The End of Fan-Run Conventions?

This is going to be long, for which my apologies, but I think it is a debate that needs to be had. I’ve been involved in running fan conventions for a couple of decades now, most specifically Worldcon. Kevin has been doing it for longer. So I do have some idea what I’m talking about. And I’m starting to think that the model we have is broken, and needs to be abandoned, or at least radically overhauled. There are lots of reasons for this.

I note also that I have been working on this post for some time, and would have run it on Tuesday had the whole “the Hugos are corrupt and misogynist” thing not blown up. It is, of course, even more relevant now.

Exhibit 1: Access to Funding

I had a very interesting conversation with Mihaela on the way to the airport in Zagreb. Like the Finns, Croatian fandom is able to raise money from government grants. They don’t get as much, but then Finland is an older and richer country. What they do get is important to them. Much of that money comes, ultimately, from the EU, and therein lies the problem, because the EU is starting to introduce stricter standards for deciding what organizations to fund.

There’s no question of anti-SF bias here. The EU has no problem funding science fiction conventions. But they are starting to ask that any arts body that they donate money to is properly incorporated and has at least one full time member of staff. It can, of course, be a non-profit organization, but it does have to show the ability to get the job done. A bunch of mates doing something in their spare time as a hobby doesn’t cut the mustard. And you know, this is public money they are handing out here, they do have a right to be cautious.

Of course this is directly contrary to traditional fannish ethics. We’ll reimburse expenditure, and some conventions will comp program participants, possibly after the event and only if they have enough money. But no one, absolutely no one, gets paid. If a Worldcon were to talk about employing fans as staff I can guarantee a flame war to end all flame wars.

I have no idea whether this affects Finland, and if so how. Hopefully someone will tell me. In the UK the chances of getting money for a fan-run event have always been ridiculously small anyway, and the US doesn’t do government subsidy of the arts much at all, for anyone. As a result, we Anglos can put our heads in the sand and carry on as before. But I’d like you to consider something else.

The main reason why so many of the people involved in running Worldcon come from relatively privileged backgrounds is that it takes one heck of a lot of time, effort and money. Volunteering is not cheap, and many people can’t afford to do it.

The thing I liked most about Madeline Ashby’s contribution to the Worldcon debate was where she pointed out that people her age (early 30s), even in a prosperous country like Canada, have no hope of owning a home, or being able to afford a family. They also, of course, have no hope of job security, and if they have any sense they’ll be worried sick about pensions too.

It was all so much easier when I was Madeline’s age. The job for life thing looked like it was going away, but we all figured that we’d have our own homes, we’d have families, and we’d retire on a good pension. Giving something back to the community seemed like only the right thing to do. These days, younger people have way too much to worry about. And that’s just the middle class white people. I suspect the situation is far worse for people of color, for disabled people, and so on.

I have a great deal of sympathy with them, because when I took the decision to transition I was giving up much of my privilege. I lost my home, I lost my job, and the company running my private pension scheme told me I had forfeited all of the money I had paid in. (I got it back eventually, but I haven’t been able to afford pension savings since.)

Pro tip: if you want young people, and people from minority groups to get involved in con-running, try to remove the economic barriers that prevent them from volunteering.

Exhibit 2: A Membership, Not A Ticket

That brings us to another scared cow of fannish traditions: the idea that a convention is a community, not a show, and that you get out of it what you put in. As with not getting paid, I have a great deal of sympathy with that in theory, but aside from really small events like Corflu and SMOFcon I don’t think that it ever worked in practice. Even at something like BristolCon (membership between 250 and 300) I’d be prepared to bet that more than half of the attendees want nothing more than to buy a ticket and be entertained. At something like Worldcon the proportion of ticket buyers will be much higher.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. You can still have a community of people that is more heavily involved in the event than most of the attendees. But people have been talking about Worldcon being “exclusionary” of late, and I can’t think of anything we do that is more exclusionary than telling people that they will only get out what they are prepared to put in.

Besides, for an event like Worldcon the general public ought to be a cash cow. They’ll give you money to come in, and they are much easier to look after than the average convention-going fan. Talk to the Finns about the difference between running a 10,000 person Finncon, which is open to the public for free, and a 4,000 person Worldcon. They know that the latter would have been harder in many ways.

It may be that we can get away from this idea without giving up on fan-run conventions. Certainly the Finns seem to manage. So do the French. And Liburnicon tries to do the same thing. But old-time British and American fans are so wedded to the “membership, not a ticket” idea that it is going to be a really hard sell, if not impossible.

By the way, please don’t fall for the tired, old “lit-fan-membership / media-fan-ticket” dichotomy. People who are media fans can work just as hard on fan conventions as anyone else. And people who read books are often very keen on gate shows. What do you think literary festivals are?

Exhibit 3: Fans Are Inflexible

The thing that really got me thinking down these lines was this post by Andrea Philips, who sees the problems of Worldcon being all down to it being a fan-run event. Her basic thesis is that fans, being fans, are too selfish, insular and stupid to ever be able to appeal to anyone beyond their own narrow interests. Was I insulted? You bet I was.

Still, apparently all fan-run events have a duty to think outside of the box and reach out to people who are not like them. So BristolCon has a duty to stop being an event devoted mainly to books and art, and should actively start doing more programming on media, on computer games and so on. And WisCon should stop selfishly focusing on feminist issues and broaden their appeal, perhaps by having John Ringo and René Walling as their next Guests of Honor.

Or maybe not.

Then again, one of the points about Worldcon is that it is designed to be a big tent event. That is, you get in a whole load of different fan groups and get each of them to contribute their particular expertise and interest to the event. It isn’t always easy to cover everything every year, because you are reliant to some extent on the local fandoms, but that is the design objective. That’s why there is so much programming.

Then again, there are ways in which Ms. Philips is absolutely right, because fan run events are slow to change. They are slow because they run on consensus, not on command and control. And Worldcon is slower than anything else because it does try to involve everyone, and it has a whole lot of democratic systems in place to try to ensure that everyone gets a fair hearing.

Unfortunately democracy is not what people want from something that, these days, is regarded as a commercial service. When someone complains online that they want Worldcon to do X they mean that they want to see it done next year, or they will find some other con that does do X. They most emphatically do not want to be told: “well, that’s a good point, but we have limited resources and other people wanting other things; shall we sit down and talk about it for a year or two and try to reach a compromise?”

Of course there is no guarantee that a professionally run Worldcon would be any faster to change. Just look at IBM, or Microsoft, or Nokia, or any other large organization that has fallen behind the bleeding edge of popular expectations. But at least a professionally run event would either say yes or no. It would not drag things out, and expect the people asking for change to help achieve it.

Exhibit 4: Rising Expectations

Back in the dark ages of the 20th Century, amateur-run events used to get something of a free ride when it came to expected standards. Everyone knew that the people in charge were doing what they did in their spare time, and a certain amount of roughness around the edges was not only acceptable, it was expected, and rather charming. That no longer applies.

