Denvention Post Mortem

I’m pleased to be able to report that the general consensus amongst the assembled Old Pharts was that Denvention 3 had dodged a bullet and would be solvent. There are had been considerable worry pre-con, partly because the convention’s finances appeared to be somewhat in disarray, and partly because of an unusually high number of cancellations. However, the convention committee appears to have adopted a fairly prudent policy of “if you don’t know how much money you have, don’t spend any”. At con this resulted in a number of areas appearing to be underfunded (signage being an obvious example). However, it also avoided a potential disaster. There are one or two outstanding issues that I don’t want to speculate on, so I can’t be 100% certain that the con is OK, but right now things are looking good.

One story that does appear to be coming up again and again is lack of communication. Programming and Tech appear to have had an unhappy relationship, and lots of things appear to have fallen through the cracks. The Old Pharts party almost didn’t happen, and even so the room number printed on the invitations was incorrect. I might never have got to the party had I not run into Geri Sullivan pushing a cart load of food and wine on my way there. Another example is specialty ribbons. There were apparently ribbons saying “Past Hugo winner”. Some people got them in their program packs, others (including me) didn’t. Mike Glyer got his from program ops, but their office wasn’t where the pocket program said it should be (in the convention center) and was in the Sheraton, so I never had time to go there. Similar problems happened with things like the “Past Worldcon Chair” ribbon.

Another issue that people have been talking about is the low attendance – generally estimated at around 3,500, or half the number of people who attended this year’s Finncon. Most of the suggestions as to why this happened have centered around the poor state of the economy, and/or laziness/incompetence on behalf of the convention committee. However, this evening I spoke to a local Colorado fan who had a very different explanation. He noted that most American Worldcons take place in cities with huge local populations. For cities like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles there are thousands of fans who live within a couple of hours driving distance of the convention. Denver is a smaller and more isolated city, so the proportion of locals to traveling fans has probably been much lower. And the poor state of the US economy will be a much bigger problem for traveling fans than for locals.

When I get time I shall read around reactions in the blogosphere and write up a full con report. Tomorrow, however, I get to go shopping in Denver, and fly home to California.

18 thoughts on “Denvention Post Mortem

  1. I always found Program ops in the convention center. It was in something like Korbel 1D.

  2. I think I have worked out what happened. I was looking over some of the documentation this morning to see what I needed to keep and I found the program participant sheet. On Tuesday Program Ops was in one of the 500 rooms. After that they moved to Korbel 1d. I managed to only read the 500 address, and went there on Wednesday looking for them. To my surprise I found the Invisible Office (Treasury). I asked them where Program Ops had gone, and they told me to go to the Sheraton. Foolishly I took them at their word, except I didn’t have time to go to the Sheraton and look.

  3. That makes sense. When Elaine saw the picture on my cell phone of the Hugo nominees, rather than comment on the award, she commented that she liked your dress.

  4. I see someone else has already addressed the Program Ops location. I didn’t intend to mislead you — I don’t think I ever said where program ops was in our conversations, but I visited it down in 1E or thereabouts.

    And I got the Oldpharts Party info by the fortunate coincidence of running into Kent Bloom in the hall on Friday morning. He handed me the invite. By less fortunate coincidence, he was just coming from the photo op for former Worldcon Chairs, which I had missed. The Denvention concom people who knew I’d be attending did not include those organizing this session (understandable, I only had a supporting membership til I got to the con.)

  5. When I last asked the committee, I was told D3’s warm body count was about 3700, including day/kids, but we’ll get the final figures in due course.

    I was asked about Denvention’s low numbers by a few people. I found it useful to start with Mark Olson’s rule of thumb about where Worldcon members come from:
    – the regulars who attend most Worldcons, regardless of location (and who usually participate in the Hugos and site selection)
    – travelling fans within a day’s drive
    – local fans

    That model predicts that Worldcons in cities with small catchment areas and few population centres within a day’s drive (or equivalent in Europe) will tend to have a lower membership total, and vice versa. I suspect there is some truth in that model, and comparing the city and metropolitan populations of Denver with Chicago/Boston/LA seem to show some correlation. Of course there will be other factors such as how well the committee engage with local fan groups, students etc.

    I’m sure Denver was also hit by the ‘perfect storm’ of economic issues, including transport costs. (The facilities team mentioned that the cancellation rate of hotel bookings was much larger than expected.)

    Another factor may have been the D3 committee’s readiness to start marketing the con on winning, given the closeness of the result and that they were the first ‘two-year’ Worldcon for many years, and so had to be ready to start immediately.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with Anticipation and Aussiecon’s numbers. (Note there are no seated US Worldcons now!) 2011/12 are likely to be US Worldcons and thereafter the field for the rest of the decade is already beginning to sound crowded, if every announced bid, exploratory group and rumour are to be believed, especially outside the US, which may affect the number of ‘regulars’….

    It is interesting to compare Finncon’s numbers with Worldcon. Of course Finncon has no membership fee, and I know having attended it once, that a lot of people drift in and out for shorter periods, along with those who stay for the whole event, but they sure know how to do marketing well!

  6. Yes marketing is a factor. Another is appealing to the younger generation.

    Take a look at the ages of those in photos posted for the Worldcon compared to the US DragonCon…

  7. Jonathan:

    Appealing to a younger generation is marketing.


    Many thanks for the updated attendance. And yes, Mark’s rule of thumb is pretty much spot on.

  8. The foundation of the Worldcon is the bunch of volunteers who do the work of putting it on. There have been infinite opportunities to make the Worldcon look like Dragon*Con, and the reason it doesn’t is that a lot of the trappings of Dragon*Con, apart from the sf/fantasy portion of it, are things these conrunners aren’t interested in spending their time making happen.

