A look at furry business with a $17,017 record fursuit auction price, July 2018
by Patch O'Furr
(There are many reasons to give this thoughtful discussion and avoid knee-jerk reaction about cost – it will happen, but please read on! – Patch)
MixedCandy gets fandom’s current highest auction price at The Dealer’s Den.
Congrats to MixedCandy for their successful auction. One of the fandom’s highest-powered creative stars has also raised attention for The Dealer’s Den, an online marketplace for this special niche.
This new record price was set 6 months after the previous one: $13,500 for a commission slot by Made Fur You, sold on The Dealer’s Den with 82 bids on 1/29/18. It was preceded by a record that stood for 3 years: $11,575 for Sniper Angeldragon by PhoenixWolf, sold on Furbuy with 187 bids on 2/14/15.
A few years ago, The Dealer’s Den looked like more or less a ghost town when I looked at its activity. Change of ownership to Vitai Slade brought healthy growth. It now roughly compares to the much longer established Furbuy, offering more options to the fandom. Both are free to use. At time of posting, both have around 350-500 active auctions and 1800 Twitter followers. The Dealer’s Den also has a Telegram group of 3,000 users advertising their goods, while Furbuy is doing in-person promotion with con panels and flyering. I’ve personally had good experiences with both.
A look at this auction and why it matters.
MixedCandy’s sale happened in 3 days time, shortly after the onslaught of mainstream media attention Anthrocon brings every year. I wouldn’t call that coincidental – timing an auction that way may be a great strategy! The bidding was most intense among 4 bidders who went way above usual market prices. I’d say $5000-6000 is still in a reasonable range of about double the usual cost of a full fursuit (it depends on features). Over that limit is where it really became a war.
I’m not surprised to see that happen with a character like Manuel Dog. I think he’s super handsome, with personality between fierce and cute. He seems made to make you run away in fear, but run up for a cuddle at the same time. He’s full of oodles of delicious fursuit crush power. I can’t wait to see him in action.
I will never get tired of adorable "were"wolves trying to look all scary but the only thing they succeed in is being cutie patooties :3— fluff monster (@dethbox) July 13, 2018
Werepups - @LibreWulf and @Dart_fur pic.twitter.com/RLlWwcwkjY
When there’s mainstream talk about movie box-office records, or Zootopia being a billion dollar blockbuster – the fandom equivalent is convention attendance or a fursuit price record. It may be just symbolic, but you can call this a marker for “furry industry”, fandom growth, and how its artists are valued.
If you liked Zootopia‘s success, this is the fandom’s. Fursuits (and massive gatherings of them) are where the subculture flexes creative muscle and visual showstopping power. A con’s group photo can be considered a money shot of the show. There’s a lot more going on with this subculture, and an outsider may only see the surface of it – but a picture is worth 1000 words. That’s part of Manuel’s appeal and price.
Paying that much for a suit is very subjective personal worth. Other hobbies can get way more expensive (like a flashy car nobody needs). This is skilled work, and a serious gallery piece by a painter, sculptor, or other professional can cost more. “You could have gotten something else” isn’t relevant to a unique piece (for pure cheapness, try Walmart.) But such sales aren’t an investment with “high culture” recognition. It’s also for using and participating for the love of it.
Perhaps fandom is catching a generational groove like in the 1980’s and 90’s, when comics crossed a line from disposable trash to massive collectibles. Superman #1 selling for a million didn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy comics. It did say a lot about adult geeks rediscovering nostalgia for things they loved but weren’t super free to enjoy as kids. Manuel is like a huggable toy and an adult inside too. Of course, you can’t print millions of Manuels; there’s just one of each.
A fursuit business isn’t a path to riches.
Does a high price mean success by itself?
From tips I’ve gotten, I’m not sure MixedCandy has had a smooth ride behind their high-demand customer queue. If that’s true, maybe this auction will help them breathe a little with relief. Cute art is Grown Up Business now, and sometimes that means Grown Up Problems.