These days, if you run an event — any event — people expect it to be run professionally. If it isn’t, they will let you know. No amount of complaining that you are all volunteers will save you. I know that’s not fair, I know you were only doing your best, but cultural attitudes change, and we have to change with them.

Sometimes, of course, the complaints are unreasonable. For example, at ConJosé we had someone turn up at a gripe session to tell us that it was absolutely unacceptable that he could not get into every Kaffeklatsch he wanted. If a given event was full, it was our duty to find more time slots and more rooms, and schedule that author for as many Kaffeklatsches as the members required, so that everyone got their fair turn.

Thankfully, back in 2002, we didn’t have social media. Otherwise we would never have heard the end of how full of FAIL we were for not giving this poor fellow what he wanted.

These days one of the first appointments any Worldcon needs to make is a social media expert to handle the inevitable shit storms that will blow up. They also, of course, need an expert web designer (and you would have thought that would be easy, given how many techies there are in fandom, but many convention websites are still dreadful). And they need someone good enough with tech to handle live streaming of events without them crashing all of the time. They need people skilled at negotiating with publishers to get the Hugo Voter Packet put together. The number of experts that you need to run a successful Worldcon is increasing all of the time.

What Worldcon desperately needs is continuity. Some of that it gets from having a small and dedicated group of people who work on it every year. But they burn out from all that time, effort and cost, and are getting older and more out of touch with the skills required. Meanwhile the management changes every year. Worse, most attempts to provide continuity are fiercely resisted by traditionalists because they see it as a first step towards Worldcon having full-time, paid staff; something which, as I noted above, is anathema to them.

If Worldcon were the only game in town it wouldn’t matter, but the events that it gets compared to: most notably Dragon*Con and the San Diego Comic Con, are professionally run and do have some full time staff (though they also rely a lot on volunteers). If we don’t match up to their level of performance, we will be judged as inferior, no matter how unfair we think that is.

Exhibit 5: The War On SMOFs

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is a war going on out there. On one extreme we have hardline conservative fans who have been running Worldcon for decades and would rather see it die than see it change, especially if that change involves being “politically correct”. On the other extreme we have social justice campaigners, some of whom have never been to a Worldcon and have no intention of ever going to one, but who are absolutely sure that Worldcon and all of those responsible for it are EVIL incarnate. In the middle are the people who are trying hard to run better conventions; people who are getting shot at from both sides and being forced to pick which camp they will favor. It seems like you can’t even mention the term SMOF any more without one side claiming that you have just been horrible and exclusionary and the other claiming that you are oppressing them.

By the way, please don’t tell me that your little, local convention is doing much better. It isn’t. What it is, is under the radar. Worldcon gets this flak because it is high profile, and has a large membership, but a small con could very easily fall foul of the same sort of issue. It does, after all, only take one idiot to do something offensive, or one person to take offense where none was intended. I should be looking forward to BristolCon. Instead I’m mainly terrified that something will go wrong and we’ll end up in the middle of one of these shit storms. I’m starting to lose sleep over it, and the con is still 6 weeks away.

And don’t assume that the fact that you are doing a whole lot of good things will save you. I am getting rather tired of reading blog posts that provide lists of things that Worldcon should do if it is to evolve, and coming away thinking: “you’ve never been to a Worldcon, have you, we’ve been doing all that for years.”

What I find interesting about the whole thing (and Goddess knows I have to find something interesting, because it is mostly deeply depressing) is that the level of vitriol aimed at Worldcon is far worse than I’ve seen aimed at professional events. Part of that, I think, is because we don’t do social media well. There isn’t some calm and well-mannered person whose job it is to smooth ruffled feathers. What we have instead is a large group of people who have just worked their arses off, who are often socially clueless, and may be quick to anger. We have always had flame wars, of course. It amazes me how people used to keep them going when you had to wait a month for the next fanzine letter column to arrive. Now, though, you can respond instantly on Twitter, and if you say one word of out place you can guarantee that infelicitous phrasing will be re-tweeted by someone on the other side who has 20,000 followers.

However, I also think that there is a real social dynamic at work here. Plenty of people have written about how those of us who live online tend to exist in social bubbles of like-minded folks that we get on with. When a disagreement does blow up in such a group it can seem far more serious, and become more vicious, because the participants know each other well. Just look at how left-wing activists are always tearing each other apart online. We’ve got the same problem.

It is also sadly true that it is much easier, and more satisfying, to win an argument against someone in your in-group than it is against someone from a rival social grouping. There can be a real sense of achievement from bringing down someone known to you who was previously well thought of. Your chances of doing that sort of damage to someone you don’t know, and who comes from a social group that despises you, are far less.

I suspect in time we monkeys will get better at understanding how social media works, and will develop strategies to prevent us from harming each other so badly. Unfortunately by that time we’ll have invented a new mode of communication and the whole cycle will start all over again.

My point is, however, that there is no upside to running fan conventions anymore. There is no satisfaction in a job well done. The only probable outcome is that you will spend the weeks after the convention dealing with angry and disappointed attendees, and avoiding social media because you don’t want to have to read the awful things that are being said about you.

Yes, yes, I know. I have said some pretty rude things about some conventions in the past. I have also tried to give credit where it is due. I very much hope that when I reported on conventions I was doing so from a position of knowledge, and with the intention of helping people do better in the future. That’s not what I see happening now.

Last week while I was tweeting about Worldcon someone I’d never seen before (but who had an avatar of a brown-skinned male) said to me that from what he was hearing he never wanted to go anywhere near Worldcon. All I could say was that from what I was hearing I never wanted to go anywhere near one either. And yet I have been to many of them, and enjoyed them immensely. I wasn’t in San Antonio, but I find it hard to believe that they could have got that much worse that quickly. As I said in a tweet to John Scalzi, I don’t think that any Worldcon I have attended would have been judged a success had it been held to the standards being required of San Antonio.

Which is not to say that Worldcon should not aim to get better. I just don’t think any fan-run event can change fast enough to meet the standards now being set, and I have a sneaking suspicion that no fan-run event will ever meet the standards now required of it by other fans, now that so much of the criticism comes from people outside of the group that runs and attends the events.

It pains me to say this, but if someone were to come to me now and say that they were planning to start a convention, particularly if they were planning on bidding for a Worldcon, I would tell them not to be so bloody stupid, because no good can come of it, especially for them.

Postscript

Yes, I know that I haven’t suggested much in the way of positive alternatives. I will try to do so in the future, but I think I have gone on quite long enough for now.

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74 Responses to The End of Fan-Run Conventions?

  1. I’ve been thinking along these lines as well. And I have a further concern. Con-going for authors is as expensive for everyone else and what little help there used to be from publishers has largely dried up. While at the same time, publicists exhort us to go to as many as we can.

