WORLDCON — Reflection (and also swag)

So at long last, I’m going to sit here and talk about my overall feelings about Renovation, my first impression of WorldCon, and some general thoughts on the state of SF conventions as a whole.

But before I do that I’m going to talk about the phat lewt I got at the con.

swag!

The Philip K Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, and Elizabeth Bear books were a lucky grab from somebody who just yelled FREE HARDCOVERS near the free stuff table, and also make it so I had to check my luggage. Completely worth it though.

Hounded, as it turns out, isn’t actually a very good book; the author spends the entire first chapter on an infodump, which instantly turned me off. I prefer implicit narration to explicit narration when it comes to fantasy, and I do not want you to just tell me how awesome your ten thousand year old druid is. Indeed, I’d have been more drawn in if the character’s age were never stated, just implied to be really, really old. I haven’t started reading the steampunk book yet.

The Song of Ice and Fire buttons in the upper right corner I found randomly on Sunday; they were originally handed out at the ASOIAF fan club meeting. I have… way too many of them, so I’m going to be giving them away as soon as I have the free time to actually arrange mailing them out.

Finally, the towel everything is resting on is the only souvenir I bought at the con, and well worth every penny. I mean. Look at that towel, guys. I will never leave home without it again.

***

Alright, now onto the meat of this post: my feelings about WorldCon in general.

Overall? Yes, it was an interesting and excellent con. It has a very long history, and I had some excellent networking opportunities. The panels were, for the most part, interesting and engaging, and the parties provided wonderful ways to socialize. The Hugo Awards were fantastic to see and one of the highlights of the event.

But. And there are a lot of “buts.” Keep in mind when reading this that I approach this con not as an old-school SF fan but as someone who met fandom first through anime and second through media fandom and videogames. I am an outsider, I am a new-generation fan used to an entirely different convention scene. But I still think that my opinions and observations are entirely valid, and I’ll enumerate them here. Also: I still have two more SF cons to go to before I feel I’ll be able to safely say I have an idea of the spread of different types of SF cons, so my opinions may change from that as well.

First of all, the way I was hyped up for Worldcon did not live up to what I actually experienced. Everyone talked about it being the largest SF con, several oldfen warned me that I would be totally overwhelmed by all there was to do, reinforced by the program booklet and otherwise. Old stories of Worldcon talked about young starry-eyed fen’s lives being changed by this event, of them being lost and confused and ultimately welcomed into the fold as they rubbed shoulders with the greats.

The experience I had at the con itself was nothing like this.

First of all, Worldcon is not a large con at all. I was continually struck on the convention floor by how empty the place seemed, by how the convention occupied a space about five times larger than it needed to be in. Worldcon is 4000 people; I believe you could have fit 20,000 in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center (do NOT quote me on that, I don’t actually know the full capacity of the space, and I also don’t think you could do that comfortably… I just think you could do it), which in turn made me wonder why the hell the con committee had seen fit to rent such an egregiously oversized space. How much money was wasted on a convention center of that size? I saw many panel and meeting rooms go almost entirely unused at certain parts of the con, which again felt like a terrible waste of time, money, and resources.

Second, it was absolutely not worth the price in any way shape or form. Renovation’s tickets were around $200 at the door; for around a quarter of that price I could go to the Penny Arcade Expo and get a far, far better experience. “Yes,” you say, “But this is WORLDCON, not PAX! It’s DIFFERENT!!!” But what I’m saying is that the cost is prohibitive and I didn’t feel as though I was given my money’s worth at all. This event was not worth $200. Given that Worldcon moves around every year and is constantly in different locations, I could maybe see justifying $150 at-door, but as it stands the cost is absurd. You can argue the point all you like, but cost is absolutely a restrictive gateway for attendees, and doesn’t provide a particularly good return on the investment unless you are a pro. As a casual fan? This is not a con I would ever recommend.

