Thought For The Day

Lots of people have been saying of late that Worldcon needs to change, appeal to a wider demographic, it needs to market itself better, it needs re-branding and so on. Yes, I know. I have been saying this for years.

The trouble is that effecting change isn’t easy. The way that Worldcon works, with a different fan group in a different city running the con each year makes any sort of change hard to impose. WSFS has a democratic process, but like all such things it moves at snail’s space. Worst of all, there is a small but dedicated rump of conservatives who would rather see the convention die than have it change in the way that you want. In order to get change, they have to be fought, tooth and nail, every inch of the way. I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years, Kevin for almost 30.

Most of you who have been clamoring for change are not going to help with that fight. You are professional authors or publishers, or you are the sort of person who only wants to buy a ticket to a convention, not help run it, or you have an incredibly busy life doing other things and just can’t afford the time for all that volunteer work. That’s OK, I understand.

The thing is, though, that if you don’t help, who will?

The sad fact is that for change to happen, someone has to do the work, someone has to take a whole load of crap from the conservatives in the process, and that someone will probably also have to take a whole load of crap from people who want change for not making it happen fast enough. What they won’t get, the way things are right now, is help or encouragement.

It seems to me that, given this situation, Worldcon will die. Unfortunately, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, and the wealth bestowed on the boomer generation, it will take a few more decades to do so.

The upshot of this is that if you want change fast, either you need to help make it happen, or you need to go and find some other convention to attend.

(I do actually have a lot more thoughts about the future of fan-run conventions, and I’ll try to get those written down soon, but I have a publishing business and a bookstore to run, not to mention a whole bunch on non-Worldcon projects I’m involved it, so that will have to wait.)

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33 Responses to Thought For The Day

  1. Honestly, I wonder if part of it has to do with the roaming nature of the con. It’s easier to build a helpful infrastructure and design a real strategy that embraces change when there’s one city, and one governing body, and not an ever-changing group of volunteers who are constantly campaigning for a change in locale. It’s cool to go to different places: I’ve loved going to Montreal and Chicago and San Antonio. I like the opportunity to see new places and meet new people. But centralization would mean less scrambling, and open the space for greater experimentation in programming, content, and communications strategy.

    • Cheryl says:

      This is all true, but the end result would be a con that is always in the same city in the USA. It would not be a “world” con by any stretch of the imagination, and being entirely fan-run would probably always be inferior to D*C.

      • Kevin Roche says:

        One thing I’d like to see go away (and I mentioned it in my longer comments below) is the fannish tradition of giving Worldcon a different clever name every year. It’s hard to build up a brand when the brand name changes all the time.

        • Emma England says:

          God, yes, I am so fed up with having to write/say Loncon and Worldcon whenever I try and sell the event. It’s ridiculous. For people who don’t know what Worldcon is it is impossible to build up a brand and there isn’t enough discussion just of “Loncon” for that to be its own brand either.

        • Cheryl says:

          Unfortunately, branding it as Worldcon causes all of the conservatives to rush to the barricades because they assume it is the first step on the road to WSFS, Inc..

          • Bill Toscano says:

            Maybe it is time to sit down with those “Conservatives” and talk things out and give better ways to get nominated so the Hugos mean more than they do right now.

            Not conflicting with Dragon Con would be a good idea, too.

            I am just a reader, that’s all.

          • Cheryl says:

            Believe me, the talking never stops. But I’d be interested to know how you’d persuade someone to change how Hugo nomination happens when they firmly believe that any change would be for the worse, mainly because people that they don’t know personally would be voting.

          • Andrew Trembley says:

            We got three Westercons in a row to agree to just going with Westercon 66, Westercon 67 and Westercon 68 (Westercon 64 did it also, but I don’t know if anyone encouraged ConClusion to just be Westercon 65). Happens twice in a row and bang! Tradition!

            Of course, the Long List refers to Worldcons that did not use cute names in their own publications by cute names. I think maybe we need to start a letter-writing campaign to the FOLLE committee to change their format: Worldcons that didn’t use a cute name in publications should be listed as such and the note should point out the cute name (that they didn’t use) rather than vice versa.

          • Cheryl says:

            Ha! Best of luck with that.

        • Andrew Trembley says:

          How about a motion: “Revert revisionist history in the long list.”

  2. Colin says:

    Cheryl and I have differed over the years but yes, THIS. I find myself perpetually in the middle (as, I know, does Kevin) – fighting the conservatives on “that list” to achieve change and simultaneously trying to defend Worldcon against the people who can’t kill it fast enough because they believe it has nothing of value in it. At this point I’m exhausted by the no-win situation here.

    • Paul Riddell says:

      Sadly, Colin, I agree. Personally, I can see a lot of value to WorldCon, especially if it can attract the crews necessary to make those vital changes. I also agree that it’ll be a thankless job dealing with the rump (I call it a “clot”), because as fandom continues to change and evolve, they’ll hang on tighter and harder for what little they have left from the Old Days. The reality is this: is it worth the effort of trying to save the old WorldCon experience, or does it make much more sense, financially as well as from an organization standpoint, to just build something new?