    This is a particular concern for those of us midlist, full-time writers who have seen our incomes steadily eroded over the last decade by changes in the booktrade we can do nothing about.

    I am already seeing a divide emerging between authors with day jobs for whom writing brings in additional, unbudgeted income which they can afford to spend on conventions – and those who find it increasingly hard to justify such expenditure when they have day to day bills to pay.

    I’ve already had several conversations with fellow UK writers who honestly don’t know how they’ll afford LonCon3 – and as for doing Nine Worlds and/or Shamrokon on either side? Not a hope in hell.

    • Cheryl says:

      There’s no way I can afford all three either. Then again, I’m probably not welcome at Nine Worlds these days, and after his I may not be welcome at Loncon 3 either. Dublin is nice.

    • Cheryl, of course you are welcome at Nine Worlds. EVERYONE is – that’s its ethos!

      • Really? Well, I’m one of a number of forty-something female writers who were made to feel very much not wanted at Nine Worlds – as being neither Young/New/Diverse or Big Name Draws.

        Now, that’s been discussed and is hopefully being addressed and the reason it’s not become An Internet Thing is those of us affected are willing to accept this was entirely accidental and in no sense intentional.

        However, it raises another serious concern for women writers in my position – if conventions look ever more towards commercial considerations, we will be ever more left out in the cold as not ‘marquee names’ – when we have an ever decreasing chance of becoming Big Name Draws when our books get disproportionately less reviews and promotion. I was in a branch of Waterstones this morning – of the 20+ titles on the SF promo table, one was by a woman author.

        One thing that good fan-run conventions do well is give a chance to shine to authors who don’t command the media spotlight.

        Commercially driven cons will surely skew towards reinforcing the success of established names, most of whom are men.

        • Cheryl says:

          There’s a lesson here. Juliet and her friends had a bad experience at Nine Worlds, but they are not blaming the convention, and things are being sorted out. Yet if someone has a bad experience at Worldcon it is all over the Internet as, “look at what the awful Worldcon people have done now!!!”

  2. Well, that’s a fairly bleak picture of my generations life expectations. Thanks Cheryl!

    I’ve had a lot of experience getting funding for arts projects in the UK. There’s no bias against SF in real terms. What there is, is a limited supply of arts funding (become ever more limited!) and a number of powerful vested interests who have the political clout to access it. Largely major institutions. Bottom line…if SF as a field wanted funding it would be a long hard political slog to get to that point. (This political point also holds for issues like media coverage and academic respect…you’re up against vested interests, not bias)

    SF actually has remarkable strengths as a community that mean it could achieve these things quite easily. But, it needs to set its sights on those goals. So, the question for me isn’t if SF cons are fan or pro run, but whether they raise their sights to be professional events that build the industry, rather than fan events that…don’t.

    • Cheryl says:

      My point is that it is actually very difficult for a fan-run event to be run to the standards currently expected, unless the event abandons many of the traditions of existing fan-run events.

      • Susie says:

        I’m sorry you find it so. While I would never invalidate your experience, I do sort of feel like your jibe about “don’t tell me that your little, local convention is doing much better. It isn’t” does just that to others. While it is distressing in the extreme that you’re having such a negative experience, you seem to be dismissing the possibility that other people in other places might be having a more positive one.

        I’m sorry your piece of fandom and cons is broken. It’s not universal.

        • Cheryl says:

          You’ve missed the point. I’m sure that there are plenty of cons out there doing very well indeed. The ones I’m involved in are trying very hard too. But when one of these attacks happens it really doesn’t matter what you have done, people will pile in anyway. And then you will find yourself saying. “why me, what have I done that’s so bad?” Just like many of my friends are doing now.

    • Farah Mendlesohn says:

      Actually the evidence is that it isn’t a long hard slog: it’s connections and fluke. The only groups I know of with public funding are alt.Derby (came out of nowhere) and a bunch of academics at Bangor who got a huge grant for a study of Tolkien fandom which as far as I know has never been published–which surprised no one as we had never heard of them.

      What a long hard slog gets you (in my personal experience) is the following statements:
      -oh, you are a slow a starter aren’t you?
      - don’t you work on anything else?
      -isn’t it a bit specialised?

      and my favourite…

      FM is ubiquitous in this area.

  3. Tero says:

    Re: EU funding. We’ve pretty much stayed away from that with Finnish conventions. It brings with it massive bureaucracy, and at least my non-expert understanding is that most of it is really not suited for our type and size of events. In addition to government grants, a significant portion of the money comes from cultural grants administered by private foundations. These are not subject to EU rules, AFAIK.

    • Cheryl says:

      Thanks. I think the Croatians use more EU funding because their government has much less money available, but I’m happy to be corrected on that.

  4. Adrian Tchaikovsky says:

    Cheryl – very good, very thoughtful article. I’d say that Nine Worlds stands as a sterling example of a fan-developed convention that was run extremely professionally. Funding was from Kickstarter, and that sort of crowdfunding model should be well suited to a fan audience.

    • Cheryl says:

      I think they did very well for a first year. There appeared to be a few teething troubles with hotel bookings, but I’m sure they’ll learn from that and be much more slick next time.

      • Farah Mendlesohn says:

        Kickstarter is a *start-up* programme. Maintaining crowdfunding over a long period is quite different. Ask charities about the difficulties.

  5. Simon Bisson says:

    Thank you for writing that.

  6. Hi! Andrea Phillips here. I certainly didn’t mean to say that fans are “selfish, insular and stupid.” I don’t believe that at all, and I’m very sorry I insulted you.

    The larger point I was trying to make is a larger one about group social dynamics, and how incentives change that — and in fact a good friend of mine has noted that the criticism I wrote about Worldcon applies equally well to another and much smaller fan-run event we’re a part of that isn’t part of SF fandom and has a totally different terminology. I was making an observation about human nature, and not fannish nature, if you will.

    I’m also not proposing that Worldcon become a for-profit event — though yeah, actually, now that you’ve written it out, I do see the benefit in having some full-time paid staff. More that conrunners be aware of the potentially high barriers to entry (financial, psychological, social) and put some thought into lowering them. …You know what? I’ma write a post that offers some ideas about that.

    • Cheryl says:

      Thanks. I look forward to seeing that.

      I really liked the post you did about why feeling accepted at Worldcon was important to you. If it is any consolation, the first con I went to, while great in many ways, felt sufficiently cliqueish that I didn’t go to another one for 11 years.

  7. Tony Keen says:

    The end of fan-run conventions? No, of course not. The end of certain fan-run conventions? Entirely possibly. It may be that Worldcon has so much baggage now, and the perception of it as being unwelcoming to minorities is so fixed, that the institution cannot be saved. I think that would be sad in some respects, but this does happen to institutions that can’t change enough. But new cons will arise in its place.

