless Customer Service representative also avoided any mention of security, which suggests that there were other issues about that involved. I don't know if NYCC is some sort of target, but I suppose with celebrities in attendance, with the mass of humanity that is there and with it being New York, there always is that possibility. The non-transferable element of these tickets seems to indicate that's a bigger part of the story than they wish to share. And, to be fair, San Diego has a similar element in place for their Con.

Still, we have to wonder about the information we are offering up and how it will be used in the future. I guess we'll have a better idea about all of this when New York ComicCon releases this "Fan Verification" form on Friday.

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