My recent article: ArtworkTee issues and the heart of the furry economy looked at problems of indie business. For what seems like brilliant successes on the surface, there can be killer pressure from liabilities and debts or business backups. Look at Hollywood celebs or music stars saddled with massive tax debts, unpaid by bad contracts, or cheated by managers. I had a friend who took incoming calls for the IRS who helped counsel people on how to ease their burdens, who occasionally dealt with names you may know. One was a famous pop music singer whose finances were in shreds behind a long and lauded career. Creative business has had such issues forever.
Tips I was sent about MixedCandy came from an average fan looking into their business, who asked me to take it further. According to them in March 2018, they saw a Trello queue with a long backlog for commissions. It had to involve a lot of deposits. Turnaround time and outlook on catchup was questioned. But when I revisited the tip in July, they saw progress and counted the auction win as helpful for an upward trajectory. They commented that it could even inspire people with backlogs to overcome them, and wanted it to spread a hopeful message.
To research, I asked MixedCandy for their side, but didn’t get responses to share. Of course a potential customer of any business should do their own research.
MixedCandy clearly love what they do. No fursuit maker would be alone in having business issues. As long as fans want what they create, those issues will be balanced by fandom love over money. Rising from a hobby for the love of it to a reliable living and business is a real achievement.
Higher prices help risky business, and you don’t need “Name Brands” when a smaller maker is a great option.
I’ve casually tracked fursuit makers for years. They have a lot of turnover and full time ones work their tails off. Do you want them to stick around?
Furries put out so much trust to pay thousands, do the DTD thing, and wait years for a suit. On the other side, high labor goes in while some customers expect hobby prices for professional goods. It seems like a pincher.
Scaleup can hurt when a business takes on too many commitments, without charging enough to meet them. Another common problem is unforseen bills or runaway debt, like medical expense that can kneecap a business. A theft or illegitimate refund claim can compound problems. Burnout happens. At the small business level we’re discussing, going to court is unlikely. It just ends up being a mess for everyone. I think this is built in risk with fursuit making.
People who go to art school or come up the independent way may not be taught to plan for this like in business school. They just figure it out. It takes foresight to navigate the obstacles, and many don’t. This is why rising fursuit prices help.
There’s also no need to wait for years for a highly demanded maker… or complain about one auction beyond your budget. With new up-and-coming makers emerging all the time, don’t overlook a close relationship with a small, personal one hungry to get started. They’ll be grateful for support, and you may get a crazy deal with all the personal attention you could want. If you do, Tip Your Makers.
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As a furry editor and book reviewer, I am jealous of all the money that is being spent on fursuits as opposed to the comparatively nothing that is being spent on furry literature. None of the furry specialty publishers can afford to pay standard rates to encourage professional authors, say of s-f or mysteries, to write furry novels. None of them can afford to have foreign furry novels – there are some in French, German, Russian, Swedish, and other languages – translated into English, much less pay the authors for an English edition. Grump.
Hi there. Your concerns are valid.
Let me aid you with my market expertise.
Literature is already a difficult industry to break into. To specialize even further and shoot straight for the furry market is career suicide.
Any mainstream publisher will happily give you $600 if you can write a book that follows their guidelines. They’ll give you the plot elements you need to incorporate into the meat of your novel, and you’ll sit at your desk and write as fast as you can to churn this book out.
Oh, and it’s going to be a romance book. You don’t get a choice here. Romance is the only genre that’s in demand. Romance is what sells. Romance is what you’re going to write.
You don’t want to write something that isn’t romance? Sorry, but the market is flooded everywhere else. Your sci-fi or mystery book is only going to sell if it tackles the hardships of lesbian relationships or speaks profoundly about women’s issues.
Not up to speed with feminism or great lesbian writers? Haven’t studied the cultural importance of Valerie Solanas? Haven’t even heard of Valerie Solanas? Do the names Ti-Grace Atkinson or Florynce Kennedy ring a bell?
Then either get out of the business, or get your start by writing mainstream heterosexual romance for a corporation.