  8. wendy says:

    I’m 46, regular staff and panelist on local (midwest usa) cons for a couple of decades now.
    There has been a huge cultural shift in.fandom. we’re no longer the only game in town. Wider access to information and media means that we just don’t see people self-identify as ‘fannish’ any more. They are ‘into comics’, or ‘Ringers’, or gamers. They have lots of options, and whether you like it or not, fan-run cons have a lot of competiton.

    I also think that you are spot on with the effect of economic uncertainty, but that does not just apply to potential guests. Conventions depend on volunteers to do the grunt work, and operating on a model of ‘pay up front and then work your ass off and you can probably get reimbursed’ just doesn’t work for a lot of people any more, especially on the Worldcon level. You’re working 2 jobs and you have somehow managed to afford a Worldcon membership when it’s in your hometown. Why on earth would you then turn around and spent precious time from an experience you worked hard to afford hauling chairs or badging at a door?

    I came in late as a Chicon staffer (the head of Logistics dropped dead 5 days before load-in) and I had to pay $155 staff rate up front for the priviledge of busting my ass to save their con. The only reason I could afford that was that a friend of mine loaned me half the cash. We had no staff and a critical shortage of gophers for most of the con. We nicked 3 good gophers and made them our staff, but all three were commuting because they couldn’t afford downtown Chicago hotel prices. Then on Monday, when all of the self-identified SMOFs were busy congratulating each other on the email lists we were hunting down authorizations and funds to pay guys off craigslist for a couple of hours to unload the rental trucks because there was no one else to do it. This is simply not a sustainable model.

    • Cheryl says:

      Thanks. I’ve been having a conversation with Patrick Nielsen Hayden on Twitter about how much my perceptions might be skewed by who I’m listening to. What you say seems to support my perception that attitudes have changed substantially.

      • Wendy says:

        One of the things I have been most involved in over the years is costuming – As a panelist, CostumeCon volunteer and judge, and now track head and Masquerade director for Windycon in Chicago.

        We’re not getting the levels of costuming that we used to, because the skilled and energetic young craftspeople are going to C2E2, to ComicCon, to DragonCon, etc. CostumeCon and Worldcon used to be the International level events, and now they just don’t attract the interest that they used to. I saw more people in Hall Costumes at a tiny first-year Anime con in the ‘burbs than I did at Chicon.

        I have a sort of self-appointed mission as “Speaker To Costumers”, and I volunteered to work the Masquerade at Anime Central as a kind of “exchange student” – to see what they though of as “normal” for how to run a masquerade competition – it is very different from what I was used to. It prompted a lot of discussion both there and afterwards about shifts in fannish culture.

        I particularly recall meeting one of the Workmanship judges – He said nothing about awards or competitions he had won, but introduced himself as “…and I have over 200 tutorials on YouTube”. That right there is a HUGE cultural shift from the CostumeCon culture of “only the judges see my documentation”.

        No matter how we may personally feel about the whole “member/ticket” thing, or the “lit/media” thing – the end result is the same. We need to up our game to attract talent and interest, or continue to cater to a shrinking sugbroup.

        • Steve Cooper says:

          One of the simplest changes Worldcon, or any convention can make is to keep up to date with the language. And not exclude people by harping back to language and even traditions that are unknown to a younger generation.

          Yes – you have to remember your current demographic. But you can do both.

          For example at Loncon 3 we are in the process of re-branding our Costume programme “Costume & Cosplay”. A pretty minor change in the scheme of things, but one that speaks volumes to L3 wanting to include that younger generation.

          Of course we have to follow this up and ensure the programme speaks to cosplayers as well as costumers. But I’m sure that Andy & Kevin will be on top of this.

    • Paul Riddell says:

      I hear you, Wendy. One of my most bizarre convention experiences was simultaneously working security for and being a guest at a Dallas Fantasy Fair in the early Nineties. The heads of security were old friends, and when they publicly cried about how they couldn’t get enough volunteers, my best friend and I decided to join in. That’s when we discovered that the lack of volunteers was partly due to the number of flakes who’d arrive just long enough to get badges and disappear until the Dead Dog party, and partly because the heads of security could never be found anywhere but at the bar or at the dance on Saturday night. Suffice to say, it was a really rude awakening for the both of them when we were TOLD we’d have to hang around after the convention to help clean up, and we TOLD them we’d been up until 4 in the morning and then back on the job at 7 for three days.

      • Wendy says:

        *nods* The idea of the “pay first and then reimburse” was originally intended to cut down on the “get a badge and then not work” folks. But we paid for the privilege of working 16 hours days for a week, and that makes no sense either.

        I had a lot of local friends who couldn’t afford to go to Chicon, but if we had called them up and told them how understaffed we are they would have gladly hopped on a train and come down to help in exchange for the chance to wander around the con and see stuff for a couple of hours, but we weren’t able to utilize that resource because of the badge policy.

        • Paul Riddell says:

          If it helps, it was the same way with assistance with vendors, too. I bailed on being a vendor in San Antonio because while the actual booth fees were very reasonable, all vendors were approved by a jury only after confirmation that everyone at a table had bought a full membership. Okay, so I get two tables, one for my wife and one for myself, and then one person to cover for us and run errands, and the con staff magnanimously offered a whole $15 discount for vendors.

          As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, this was a double whammy. Firstly, for three people, that $600 pretty much wipes out any chance of being profitable, which probably explains the lousy diversity of vendors in the room. Secondly, after eight to ten hours in the dealer’s room, most of those vendors wouldn’t give a fart in a high wind about attending any of the events or activities, and would pretty much end the day by getting something to eat, going to bed, and getting ready for the next day. The third aspect, and this is the critical one, what would keep the jury from rejecting anybody for any number of bullshit reasons, and then laughing “Well, I guess we’ll see you in San Antonio. Ha ha.” with the rejection notice? It’s a great way to keep ideological purity, in that only vintage book dealers who were already voting for the Hugos would be welcome under this scenario, but as a way to sell the dealer’s room as an attraction, it stinks beyond words. (As it was, I’ve already heard from friends about how badly the vendors did in San Antonio. One told me that he hadn’t done so badly at a WorldCon since 1978, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt him. Another was actually glad that a few younger attendees were there, because they were the only ones who bought anything.) In my case, the requirement for the full membership was just the dog turd atop the Drano sundae, and I can only imagine the number of other potential vendors who saw that requirement and said “Oh, HELL no.”

          Now, do I expect this to change? Not at all. Requiring the membership before acceptance is a great, if incredibly sneaky, way to get attendee numbers up. However, considering the WorldCon rep at this year’s ConDFW who lied to my face about how the convention already had 250 vendors lined up three months before applications could be accepted, I suspect that nobody was really worried. At this point, considering that all anyone wanted to talk about in San Antonio was the party schedule, you could probably jettison the dealer’s room, the art space, and anything other than the party block at the hotel, and most of the attendees wouldn’t even notice.

