New York Comic-Con 2013: The Economics of Celebrity Autographs

How much would you pay for Sylvester Stallone’s autograph? Probably not as much as he’s asking for.

[This continues our coverage of New York Comic-Con 2013.]


I love Comic-Con, but one part of the event that I just cannot relate to is paying money for a celebrity’s autograph and a few seconds of interaction. I mean, I understand the desire to meet a larger-than-life figure, but to me, putting a price tag on the interaction and making people queue up for hours sucks all of the emotional connection out of the experience. (In a way, I find it not dissimilar to paying a stripper for a lap dance and a conversation. In a way.)

Anyway, about those price tags. I’m kind of fascinated by the idea of distilling a celebrity’s popularity among the Comic-Con crowd into a single number. It’s an object lesson in all sorts of economic principles:

  • Supply and demand. A celebrity can sign (supply) a finite number of autographs. Demand among the Comic-Con crowd can range from crushingly intense to “meh.”
  • Opportunity Cost. A celebrity can make a lot of money selling autographs, but could s/he make even more money by doing something else with that time? What’s the trade-off?
  • Signaling. Perhaps an older celebrity who hasn’t been in anything notable for a while wants to signal to the public an “A-list” image by setting a high price for an autograph.

And many others. I mean, it’s literally a marketplace for celebrity autographs. So with Economics 101 in mind, let’s play a little game: can you match the celebrity with the price that s/he was commanding for an autograph?

How much would you pay for this autograph?

How much would you pay for this autograph?

First, here’s the list of celebs:

  • Joel Grey (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13)
  • Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood, Red Faction – Origins)
  • Kristin Bauer (True Blood)
  • Veronica Taylor (Pokémon)
  • Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink, Weekend at Bernie’s)
  • Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural, Eureka)
  • David Duchovny (X-Files)
  • Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones, Ripper Street, Soldier Soldier)
  • Hulk Hogan (Wrestling Legend)
  • Sigourney Weaver
  • Jason David Frank (Power Rangers)
  • Gillian Anderson (X-Files)
  • William Shatner (Star Trek, T.J. Hooker)
  • Anthony Daniels (Star Wars)
  • Chloe Moretz
  • Lauren Bowles (True Blood)
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • John Barrowman (Torchwood, Arrow, Doctor Who)
  • Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time, Mass Effect, Star Trek: Voyager)
  • Patrick Stewart (Star Trek, X-Men)

Second here’s the list of price points:

  • $395
  • $185
  • $80
  • $75
  • $75
  • $75
  • $60
  • $60
  • $50
  • $40
  • $40
  • $40
  • $30
  • $30
  • $30
  • $30
  • $30
  • $25
  • $20
  • $10

The answers are below, but before I reveal them, I wanted to speculate on how these prices are actually set. Ideally, celebs’ agents would have data from other similar events to get both a historical sense of performance as well as peer comparisons. Maybe someone out there has a complex statistical model that factors in the box office gross of the celeb’s last movie, how long ago that movie was, the volume of Google search results in the months leading up to the event, lifetime box office earnings, and a host of other readily available data points. If such a thing doesn’t exist, well…Overthinking It should get into the lucrative celebrity autograph price-setting consulting business.

How much would you pay for his autograph? Probably not as much as he's asking for.

How much would you pay for his autograph? Probably not as much as he’s asking for.

Now, here are the answers:

Celebrity  Price
Sylvester Stallone  $395
Sigourney Weaver  $185
David Duchovny (X-Files)  $80
Patrick Stewart (Star Trek, X-Men)  $75
William Shatner (Star Trek, T.J. Hooker)  $75
Chloe Moretz  $75
Gillian Anderson (X-Files)  $60
Hulk Hogan (Wrestling Legend)  $60
Anthony Daniels (Star Wars)  $50
Joel Grey (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13)  $40
John Barrowman (Torchwood, Arrow, Doctor Who)  $40
Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink, Weekend at Bernie’s)  $40
Raphael Sbarge (Once Upon a Time, Mass Effect, Star Trek: Voyager)  $30
Jerome Flynn (Game of Thrones, Ripper Street, Soldier Soldier)  $30
Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood, Red Faction – Origins)  $30
Kristin Bauer (True Blood)  $30
Lauren Bowles (True Blood)  $30
Felicia Day (The Guild, Supernatural, Eureka)  $25
Jason David Frank (Power Rangers)  $20
Veronica Taylor (Pokémon)  $10

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Sylvester Stallone is asking for a whopping $395 for his autograph. That’s over twice as much as his nearest competitor, Sigourney Weaver. Other notable take-aways:

  • Patrick Stewart and William Shatner are asking for the same price. I assume Starfleet set this price to avoid any conflict within the ranks.
  • At the tender age of 16, Chloe Moretz is tied with Stewart and Shatner and beating out old stalwarts like Hulk Hogan.
  • Both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame were on hand, but Duchovny was commanding $15 more per autograph than Anderson. Another example of women getting paid less than men to do the same job?

Any other surprises? If you could set your price for any of these autographs, would it be higher or lower than what’s listed here? Let us know in the comments!

9 Comments on “New York Comic-Con 2013: The Economics of Celebrity Autographs”

  1. Kyle Liverman #

    During the filming of North by Northwest, it’s rumored that Cary Grant charged fans a quarter per autograph. That’s roughly $2 by today’s standards. Now that I’ve read this article, that really doesn’t seem so bad.