Which in turn brings me to the social scene and a problem both myself and my friend Kevin encountered, in that we both felt terribly alienated here. It wasn’t quite as bad as my first Otakon (nothing will be that bad) but I still felt a genuine sense of displacement and, in some cases, like I wasn’t even wanted. In my case, if I mentioned my work on this blog, I would catch the interest of a few older fen, but this felt like they were only interested because they were flattered, and because they found they idea of a young fan researching fandom history almost exotic (the number of times I heard “but you’re so young!”…)

While I did make a few interesting connections at parties, these were largely with other younger fans who felt the same way — alienated and sometimes even ostracized by the larger fandom. In some ways, Worldcon felt like an old country club, full of people with their own rituals who had no interest in outsiders. I sometimes heard conversations where in the same breath as someone complaining about the “greying” of fandom they’d then complain about how the young people just didn’t get it, and were all too caught up in their animes and mangas to care about real fandom. Kevin elaborates on the feeling and his point on his own blog a bit better than I’m doing here.

SF fandom has fallen behind other fandoms. Where once Worldcon really was a giant of the con scene, the be all and end all, now it’s barely a footnote in comparison to other cons. You can go on and on about how the traveling nature makes it so much more expensive, about how the history makes it worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the young people aren’t coming to the con anymore, that we feel alienated and sometimes even ostracized, that the discussion isn’t as vibrant or interesting as it used to be. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I need to keep going to Worldcon for my research, I wouldn’t go to Chicon next year.

This isn’t okay. For a culture to survive, it needs new blood, and Worldcon should find a way to make itself more inviting and palatable to people of my generation. Everywhere, people complain about the greying of fandom, but nothing is really done about this, nothing concrete anyway, and I get the feeling that nobody wants to do anything about it.

Now, on the flip side? It’s not like I didn’t have fun. I did. I got a lot of research done, I had some fascinating conversations, and yeah, I got to see the Hugos. I just don’t think that experience was worth the time, effort, and expense of the trip. Like I said, I’ll be doing Chicon next year, and in another two years I might do Worldcon if Orlando wins the bid (long story as to why), but that’s all the way in 2015, so who knows what I’ll be doing or feeling then.

And maybe it was just this particular con. After all, each Worldcon is very, very different from the rest, given the way they move around and are chaired by different people. Perhaps Chicon will be different, more welcoming, and more accessible. Who knows?

To conclude… to me, Worldcon feels like a fallen giant. I can see how back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even the early 90s it might have been a giant of fandom, the mainstay of the geek scene and the heart of all conventions, but now it feels like a fallen monarch, ousted from its glory by a combination of bigger, better, friendlier cons. I still think it’s worth going at least once, just to say you did, but it will not be a mainstay of my con stable.

(Also again, I’m sorry if this comes off as excessively bitter: I really did have a great time and really did get a lot of research done! The people who I did interact with were great. But I still had a lot of problems with the con I felt I needed to get off my chest.)

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  1. #1 by Redhead on September 18, 2011 - 9:18 pm

    I’m hoping to make it to my first WorldCon next year. I’m about 2 hours away from the convention city, so that’s good, but the price tag is pretty cost prohibitive. Badges for me and the other half, hotel, food, gas, we’re already starting to save up.

    I know it’s not going to be a huge convention, probably because of the price tag. I want to see authors I’ve read (and zomg, maybe MEET them!!!), go to some talks and some panels, network with some other fans, see what all this fandom is all about.

    • #2 by Tom Galloway on September 20, 2011 - 4:49 pm

      For what it’s worth, it’s very easy to meet authors (also artists, editors, etc.) at Worldcon. Most of them will do kaffeeklatches, where it’s just the one person and up to 12 people who signed up for it at a table for an hour. Now, admittedly there’ll be a more than 12 or so folk demand for, say, George R.R. Martin…but he and everyone else was easily accessible in hallways, after panels, at parties/in bars, etc. A friend attending his first Worldcon was most impressed at how accessible everyone was. So long as you don’t come across as someone who needs a restraining order slapped on them, you shouldn’t have any problems meeting authors.

  2. #3 by Kevin Riggle on September 19, 2011 - 7:36 am

    The tl;dr point of my blog post is that “the greying of fandom” means “all my friends are getting older”, and if you’re not making new friends who are younger, then, duh. And my impression of the crowd at Worldcon was that it was *not* overall a group of people who were interested in making new friends, so in that case I think you have only yourselves to blame.