          • Hi Paul! I was a vendor at San Antonio this year and I did reasonably well. However, I have some of the same concerns you do in regards to memberships/tables. I am the Dealer’s Room Coordinator for Sasquan 2015 in Spokane and would like to make our Dealer’s Room a worthwhile and welcoming endeavor. Please feel free to email me at my website email link any suggestions you may have.
            I have been a vendor/volunteer at various Worldcon Dealer’s Rooms for 20 years now and IME the “jurying” process is basically there to make sure that merchandise being offered is in line with what Worlcon is about (i.e. people who sell cars probably aren’t a good fit) but I can’t speak specifically to LSC3′s policies. I would note that there was a change in Dealer’s Room management about 6 weeks out and that too may have had an effect.

          • Paul Riddell says:

            Angela, yeah, I’m familiar with the dealer’s room management change. I asked the character in question if San Antonio was planning to shift dates so as not to compete with DragonCon for that weekend, and when I brought up the number of personal friends who had to choose between DragonCon or WorldCon, he literally sneered “Well, that only affects maybe 250 people at most.” Good riddance to bad rubbish.

          • ULTRAGOTHA says:

            …when I brought up the number of personal friends who had to choose between DragonCon or WorldCon, he literally sneered “Well, that only affects maybe 250 people at most.”

            I want to note that while the representatives of the Orlando bid I’ve spoken to at a few cons were always nice and enthusiastic and gracious, they also were rather dismissive of concerns about running up against DragonCon. Imagine what the site selection votes might have been like if they’d run the weekend before or after DragonCon? Might have overcome the Disney factor.

          • There’s an additional financial factor for Worldcons: Because every Worldcon is an independent organization, it doesn’t have an accumulated war chest on which it can fall back if things go wrong. Therefore, asking everyone to pay up front and then be reimbursed post-con is a very significant part of the convention’s financial safety net. For ConJosé, with gross revenue just short of $1 million, the reimbursements were between $100,000 and $125,000, which isn’t chump change.

            Nonetheless, I’m aware that this “having to pay to volunteer” thing is acutely difficult for many people, both ideologically and practically. I don’t know if it’s just the concept of paying anything or the amount they have to pay. For instance, would having to buy a $40 supporting membership and then be given an “attending upgrade” in exchange for the working pledge make things more palatable? Or is having to pay even $1 too much for people who assume that our conventions are Massive Money Machines?

          • Steve Cooper says:

            Hi Paul and any other dealers reading.

            I should point out that Loncon 3 is trying to be different and will hopefully lay the ground work for Worldcon to change. And one of these differences relates to dealers.

            1) We are giving answer to dealer with table requests as quickly as we can and in response to each individual request. We do not have an arbitrary date when a global decision will be made.

            2) We are offering dealers the opportunity to choose the location of their tables and not have to wait till they arrive.

            3) We are offering both traditional tables for those dealers being staffed my fans that don’t come with any memberships, and tables that come with hall passes for tables being staffed by a few individuals that won’t see the rest of the convention.

            These changes place more work on our exhibits team, but we think they are worth it to offer a more professional service to the dealers.

          • Cheryl says:

            Steve – I’m having difficulty working out what your 3rd point means. I think you are saying that dealers can get staff memberships that are cheaper and acknowledge that the people using them won’t be attending the event except to work the stall, but I’m not sure.

          • Farah Mendlesohn says:

            You might want to check out Loncon3.
            a) you can buy a table without a membership
            b) you get confirmation for your table when you book with me.

            http://www.loncon3.org/become_a_dealer.php
            There is no jury. I’ve written:

            “Dealers agree to use their assigned space to sell or exhibit material which is of either of a science fiction, fantasy, gaming or other “fannish” nature or can be explained as of interest to our community (for example, crafts, esoteric publications, or medieval history books are all clearly of interest).”

            and I’m up for being convinced (I’ll take soap if its tardis blue and not too strong smelling).

          • Elspeth Kovar says:

            (With great apologies for a very long post; I’m not good at trimming and just got a phone call that requires my being elsewhere.)
            There’s an ongoing discussion on SMOFs – The Shock! The Horror! It’s a Discussion! – about venders and memberships. To start at one end one of the main issues is that Dealers have always been members of the convention.
            Note the change in term, because it’s important. The idea of people being there just to make money is still anathema. Sure, dealers talk with each other about how things are going. Especially with small dealers and those tight on cash, it’s if the costs of attending have been covered. It’s really, really nice to not have to worry about the credit card. The balance sheet matters but the love for SF and being part of fandom is the starting point.
            At the other end is that there are now people who are in Dealer’s Rooms because they want to sell goods. I’m an old-timer and this bothers me. On the other hand I’m always in favor of a business making money. (Assuming that they do so fairly.) But, perhaps especially because I’m also a SMOF/conrunner, when it comes to Dealer’s Rooms I’m biased. Thus far it is still conscious work.
            And there are those in the middle instead of either end, bless them!
            Thus far the various methods have worked, including a table coming with one, perhaps two memberships, but clearly they don’t work for everyone anymore. (FWIW I haven’t encountered the flip side, an SF convention that requires a membership before they’ll consider giving you a table!)

            So. This isn’t something that’s being ignored. Me, I’m looking at it from the point of view of a SMOF/conrunner who can see the problems with having different levels of memberships – and sometimes it’s just that there’s already more than enough paperwork! I’m also looking at it from the point of view of a dealer, who can understand the cost of bringing other people along. And the point of view of someone who’s been doing this for years and have friends who’ve been doing it for decades; and as a person admittedly biased but trying to overcome it.
            And gosh, why would *anyone* think I’m trying to avoid useless vitriol in the blogosphere? Hoping people won’t assume the worst of conrunners? (I still haven’t figured *that* one out) Not wanting the baby thrown out with the bathwater? Know that things don’t work as they stand and working on it?

    • David Weingart says:

      Ah, that was you! (I helped out irregularly and you fixed my cufflink for me before the Hugos)

      Thanks for all your hard work at Chicon!

      • Wendy says:

        That was Lisa, our department-head-who-was-really-supposed-to-have-been-driving-a-truck-for-loadin. She’s a jeweler. I’ll pass on your thanks- she’s my Second at Windycon.