  2. mezdef #

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say Duchovny asks more because of Califonication (going on 7 seasons). Anderson has been doing good work (hoping to see more of her in the second season of Hannibal, which is excellent and absolutely ripe for recaps), but not at the popular level Duchovny has. This is not to say that female actors do not get paid less, just that there’s probably a good reason in this case. Their earnings from X-Files may be a better yard-stick.

    I doubt I’d pay for a celebrities autograph, but that aside, here’s some wild speculation on pricing:

    1. Lets get the plastic elephant out of the way: Stallone is clearly either misinformed about his popularity (or I am?) and the demographics attending comic con, or he just doesn’t care that much and wants to do as few autographs as possible (my theory). This one is ripe for speculation and someone with more knowledge should just jump in.

    2. I totally buy Weaver at the high end, she seems to pick her movies fairly carefully and knows she’s popular with the con crowd. This price tag seems to state her perceived and projected status as a serious actor who does work in genre film.

    3. Felicia Day (I imagine) would be incredibly popular with the crowds as she does a lot of work and clearly loves the area and her fans. Her non A-B list status makes sense for a low price tag to justify her time there.

    Comparing statistics of number of autographs signed by each of the 4 above (with Moretz thrown in as well), time spent talking to each customer, time with no-one queuing, and satisfaction of each customer could be cool.

    Do any attendees have anecdotal recollection on any of this? Or care to speculate?

    What I’d set (as an agent):
    Stallone: $400 – lets not be making this seem less absurd than it really is.
    Weaver: $200 – Serious actress, serious price.
    Duchovny: $75 – Seems about right.
    Anderson: $100 – Projects intelligence and a reserved air, lets make this a luxury good.
    Day: $25 – Seems about right.
    Moretz: $50 – Young up and coming actress, in her best interests to get lots of the young crowd and develop good reputation going forward with a reasonable price. Develop life-long fans.


  3. Opellulo #

    There are things that I don’t undestand of the american market: how a celebrity is supposed to behave in different fan meetings? They can charge for an autograph (and are supposed to do so) in a comicon, but what happens when a fan asks for one in a movie/event presentation or in the street?


    • wendyd #

      Sort of an answer: I went to GenCon a while ago. Kevin Sorbo was there with photos to sign. He was also charging for fan photos, like if you wanted him to pose in a photo with you. I wasn’t going to pay for either (although, they weren’t that much, I don’t think, $25-30 bucks or so). He was talking to us for free though; the celebrity booths were pretty dead; no one else was around. A friend held up his phone and asked if I wanted a picture; he hadn’t seen the sign about paying for photos with also. When I pointed out that we were supposed to pay for that, Kevin said, come on over, we’ll do a head butt and he did a more informal picture for free. This was after Andromeda, so maybe nothing was moving for him, but I thought it was cool.


  4. Mark Lee OTI Staff #

    Some additional stray observations and thoughts:

    -I did a closer observation of the lines Sunday around 1 PM. Felicia Day seemed to have a pretty long line, so she was probably underpriced. Duchovny had a very short line, though I can’t say if that’s because he was at the end of his session or just because people were scared away by the high prices. Hulk Hogan also had a short line.

    -If we were optimizing for revenue and nothing else, I think the way to go would be variable pricing depending on how many people are are buying given autographs. There’s actually a bar that does this with beer:

    But as I alluded to above, revenue is not the only thing being optimized for in this scenario.

    -I asked myself if there was a celebrity for whom I’d be willing to stand in line and pay for an autograph, and I was a bit hard pressed to come up with one. Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger before his scandal, so aside from him, I’d say James Cameron. I would pay $100 for James Cameron’s autograph, and the chance to ask him this question:

    Did you, or did you not, base the character of the T-1000 off of the Cool Rider from Grease 2?

    And I would not leave him alone until I got a definitive answer.


    • Grendels Arm #

      Oh thanks, Mark, now I have that song stuck in my head. To be fair, it is accompanied by the image of Michelle Pfeiffer, so not all bad.


      • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

        Mission: accomplished.

        For those of you wondering what the hell is going on here, well, watch this video. It should be obvious if, at roughly the 2/3 point, you say the words “hasta la vista, baby”:


  5. josh sorell #

    I was at the con this year and although I’ve dealt with the whole price debate, I’ve seen some weird cases before. 2 years ago Jerry the King Lawler, of wrestling fame, was charging maybe $10-15 for autographs, $5 for photos. Meanwhile Brian O’Halloran from Clerks was charging maybe twice Jerry’s prices for autographs. This confounded me because Jerry has had a much longer and violent career. As a guy who shed blood, jumped off ladders and fought Andy Kaufman, if puzzles me to what extent the price of autograph is determined by the individual as work fee, and to what extent that price is gauged by promoters. Pre signed Ron Perlman photos go upwards from 60$, and that’s just for pre signed. It’s a very particularly weird industry where you might actually be able to some some amount of scratch off people just signing their names, but is it really worth the time and effort it takes to try and get exhausted actors to and from airports in times for crowded, sweaty conventions? I must say the guys who were running the pre signed booth at con this year were some of the most tightly wound people I have ever seen at a convention. Granted they were probably worried because Jon Dimaggio was late (he got there eventually because he was running uptown) but you can tell the guys who run these booths don’t exactly have the most sustainable jobs.


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