I don’t write sharp comments like this too often, but there is so much I disagree with here it’s hard to know where to start.
Mainstream publishers like Tor and Orbit do not have guidelines of the sort described here. Publishers of category romances (e.g., Harlequin) do, sort of, but they have a traditional pay structure based on royalties and advances (which are almost certainly going to be well above $600). Writing fiction to match a pre-agreed specification for a flat rate is relatively uncommon in publishing, more likely to happen with licensed properties and multi-author serials.
Romance is the biggest publishing category but individual romance titles are rarely big sellers; the average advance from Tor/Forge of $10K is higher than the average total earn-out for Harlequin Romance titles.
The notion that “you don’t get a choice whether to write a romance” is belied by looking at the new fiction shelves of any book store. If you mean to argue that it is easier to break into fiction with category romance than it is to sell your debut novel to Penguin Random House, then say that; it’s at least something I can’t immediately disprove by cursorily examining any given list of notable new books and observing how many are not, in fact, speaking profoundly about women’s issues.
tl;dr: even today, in late 2018, there are an awful lot of ways to successfully sell books, even the ones that are not lesbian romances.
Hey Fred. The short answer is that while people love their furry books, there aren’t enough people with time to read who pay for them to make it a viable market. Just think of how much time it takes to read one book for busy people who work, have kids, jobs etc.
And I think, on the business side, most publishing is like a big game of robbing Peter to pay Paul. There’s rarely real money in the “real kind” either.
If someone wants to dump $17,000 all at once into a market – that makes a big difference. Otherwise, for a book to succeed on the same level, it needs to sell thousands and thousands of times.
I’d bet the most successful furry books barely crack 4 digits in sales. Nobody is making a living at it, not one. If they’re a pro, it’s spread across other markets.
And then there’s the “furry stigma” where the strength of having a supportive fandom is paradoxically the limitation that keeps it inside a fandom.
What could change things is a breakout success. A furry book becoming a game, TV show, movie, etc.
That’s what happens when say, Anthrocon gets news headlines about bringing millions to a city. Anthrocon is the breakout success, and fursuits are the face of it because they’re visual. Enjoying them comes with socializing, dancing, acting etc. It’s a lot different than sustained alone-time concentration with a book.
It could happen if a book gets the magic ingredients right… but I think a secret to publishing is that a breakout success has no formula. Nobody can repeat it after it happens once. The person who does is now a Name but people who try to follow them need a different approach.
Keep loving fandom but low expectations are good until someone is willing to pay for more. I don’t think it means books are unloved. I think it’s just apples and oranges from the “fursuit industry”. It’s a different medium.
There are nice signs of hope for your wishes too. Ursula Vernon winning prizes outside fandom. Tempe O’Kun teaching furry literature at a college and on NPR. Watch for that to grow.
Well: I’m not aware of any evidence that furries read any less than any other demographic–which suggests that on average they read about twelve books a year. The problem (for furry writers/publishers) is that on average, zero of those books are furry. A lot of furries still don’t know even know there’s a nascent furry publishing industry, and of those that do, a lot assume that it’s more or less the same stuff they can get for free on Fur Affinity, e.g., erotica and fetish material of highly variable quality. I don’t think selling tens of thousands of copies of most furry titles is likely, no, but I don’t think doubling or tripling the sales we have now is at all out of the question. But we’re going to need new strategies for it. (I don’t know what. Yet.)
Thanks Watts for a much more informed opinion than any junk I can say 🙂
I think you nailed it… writing and publishing are jobs… marketing is a whole other job on top. If you don’t get them all right you might sit on a garage full of high quality books that barely sell, or a digital file that doesn’t pay for the work it took.
Perhaps the same problem exists across all of publishing, but there are established fanbases and presences for others, while furry publishing might be reaching for critical mass of customers (with a lot of fandom growth since the early 2000’s), in a time when all publishing is suffering with Amazon monopoly and competition for attention spans etc.