    If you would like to *change* this, then let’s talk — because you seem like cool people, and I’d like to be friends with you, but if you won’t even talk to me there’s no way I can.

  3. #4 by Lis Carey on September 20, 2011 - 3:06 pm

    The “moving around every year” and “run by a different organization every year” really do matter, and make a difference, as much as you want to dismiss them. Worldcon cannot cut the deals a convention that stays in one place can. It also can’t grow to the size a stationary convention can, which touches on one of your points, but I have more to say about that, too, in a moment.

    There are a few culture clash issues in your comments. Worldcon doesn’t sell “tickets,” but memberships. You’re joining the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society. This isn’t just a word preference or jargon; it matters to the organizers, the volunteers, the regular attendees. This is traditional sf fandom’s annual family reunion, and a large percentage of the attendees are seeing dear long-time friends they see once or twice a year.

    I mentioned volunteers. The reliable way to make new friends at a traditional sf convention is to volunteer. It breaks the ice, when you’re the newbie in a large crowd of old friends. It’s not that long-time fen don’t want to make new friends or aren’t interested in meeting you; it’s just that, as with any other situation where a large percentage of the people present are old friends, people tend to talk and behave in ways they don’t intend as exclusionary, but which can be hard for a newbie to break into. Volunteering gets you over that hump.

    Another culture clash issue is your complaint about the lack of crowding. SF con organizers work hard to avoid crowding and to avoid long lines. Traditional sf fans go to anime and media conventions, and report back in astonishment at the (to us!) bizarre preference for being crowded and standing in long, slow-moving lines, when minimal effort at planning could have eliminated most of the lines and reduced the crowding to a more comfortable level with easier traffic flow.

    Cost of membership: It’s significantly cheaper if you voted in site selection and converted to attending right after the vote. Cost increases in stages during the intervening two years, up to that “prohibitive” at-the-door rate. Very few Worldcon attendees are paying at-the-door.

    If you didn’t care for Worldcon, that’s okay. Nothing is for everyone. But Worldcon isn’t a failure because it achieves its goal of feeling uncrowded and not having interminably long lines, and you aren’t being excluded and looked down on because lots of people at Worldcon already know each other.

    And, news flash, it’s unusual for young people to be interested in the history of organizations and subcultures. It’s not an exclusionary attitude on the part of older fen to remark on the fact that you’re young compared to other fanhistorians; it’s just an observation of reality, no different than the surprise and delight I felt on learning, at my great-aunt’s wake, that one of my cousins, a few years younger than I, was taking up the family history mantle from our much older second cousin.

  4. #5 by Warren Buff on September 20, 2011 - 3:24 pm

    All my cards on the table, here: I’m one of the younger set (by Worldcon standards — I’m 28) who really gives a damn about Worldcon, and wants to see it continue as something awesome well after I’m around. This was the best Worldcon I’ve been to (out of three), based on the fact that almost the entire convention, I was either going somewhere I wanted to be, or having an interesting conversation. Yes, there was some dead space at the front of that exhibit hall, but there was a really active social center across the middle of it. Every time I stopped by gaming, the fan tables, the tables for eating, or the fanzine lounge, I was able to find someone interesting to talk to. Unfortunately, to a newcomer, that part of the culture is a bit opaque. The first few times I went to Worldcon, I wasn’t as confident that it was okay to just start conversations.

    One of the things I did this year that really helped was to get together a dinner for younger folks involved in con-running at Worldcon. It was small, only eight of us, but none of us knew all of the others going in, and I felt like we really walked away with a reinforced notion that we’re not the only young folks around. I’m not sure how to extend that impression to folks in general who aren’t necessarily involved in running cons, but I’m open to ideas. A woman I met in the airport on the way home (who jumjped in on a conversation I was having with an older friend who was convinced of the impending doom of the greying of fandom) indicates that Reno did indeed feel like it had a decent crowd of young fans (her impression came from the panel rooms). There’s got to be a way to make it easier to see those of us who are already there.

  5. #6 by Kevin Standlee on September 20, 2011 - 4:44 pm

    It is of course amusing to see Worldcon described as being so small when, among the community, there are a fair number of people who won’t attend because it’s much too large. These are people for whom a 125-person convention is perhaps the largest event they feel comfortable attending.