        I’m a costumer, so I was short one who was stapling up torn hems before the Hugos :)

  9. Paul Riddell says:

    Your comment on how the rough edges on fan-run conventions may have seemed charming at the time hit a nerve with me. You’re absolutely right, but I’ve seen it used as an excuse over and over. The whole kerfluffle at LoneStarCon3 with the animation room running “Song of the South” wasn’t just about the idea of running something guaranteed to infuriate a significant portion of the attendees, and infuriating a certain contingent crying about “political correctness” and “Well, I liked it,” and then belatedly saying “Oh, we were going to have a discussion panel.” Things really got going when all of this was excused because the animation block was run by volunteers. I can’t tell you how many bad conventions I’ve been to (as an attendee, guest, and/or vendor) where complaints about schedule mess-ups, guest and panel cock-ups, and general incompetence were answered with the battle cry of the Cat Piss Man: “Well, at least we TRIED!”

    What gets me about this is that fan-run conventions suffer from the same exact issue as various literary zines had during the Nineties, and paying a few people won’t fix the problem. It’s possible, and in fact probable, to get volunteers full of fire and voom for the first couple of years of a convention. They don’t just want to help: they want to believe. Then real life intrudes, and you have people who have to cut back on volunteering for the con because their kids need them, or they just got laid off and convention activities are a bit less important than job interviews. Others get tired of doing the heavy lifting at the show while their superiors are only seen in con party rooms the whole weekend long. Still others quit when the con chair promotes a complete incompetent to an important position, either because the person is an old friend or because that person whined and wheedled until s/he was given the position to get the twit to shut up. (Several years back, I found myself unable to attend a convention as a guest due to a major financial crash, and the only contact method available to the convention was a single E-mail address, which was never answered. The con chair only discovered I couldn’t attend three days before the show, and asked why I hadn’t said anything before. I told him “I DID,” and explained that I’d sent daily messages to that E-mail address begging for some response. He sighed and told me “Yeah, the guy in charge of contacts isn’t very good and never answers, but he starts crying when we try to give the job to someone else.”) Before too long, the con has no choice but to take on the characters they’d never accept otherwise, and they’re either complete flakes or textbook examples of people you should never let get in front of microphones and TV cameras to speak on behalf of your convention. That’s about the time everything craters.

    I’ll also add that while the idea of hiring a few people full-time to handle full-time work is a good one, most cons don’t have any idea of what they’re asking for when they do that. I’m thinking of a big convention here in Dallas where a small contingent of people involved with the con are paid, and everyone else is a volunteer. The backstabbing is intense: I refuse to have anything to do with this convention, but friends do, so I’m barraged with stories after the fact whether I like it or not. That comparison to zines is deliberate, because it’s the same dynamic the moment some people get paid and others don’t. Longtime volunteers who bucked up and kept working when the promise was “we can’t pay right now, but we’ll hire you when we’re profitable” tend to pack up and leave when the con chair’s pet buttkisser gets hired on with no qualifications other than favoritism. You get people whose lifetime dream is to work on a convention working overtime to overthrow good employees because they want the job for themselves, and you get managers who find excuses to fire the good employees because their kid needs a job. I won’t even get into the situations where a popular and successful con chair gets shoved out by a second-in-command, who then craters the whole convention the next year because he has all of the people skills of a rabid wolverine. Yeah, Cyndi Lauper was right: money changes everything.

    The worst part about all of this is that I don’t have a solution, and I’m afraid any solution I had will be irrelevant by the time it was implemented. Out here, with one exception, we’re watching our fan-run conventions collapse under the onslaught of a bimonthly big media convention system that conveniently schedules its events opposite the little conventions, and how the hell are the little conventions supposed to compete when the big shows get Patrick Stewart and John Barrowman as guests? I’m old enough to know that these things work in cycles (twenty years ago, the local cons were generally wiped out by the touring Creation Cons coming through every three months, and they only started coming back when Creation Con was bought by Fandom.com before the latter imploded), but that doesn’t help right here and now. As for the future…I honestly don’t know.

  10. I have resolved to Do Something. I need to go talk to a professional about the tax ins and outs first, though.

  11. Cheryl,

    You and I and others have kind of had this conversation going on over the past four or five years – at least since the months before Montreal.

    I’d been involved in running Worldcons, took a multi-decade gafiation and returned to discover that “things were not like they used to be”. I then started looking for reasons why, bumped up against you, Kevin Standlee and others, a large percentage of whom seem to be involved in WSFS/Worldcon year after year after year, and we’ve been talking about the consequences of various trends for quite some time now.

    I suspect that recent events have reinforced a belief that some of those trends are now guaranteed to continue unabated, and thus at least some of your gloominess.

    Justified, to a large extent I believe.

    One explanation I’ll offer up as a way of explaining how/why fan-run conventions seem to come under such vociferous attack online is something you touched on: Fandom is changing. One way in which it is changing is that an increasing number of convention attendees do not have ANY experience with con-running. They don’t even have a fannish friend who can be relied on to explain how things work, why something might not have been handled in the most professional manner possible &c. Whereas back in the day a very large percentage of convention attendees were directly familiar with the process, even if it was one stint of gophering and a self-promise to never to that again! Con-running experience came at a fan in a variety of different ways – the friend who worked on cons and roped you in, a letter in a fanzine, the volunteer sign next to registration, prior experience among club members you associated with. Now, despite the greater potential reach of social media, I see very little devoted to the subject.

    But I think the main issue is the fact that commercially oriented substitutes for real conventions were ALWAYS going to win out over fan-run, all volunteer, “real” conventions once the recruitment ball was dropped by fandom at large. There used to be a difference between a Trufan and a fan. we’ve not recruited nearly enough people to the cause (at least not enough people who would say “eccch! commercial non-fan run con. Run away!” that the commercial aspect would be seriously compromised.) There was a time when Fandom could do that – I distinctly recall the so-called SF Expo (76?) that was going to become the mother of all (commercial) cons and shut down before the first event because FANDOM roundly rejected it – using the fan press and the pro magazine letter columns, media that reached a microscopic audience compared to social media today.

    The commercial interests are going to win out. Volunteer, non-commercial cons simply can not compete: they can’t market, advertise or recruit at anything like the level that a big budget event can. When authors start being offered the same compensation as actors at those shows (and some are already), it won’t only be the author’s personal decision – it will be their agent’s, their publishers and others who have a financial stake. If recruitment reaches down and starts offering well-experienced con-runners a paying gig….

    And of course if the current generation (or the next one) grows up not being cognizant of the fact that there was another way of doing things, it’s pretty much all over.

    There are a couple of solutions but so far their reception has been lukewarm at best: the adoption of some program items that will appeal to the new audience; the adoption of some commercial practices; active recruitment. Partnering with a commercial interest and accepting the necessary changes to the way things are done.

    We’re a long ways from Rooney and Garland saying “Hey kids! lets put on a show!” and having a full-blown Broadway style production up and running an hour later. It’s probably telling that many reading that won’t know what I’m referring to.

  12. Jonathan Holmes says:

    Your point about full-time staff is interesting, but in fact, there is a lot of untapped volunteer work to be found pre- and post- con.