Maybe it means looking for outside genre publishers to come around to warmer attitudes to furries the same as news media and some movie and TV production.
I wonder how Cleis Press did with “Furry Nation?” A winner, a loser, or very modest results?
Also important to know is that the vast majority of small presses outside the fandom are not self-supporting. Majority of small press publishers have day jobs and do their publishing for the love of it.
Publishing is barely a way to make a living and absolutely not a way to get rich, and that’s true both inside and outside of furry.
With having a tight focus on a niche market, publishers like me are probably selling more books than some non-fandom small presses.
Oh and to add, I really dislike this idea that it’s writers versus artists, fursuiters, dancers, or anyone else. We’re all in this fandom together and the focus on literature in our community is about the same as it is outside the community, small but for a few very dedicated readers.
Marketing is a huge issue, and something we are all trying to figure out. 🙂 Bigger publishers have an advantage of being, well, bigger—I know that’s tautological, but if you have a full-time staff that includes an in-house marketing department and have your editorial workflow tuned to a point where you’re sending out a few hundred advance reading copies four months before the publication date, a lot of things open up to you. I think there are aspects of “big name” workflow that furry can probably manage better than we do, but clearly not all of them. FurPlanet/Argyll is a supportive publisher, but they are not likely to be sending me, or even Kyell Gold, on a book tour any time soon. I am hopeful that they can start coming up with more titles that can at least sneak into independent book stores, though. (Which goes back to the matter of making our stuff more visible…)
As far as outside genre publishers go, I think they can be more open then we in furrydom sometimes imagine. That’s not to say it won’t be a tough sell, but I think we have some authors already who have a chance of making a novel sale to Tor, Orbit or another major genre publisher. And, of course, Tor has already published pretty manifestly furry work in the recentl past: Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard and Daniel Polansky’s The Builders. Schoen’s sequel The Moons of Barsk drops this month (and I’m fairly sure they’ve sent out advance review copies to specifically furry reviewers).
Another thing to look at is that these folks have been in business for years generating fans since at least 2002. As a kid I used to look at all the cool cars and had dreams of owning one someday. As an adult now, I have the means to make that purchase and further, if the absolute perfect one comes up for sale, I am willing to spend whatever it takes to get it. Its a purchase of passion, to fulfill a dream. That is what gives me the happy warm fuzzy feelings about these large purchases. People are realizing their dreams. Cool Stuff.
That’s a great point!
The real question is, did they actually PAY that much for the suit? Or was it just trolls?
I’d be surprised if that was the case – there were 4 serious bidders so someone will pay the full amount or near it.
Not confirming or denying anything. But MixedCandy is responsive to communication, just not for public statements about this. People love to hate on big sales.
I have long believed that furry artists (and fursuit makers) should generally raise their rates. If dozens of people are vying for a spot in the queue every time it opens, that’s a sign that demand is far outstripping supply. Artists are insane to have a queue months or years deep, or to stay up half the night at cons to work on commissions. Many could probably double their rates and make the same money in half the time, and reduce their stress tremendously.
True, some potential customers will complain about not being able to afford it. That’s not the artist’s problem. They need to make a fair living at their trade, and that means charging what the market will bear.
I just would like to point out for the record that comparing numbers on Dealer’s Den and FurBuy is not apples to apples. Dealer’s Den hosts both Store Items and Auctions under the same category headings and tallies, while FurBuy is exclusively an Auction site. If you were to compare Auctions to Auctions, FurBuy would still be larger far and away over Dealer’s Den.
I will say the new version of FurBuy being actively worked on right now includes store items like Dealer’s Den, and also introduces several new types of auctions and auction features which will vastly improve the auction experience and make auctions more fun, interesting and appealing to users moving forward. However we still won’t be giving an apples to apples comparison on numbers with the new site because we will be keeping auction and store item tallies separate for clarity – it’s incredibly misleading to merge those two as they are functionally very different types of sales.
Thanks for the update 🙂 I’m happy to have multiple auctions at all for such a niche. Can’t wait to see more.