    However, we do need to confront the fact that focusing on print sf (or even electroncially-distributed texts of sf stories and novels) is a limiting factor compared to cons that work well with firms trying to market movie, game, tv, anime etc., which draw crowds. Some Worldcons have worked more successfully with these firms than others. It not being the same committee or location every year, of course, means less continuity and Worldcon brand recognition.

  9. Rereading my comment, I want to make clear that appealing to people through media sf should be done in order to ADD to what the Worldcon already accomplishes in letting fans interact with writers, etc. A lot of fans are generalists, and if a Worldcon develops excellent features for all kinds of sf/fantasy, it’s going to give them more reason to show up.

  10. I knew what you meant, Mike. This is all part of the “big tent” philosophy of Worldcon. Where it gets hard is that, while many Worldcon attendees are generalists, others are not. Appealing to a wide audience takes effort and commitment on behalf of the con committee. If some of the committee are actively opposed to widening the appeal, or even if the management can’t be bothered to recruit specialists in all areas, then the focus of the con will narrow. Commitment to diversity has to start from the top.

  11. I concur with Mike’s points.

    Regarding “There have been infinite opportunities to make the Worldcon look like Dragon*Con” (and I agree with the rest of Mike’s points) I would like to emphasise that there is no need, or useful purpose, in the Worldcon becoming a clone of DragonCon, but it could adopt some of the elements that attract the next generation.

    The Worldcon has alienated a few (scientifically unrepresentative) of the youngsters I know who have tried it out and the proof of the proverbial pudding is that Worldcon fandom seems to be graying.

    Of course it is unlikely that Worldcon will die. It probably will survive but either become a bit of an oddity or it will gradually evolve or it will remain the same and suddenly change when change becomes virtually inevitable. Better to plan for change early I say.

  12. Hey, one of the younger generation here (25, if anyone’s counting). I don’t believe that fandom is greying. At least, not in a meaningful way. Sure, there are folks who are older and older involved in fandom, but that’s because we’ve yet to have existed for long enough to get the truly representative spread of our ages. When the last dinosaurs of First Fandom pass away, then, and only then, will we have a representative spread of the ages of fandom. There were still plenty of folks around my age, and plenty who were younger. Some of us (myself included) are even involved in volunteering, bidding, and conrunning. I met a teenaged fan who hitch-hiked from Montana for three days to get to Worldcon. I saw a whole party suite full of young fen on Friday and Saturday night (the Brotherhood Without Banners party), which was the most apolitical party I went to all weekend (a relief by that point, really). A lot of you don’t know us yet, but we’re out there. Next time you want to talk about the Greying of Fandom, consider whether you’ve made an effort to meet a representative sample of fandom, or if you’ve just noticed your own old friends growing older. The average age of fandom may finally be reaching its stable point, but I don’t think that means there aren’t youngsters left. I found them, met them, partied with them, and even smofed with some of them. I challenge you all to do the same.

  13. Warren:

    I’m delighted that you and your friends are with us, and I think you have a very good point about fandom reaching a state of equilibrium. I’ve been thinking much the same about the recent spate of complaints about Hugos only going to old people.

    On the other hand, the average age of attendees at Worldcon was way higher than it was at Finncon, and I suspect way higher than it is at Dragon*Con and Comic*Con as well.

  14. Perhaps the average is higher at Worldcon, but I’d say that’s likely due to older folks only feeling up to doing a few events a year, and it’s more likely that they’ll stick with the ones they’ve known for a long time. Dragon*Con has sold itself as a party, and largely targets young congoers. Their efforts to target a wider age range were sort of half-hearted (but existed), and likely failed in the face of politics. Finncon is a different matter. There’s no membership fee, which opens it up to younger folks. $200 is expensive, and when you’re in college, or your first job, or struggling to get that first job, it’s just out of reach. Sure, there are some unemployed folks in fandom, too, and they like to make a fuss whenever there’s anything suggested to bring in young folks for whom $200 is prohibitively expensive, but their cases are individual, whereas the difficulty of the expense for the young is pretty much societal. We’re young, and therefore paid less, if we’re being paid at all. I’d heard one suggestion that I could really get behind: a hefty discount for folks who’ve never been to a Worldcon before. Unfortunately, that would also get most of the locals, so there would have to be some willingness from the regulars to pay more for a Worldcon to try that. Someday we might see it. I guess the main reason that Worldcon hasn’t seen the kind of age demographics that Dragon*Con et. al. have is that there has been no conscious effort to evolve in such a way as to appeal to a large, young audience. There is a desire to have young fen, but no major effort to attract them. It might be a bad thing to bring them in by the tens of thousands, but good marketing could probably bring in a few hundred more, which would be a start. I’m not convinced that a major solution is in order, just some effort to reach the youth. It will take people points, though, and not just wishing. We’re spread out over a bunch of different points of contact, which will make us harder to reach than fen in the old days, but we can be reached. Folks will just need to decide how much they desire to influence the age range of fandom.

  15. Warren, you are absolutely right about it being a matter of commitment. Really it comes down to whether people see Worldcon as an annual gathering for themselves and their friends, or whether they see it as a vehicle with which to promote science fiction and the community. Indeed the same could be said of pretty much any convention.

    I think there is also an issue regarding whether, if we do welcome new people, we should do so only if they are “like us”, or whether there is merit in welcoming other people as well because they may grow up to be “like us”. That’s pretty much the Finncon debate in a nutshell.

    And it could be applied to Worldcon too. There is no obvious reason why Worldcon should cater solely to people who like to attend Worldcon. It could provide things of interest to a wider audience as well. But only, as you say, if people are prepared to do so.

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