That's a whole nother essay, but I'm gonna try to keep it short.
(spoiler alert: I failed miserably)
At the end of the day, faires are entertainment venues. Occupying the middle ground between weekend carnivals and six flags.
Entertainment is always one of the first things to go when money gets tight.
There have been two major economic recessions in my adult life.
On the crafter side, renfaires have been one of the ultimate bastions of handcrafted off-the-rack works.
Unfortunately, the rise of globalism and the internet marketplace is squeezing that work out in favor of either custom work-for-hire or walmart prices. So anyone trying to make it in the circuit today is not only competing with their neighbors, but the successful masters comfortable with commissions AND with child slaves on the far side of the world.
So crafters who were thriving 20 years ago are either struggling or gone already.
On the entertainment side, faire began as kind of a neo-vaudeville, where shows you couldn't see everyday could happen. Yeah, it meant a lot of shows sucked sometimes. But with every show in front of a new audience, they could adapt as they went. With every performance you found out what worked and what didn't. And what worked could really work. For years.
Now with youtube and tiktok, it's easy for you to reach a wide audience when you still suck. And when you try to get better, there's no fresh eyes to see you. On top of that, that audience isn't there sitting on a bench considering dropping a dollar in your hat or looking at your merch, but in some other time zone, scrolling on to the next video.
Both crafter and entertainer getting hit by the economics above, both in the thin margins they normally operate on and what's hitting their target markets.
Then there's the patron side.
Faires compete with every other entertainment medium for your attention and your money. And they have so much more competition than they did before. Being a playtron is like being a LARPer or a SCAdian or a reenactor. There's a considerable participation cost, a shared history going back decades, and a lot of cliquish behavior.
On top of that, faires suffer much the same as cons are today: people considering them experiences rather than communities.
Nerd stuff has been cool for 20 years now. Once Lord of the Rings hit theaters there was no hiding it anymore.
Faires used to be one of the places where you were guaranteed to find "people like us." It gave a sense of community for people starved for it.
Now, when community can be found online (at least for a time) and people's ideas of communities (or at least acceptable communities) get smaller and smaller, faires have become experiences.
We say we're making places better by clearing out bad influences, fixing broken stairs, call it what you will (which is an ongoing argument I'm not even going to touch). And maybe we are.
But at the end of the day, it means that banishment and voluntary exile (depending on whether you're in-group or out-group) is easier than solutions where people stick around.
A combination of all that, over the last 20 years, is what I think has happened to faires.