    I have forever wanted to be useful in some way to the events that I attend, but once I arrive, that is beyond my abilities if I am going to enjoy them. In London, I found that once I became a committee member for a group, the responsibilities involved meant that the reason I went to the group in the first place ceased to exist for me. Yet, here I am, now living in another country, and still managing to be of assistance when it comes to organising that group’s functions.

    Plenty of people have plenty of spare time – just not necessarily at the events themselves. The internet means these people don’t even have to be close to the events to help. But whenever I have (and I have, repeatedly) offered to assist events in any way I can before or after them, I have never encountered any useful response. I think I can understand that it might infringe upon some sense of ownership, and perhaps doubts about commitment, but these issues can be worked out with respect to relevant tasks. I also don’t doubt that the vast majority of volunteering is needed at the actual event. Nevertheless, some of the issues you raise could be taken up in this way.

    For those of you running conventions, thank you for all you do! And please think about this.

  13. Joris Meijer says:

    Part of the issue on the social media networks seems to result from people, attendants as well as organizers, actually caring about the fan organized events. Where people paid to organize, or only paying to attend, can simply ignore the issues outside office hours the people involved on any side with Hugo, Worldcon or any other fan-run con don’t.

    Which does actually add value (in my perception), but does heat the discussions more than they perhaps should.

    To use an almost outside example look at the Penny Arcade situation. Another place where people are deeply involved at an emotional level, leading to an escalation less often seen when people are ‘just doing their jobs’.

  14. Stephanie Bannon says:

    First, thank you to you and Kevin for all you have done so well for so many years.

    Second – about your post BRAVO!!!

  15. Colin says:

    In short: an excellent analysis. I’m not sure what to say for the most part excepting that a lot of these points are spot on, particularly the challenges of rising expectations, the war on SMOFS, and social media. And certainly larger fan-run conventions are simply not able to compete with professional events IF the members decide to make the direct comparison.

    I am rather less pessimistic than you about the short to medium term future, though. I believe that there is still enough interest in running these events, despite the concerns you identify, to keep them going for the foreseeable future – although it will be at some new point of equilibrium (Worldcon at 4000 warm bodies rather than 5000 for instance, in the US, and a smaller number of mid-size cons – we’ve seen several close in the last couple of years). As in the real world, you occasionally get disruptive technologies/changes but mostly you get slow swings, and I think this is more the latter.

  16. Chase says:

    I’m quite new to conventions, but I just wanted to add a couple points about Nine Worlds. I don’t know if their experience in running the event from crowd funding through to a complete volunteer run event is reflective of the same culture and economy that created Worldcon and the others that you are referring to, but it definitely seems to be different in its execution. It was an amazing, positive and welcoming environment that received glowing responses from attendees. It obviously had problems, such as the location and therefore food options and the size of various rooms that couldn’t accommodate the unforeseen popularity of certain topics, but on the whole it was simply a GOOD place to be. From my experience there and that of the people I know/follow on twitter/reviews that I’ve read I would be astonished if it was not a place where you would be welcome. And perhaps it’s that it’s new and is able to create a space that isn’t identified with so much history and the resultant in-fighting that makes it possible to be so inclusive, but regardless I think it’s an example of what the environment can and should be (even though it’s obviously not perfect).

    • Cheryl says:

      I exchanged a few emails with them when they were just starting and expressed concern that they would be so close to Worldcon in 2014 if they did make a success of this year. The response I got was to the effect that they didn’t think Worldcon was for people like them and they intended to compete with it.

      Of course they were also predicting 20,000 attendance at the time. Lots of things may have changed since then.

      • Chase says:

        OK, fair enough. I can’t really comment on the comparison between Worldcon but I think you would still be welcome at Nine Worlds. And actually if Worldcon draws more people internationally it could result in a lot of people coming to the UK for both cons, for better or worse.

        • Cheryl says:

          That would be good, I think. Except, of course, that the Eurocon in Dublin the weekend after Worldcon has been planned for some time, and many people (including myself) had already made plans to do that together with Worldcon. As Juliet said above, few people can afford to do all three.

  17. @Ultragotha:

    I was a member of the founding bid committee for Orlando in 2015 and I can tell you that the things we discussed at great length were the weekend, the “Disney” issue and Dragoncon.

    Things may have changed once I left the bid, but while I was still participating, we decided that Worldcon needed to reclaim the Labor Day weekend. San Antonio pretty much supported our theory that most had already made their worldcon/dragoncon decision and that attendance would not be unduly affected; we did spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out if there was any advantage to moving earlier or later (the answer was no. being within the same 6-8 week time frame of each other raises the budget – dollars and time – issues) and explored a variety of possible strategies for mitigating the conflict – including a fan tour bus that would offer inexpensive transport from one con to the other (if they had been scheduled a week apart).
    I believe the three factors that really ended up hurting Orlando’s bid was the setting of an early perception (I believe deliberately seeded) of the committee’s “inexperience” (despite some familiar and well-experienced names associated) that broke down into two aspects: general, unfounded charges of inexperience and the perception that experience with other major conventions not of the direct fan-run SF cons type doesn’t translate to valid experience for Worldcon (despite the fact that that “other” experience extends to conventions far larger and more complex than Worldcon).
    2nd was Disney, a minor complaint from some initially that was helped along by conflating cons in florida with magicon problems. And third, the inability of the committee to effectively convey the absolute need for some of the changes it proposed (such as huckster’s room open to the general public, lower cost ‘first time worldcon’ and student memberships, and the general embrace of all things SF/F IN ADDITION TO those things traditionally found at Worldcon.
    I must say that I was also a bit taken aback at how impersonal and political bidding has become. My prior experience was that of bidding amongst friendly rivals, each knowing that the majority of members on the losing bid committees would be working on the winning con, the primary goal being to find and host as good a worldcon as possible, worldcon before self interest, etc., etc. I was very shocked to find my offer to exchange bid ribbons with a member of another bid initially rejected and viewed with the utmost suspicion. I was also surprised to find self-interest trumping the conversation.

    • Cheryl says:

      Ha! I remember when we were bidding for 2002 at Bucconeer I spent some time working the Seattle bid’s table for them, while one of their staff came and worked the San Jose table. We got some very funny looks from certain well-known Boston fans as a result.

    • The kind of competition between bids tends to boil down to the personalities of the people bidding. It is always easier to bid against someone else than to bid for your site. It requires a lot of extra effort to run a positive campaign. I know; before Seattle had to pull out of the 2002 race, I, leading the Bay Area bid (first San Francisco, then San José when we were obliged to change sites), had to keep after everyone to keep our snarky comments to ourselves (or at least only in private meetings, to get them out of our systems) and to run on our own merits.

      I’d like to think that the positive campaigning paid off when Seattle had to withdraw and the Bay Area bid struck a deal with them to offer their pre-supporters the ability to “cross-grade” from their bid to ours by paying only the difference in price between the two.

