Because the problem is that they really can't compete for headlines with the movie and game people anymore. Who are quite happy to spend silly amounts to gain attention. The most visible aspect of that this year were the hotel coverings for Red Fraction, Silence and Scott Pilgrim. Even for these companies, the amounts spent are far beyond any actual monetary gain at the show itself.
Let's look at that Red Faction display that ran the entire height of the hotel façade across from the convention centre. You know, the one that wasn't even up properly by Thursday leaving people looking at it flummoxed. And the only people seeing that ad were attendees and the few residents of San Diego facing that way. You couldn't even see it from the plane coming in (unlike Scott Pilgrim and Silence)
If every single attendee who saw the poster and other advertising for the show bought the game (and yeah, like that could ever happen), then, after retail and distribution costs, you're looking at bringing in around $3.5 million. Except that your costs at the show, hotel, booth, staff, props and advertising are more like $4.5 million.
Top comics publishers spent $5-8 per attendee at the San Diego Comic Con, all in, running a Red Queen's Race, just to catch up with everyone else's publicity. Some smaller prominent publishers spent $3-4 trying to catch up. They will not get that money back. They're basically seeing it as an investment for when movie people come along to buy a property. Which they are doing less of this year.
The lesson is to spend less and spent wiser. Probably the best spend of the show was the cardboard Galactus hat from Hasbro. Incredibly wearable, instantly seen by everyone. They will have cost around 20 cents each, max. If there was a hundred thousand over the show, then you're looking at a cost of $20,000. And seen and enjoyed repeatedly by everyone at the show with a far greater impact on the viewer.
Next year, expect a lot of hats.
Some analysts see comics has having a lack of presence at San Diego Comic Con this year but what option was there when even the lamppost banners for Broadway or Market St cost $250,000. Each street.
But next year, expect a lot more opportunity to make a splash as these budgets get cut from Holiday Inn to the Hilton.
What would a Bleeding Cool hat look like anyway?
UPDATE: Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics reports they grossed just under $80,000 at the show, but that break even was $60,000. And this is without expensive marketing costs.