      Something that also occurred to me while thinking about this: any new convention that starts up opposite WorldCon will have to work out a serious longterm plan for at least the next ten years. Lists of succession, backup chairpeople, and the like. After all, it does absolutely no good to espouse a whole new model when the original organizers get tired and resign, and the people in charge take the job only because nobody else wants it. We have one of those characters in Dallas fandom, and I suspect every group has one: the That Guy (because that’s what everyone calls him: “That Guy”, usually with a curled lip) who whines and wheedles and calls incessantly until someone lets him get involved with the con organization. Once in, the Geek Social Fallacies are his sword and shield, and nobody will fire him because they don’t want to be exclusionary. Before you know it, he’s in charge, any efforts to get him to leave are for naught, and people quit rather than have to deal with his whimpering and pouting when he doesn’t get his way. At that point, the convention is pretty much dead because he won’t allow any programming with which he disagrees, but it slogs along out of momentum. That’s the last thing this show needs.

    • What Colin said. It gets awfully tiresome being considered a hidebound conservative and a dangerous lunatic radical simultaneously.

  3. I still think my pipe dream of having the Hugo Awards of 2016 being awarded at DragonCon to be a good idea. Getting the graybeards and the younger demographics to mix, interact and learn from each other is a good idea, no?

    • Paul Riddell says:

      It’s a great idea, but I don’t know how well it would actually happen. Alternately, I can see DragonCon taking over the Hugos only because the rump let WorldCon die rather than change. (There’s precedent for this before, mostly with the San Diego ComiCon taking over the Harvey Awards, the Hugo equivalent in the comics industry, after the Dallas Fantasy Fairs imploded back in 1996.)

      • Cheryl says:

        The Hugos would be the very last thing that the rump held on to.

        • Well, I was not suggesting every year–but one specific year, as an ice breaker. I’d not want it there every time, nor think it should be there every time.

          • Cheryl says:

            How would you persuade a Worldcon to give up their centerpiece attraction?

          • Deirdre says:

            If it’s their centerpiece attraction, wouldn’t the Hugos be held on Saturday night?

          • Cheryl says:

            It is debatable, especially if the Monday is a public holiday. You want to hold your big night as late in the event as possible while still getting the biggest possible turnout.

          • Andrew Trembley says:

            Being held on the last full night of the convention is the Hugo’s prominent placement. Hugos are done, and that’s the last important event.

            There’s also a practical reason: Hugo tech (except for Ustream) is much simpler than masquerade tech, requires less rehearsal and doesn’t have as much potential to run late. Get tech’s hardest job out of the way first, and give them an easier day before they have to clean up and move out.

    • Ray Radlein says:

      It’s worth noting that Dragon*Con did at least host NASFiC once (1996, IIRC). I thought it was a splendid occasion, but I know that not all people shared my view.

  4. Tony Keen says:

    Sadly, I agree. Worldcon has to change or die, and I don’t think it can change. As you say, trying to change it is a thankless task, and whilst the younger generations value the feeling of community as much as ours do (and don’t let anyone tell you different), they don’t feel that Worldcon is a community that welcomes them, and so they start afresh with their own events.

    I think it’s going to happen more quickly with Eastercon. We’re already at the point where every two years there’s no bid for two years down the line, and emergency bids have to be put together. Soon (maybe even next year) that’s going to happen two years in a row. Then that’ll become the norm. Then we’ll have a year where there’s no bid a year out. Then we’ll have a year when there’s no Eastercon. And finally the whole thing will be wound up and Nine Worlds will by default become the National SF convention.

    • Farah says:

      And London based.

      I’d find that very sad. A key issue tho for Eastercon is how very hard it’s getting to find hotels.

  5. Vylar Kaftan says:

    Well said. Thanks.

  6. Kevin Roche says:

    I was on one of the panels about this very topic at LoneStarCon 3, and related 3 things we learned and tried hard to implement with our not-a-hoax Westercon:
    Marketing — as in, figure out your market and do outreach, promotion and advertising appropriately.
    Branding — STOP renaming the convention every year. We’ve got a big enough problem with it relocating all the time, don’t make it harder to find.
    Engage — get some of the younger, energetic fans who *like* the social culture of Worldcon to help you build a program their friends will come to.
    A corollary: use the language of the current generation — for instance, while I know the history of the word “cosplay,” that doesn’t matter to the cosplayers. I have to include “cosplay” in the name of things so they know it includes them.

    I’m part of the program staff for LonCon 3, and I’m happy to say that James is actively open to all these sorts of things. We’ll see what happens.

  7. Nony says:

    And yet when I tried to help and/or run my own conventions, it was monumental how many people would take a lot of time to tell me why I shouldn’t and why it wouldn’t work. I have only had success at being allowed to be helpful with very specific tasks that were of limited duration and scope. And, no, I am pretty sure that’s not because I’m problematic – just not taken seriously by populations I would need to participate (or at least attend).

    • Cheryl says:

      That’s my point. If you want to change a convention, you are going to have an uphill struggle against the entrenched group that things it owns it. Most of the long-time Worldcon folks still think I’m an idiot with nothing useful to contribute, or a menace who needs to be kept at bay. Change is hard to effect.

    • Oni says:

      I am a con runner myself and I think that this happens to all of us – the people who tell you you “can’t” start a con. My best suggestion woudl be to get involved with cons and try and build up your network slowly over the course of 5 years. Blog, too. Then start something positive in an ethical and friendly way. I gained many friends staffing other cons and today we run an event that compliments and works with other events in our area (http://www.interventioncon.com)

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