      Another factor contributing to nasty bids is the “Let’s You and Him Fight!” factor, whereby people who aren’t involved in any of the bids try to goad the bids into fighting with each other because it’s so much fun to see it happen. Pat Porter, chairman of the Seattle in 2002 bid, was at dinner with me and our spouses once during the bid (see, trying to be civil with each other while competing) and I suggested that he and I should show up at a Business Meeting, produce broadswords, and proclaim, “There can be only one!” in order to satisfy the people who love to watch other people fight.

      One of the reasons I don’t get too involved in bidding these days (besides the expense) is because it’s so emotionally draining to force yourself to take the high road rather than the easier-but-less-ethical low road.

  18. Chase says:

    Would that be any different if Nine Worlds were at a different time? It seems that at least people have an opportunity this way, whereas if Nine Worlds was at an entirely different time of the year the cost to attend it could not be spread across attending more than one event. I doubt that I’ll be able to attend all three either, but for an international audience having them near to each other still seems better than spacing them apart.

    • Chase says:

      Hmm, sorry, hit the wrong reply button.

    • Cheryl says:

      It certainly gives people plenty of choice. But people won’t be able to do all three and I’m a bit sad to think that Nine Worlds will be taking people away from the Eurocon when it is supposed to be about diversity. (Nine Worlds is closer in both time and distance to Worldcon, so if people chose to do two they’ll probably opt for it rather than Dublin).

      Of course NW, being in Heathrow, is easy for visiting European fans, and I hope it will start to reach out to European fandoms.

      • Tero says:

        From what I’ve heard of it, I’m very interested in Nine Worlds and want to see it some year. However, due to closeness to Worldcon, that year definitely won’t be 2014.

    • parris says:

      For most American con-goers, even if they could theoretically
      afford to go to 9Worlds/LonCon3/Shamrokcon and TitanCon in Belfast is the week after I think – the cost would be boggling both London and Dublin are very expensive cities – the amount of time traveling and attending three cons would be difficult because so many Americans just don’t have those kind of vacation days to burn off in one month.

      We could afford to go to all 4 cons, but the long period of time away from work and home is a very high price we’re not sure we’re willing to pay.

      You might see some people do 2 out of the lineup, say 9Worlds and LonCon3, or LonCon3 and ShamrokCon but doing all 4 would be like ‘Making the Eight’ in Westeros.

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  20. John Belden says:

    Having been involved with various cons since the early 1990s in various ways, I can contribute my share of horror stories and observations, but reading this excellent article and the various comments is getting depressing.

    I’ve been involved with a convention in Indiana that always seems on the brink, but has a faithful core of volunteers that keeps it going year after year, still how to grow beyond raw survival-mode still eludes us. In the past I worked with another once-notable con in a medium-sized city that has faded away due to too many factors to mention.

    But on the other hand, I can point to at least one con that is not only surviving but thriving and growing, Penguicon — which is in the economically-savaged Detroit area of all places. I’d like to think it’s not the only one doing well. The solution for fan-run cons, from a small 500-attendance show to Worldcon, may to look at what successful cons are doing right, rather than getting bogged down in what a con is doing wrong.

  21. Carolyn says:

    Cheryl, as you know I’m not a con person and have nothing intelligent to say about them, but I just wanted to say how insightful and thought-provoking I found this. Your points in particular about the disincentive posed by trial by social media have made me (gloomily) ponder the issue for several days, both with regard to the probable effect on cons and also in a wider sense with regard to other public activities. Thank you.

  22. Stu Segal says:

    Cheryl, you are absolutely right – the model is broken. Worldcon needs continuity. Removing economic barriers would bring diversity. Sadly, as you point out, there are those who would rather see it die than see it change . . . and they are in the driver’s seat.
    They try hard to appear not to be the “rather see it die” crowd by sounding open, and debating, both online and in person. But a hard look reveals the only things they actually ever debate is minutiae. The fundamentals are never debated, never changed. The Worldcon=good, Comicon/Dragon*Con=bad belief is deeply embedded, and can never be challenged.
    I try to help every year, and am very hopeful that Loncon3 will be an outstanding Worldcon, but I hold no false hopes for the future of Worldcon; it’s dying the long slow death brought on by the “rather see it die” crowd. That’s fine, there are other cons that are bigger, more diverse, less expensive and more professionally run.
    What’s not fine, to me, is that the WSFS and the Hugos are inextricably tied to Worldcon, and will likely die the same slow death. Or if not, as Worldcon withers, will slowly lose credibility and relevance. Unfortunately, the archaic governance of the WSFS will not allow it any escape from the situation.
    It’s a sad situation – while I’m sure my children (in their 30′s) will continue to enjoy Worldcon for some years, I’m pretty certain my grand-daughter will only know it through old photos. As you said, the model needs to be abandoned or radically overhauled — adapt or die.

    • Cheryl says:

      I fear you are right, and as I can’t go to most Worldcons these days I feel pretty powerless to do anything about it.

      • Stu Segal says:

        And BTW, I also offer no suggestions . . . intentionally. Though I help every year, I learned several years ago that attempts to bring meaningful, radical change are met with such resistance and vitriol that I finally stopped; no sense beating my head against a brick wall. Worldcon IS what they want, it’s that simple.

    • Paul Riddell says:

      Stu, over the weekend, I lost a friendship I’d had for 20 years on that subject, because I got sick and tired of his constant chirping about how we all needed to stick with old-school fandom of the sort seen in WorldCon, no matter how bad it got. In his case, it sounded less and less like boosterism and more like battered-wife syndrome: the idea that if we just sit back and let the alter kokkers continue to run WorldCon into the ground, it’ll somehow get better. (Admittedly, what broke it was when I paraphrased Bill Hicks on his behavior: “It didn’t mean to hurt me, Officer. I was lying in the driveway and the con ran over mah haid with the truck! Please don’t take it away! The con didn’t mean no harm! It’s passed out under the trailer right now with its dawg Skeeter!”)

      • Stu Segal says:

        Paul, I realized a couple years ago that I was going to lose friends. Since then, I go to Worldcon and try to help, but I go knowing exactly what it is — a gathering of oldtime SFF literature fans, booksellers, a few famous authors and artists, and a lot of struggling authors and amateur musicians. But I have accepted that this is the con they want, and I’m not going to be able to change it.
        I am fortunate to live just outside NYC, so for media, big name stars, professional music, etc. I have access to Dragon*Con, the Steampunk Worlds Fair, NY ComiCon, etc. Would I rather see Worldcon go “big tent”, professional, limit itself to major cities like London, Chicago, New York? Sure, but I don’t think that’ll ever happen. So I’ll enjoy Worldcon for what it is, and the other cons for what they are.

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  24. Ed Meškys says:

    I do not know what apppened. I wrote a couple pages and they seem to be gone. Ed Meskys

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