    It came to me during Renovation that Worldcon should perhaps be described as “The Biggest Little Science Fiction Convention in the World.” Worldcon’s attendance of 4-8K (in North America) hasn’t changed a whole bunch in twenty years, but twenty years ago there weren’t these monster huge 100K attendance events out there.

    You talk about how oversized the space seemed to you. The problem here is that function space comes in discrete sizes, and that in most cases you have the choice between too little space and too much. In Reno’s case, you need the exhibit hall space in order to have a Dealers Room/Art Show/Exhibits area, but there aren’t any halls smaller than what they had. Would you have thought it a better use of space if the convention had (say) put up a 6-foot high curtain wall halfway back from the doors and forced everything into the remainder, thereby forcing crowding?

    A related issue is that Worldcon wants to have lots of programming. That means you need a whole bunch of relatively small rooms, which isn’t a common mix. Conceivably you can “fix” this by cutting the amount of program items in half and (one hopes) thereby making each room more crowded. But that means you have to drop much of the special-interest programming, and that’s actually one of the purposes of having Worldcon. Sure, you end up with ten people in a 170-person room, but that’s because most convention center spaces don’t give you lots of 20- and 30-person rooms.

    And at the other extreme, since you attended the Hugo Awards Ceremony, you may have noticed that there wasn’t enough seating there. Worldcons end up wanting a very strange allocation of space that doesn’t exist in many facilities. Furthermore, for historical reasons, Worldcon runners are considered to have done a poor job if they generate lots of queues, whereas it appears (maybe I’m wrong) that people not only expect long queues at events like PAX, ComicCon, but they view the absence of queues as a failure in some way.

    (Aside: I daresay that if PAX shut down after one year, the organization dissolved, and a different convention by the same name happened the following year in, say, Sydney, Australia, also as a one-shot, followed by another one-shot in, say, San Francisco, and so forth, that the price wouldn’t be so affordable. It’s the nature of Worldcon, which is not really a single convention but an ongoing series of one-shots, that it’s economically inefficient. If Worldcon were held in the same city every year, run by the same group every year, it would probably end up costing less than half what it costs today. But could it legitimately still claim to be the Worldcon then?)

    I hope I don’t sound too defensive. I recognize the issues you’re identifying, and as someone who found Worldcon that life-changing experience when I attended my first one in 1984 at the age of eighteen and who has attended every one of them since 1989, I’ve been trying to pay that favor forward ever since.

    • #7 by Ichiro on May 23, 2012 - 10:22 am

      Dear Mr. Davidson,Your message has eareucngod me, I thank you, too. I will try my best to return you and all the readers who enjoyed reading John’s books.I have plenty to read during holidays, as I told Cheryl that I now need reading glass and calculate, it made me very happy to see so many people have viewed my story.I should thank the BBC has provided this marvellous opportunity for people to show our ability.Image at the day I die, my story should have?billions votes by the known and unknown people from different corner of the world, I shall be very happy to see my story has made our life better, and I must thank their time and their support even I am in grave. John taught me the most important thing in life is love, he was true. I see from the messages, diamond cannot buy love but love has united us together.I wish you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2010.Liyi Brunner

  6. #8 by Andrew Porter on September 20, 2011 - 11:15 pm

    I’ve sent a link to this article out to a list I maintain of interested readers, fans, SF professionals, and SFnal news blogs.

  7. #9 by crotchetyoldfansteve davidson on September 21, 2011 - 8:25 am

    Thanks for the observations & review. Not having been at Reno I can’t judge accuracy or appropriatness – but I absolute do appreciate the feedback from a self-confessed “youngster” (or should I say “not graying yet” fan?

    I’m looking forward to the report on Chicon

  8. #10 by Elizabeth van den Berg on September 22, 2011 - 2:03 am

    Seems to me that if WORLDCON wants to attract and encourage younger members, perhaps some kind of tiered pricing system might be considered. Many academic conventions give students a price break because they want them to join early, and hope that they will continue their memberships at full price once they graduate and become academics themselves. In this case, since most fans are probably not academics or even students, perhaps there’s a First Year membership break. Just a suggestion from an academic and a fan.

  9. #11 by kastandlee on September 22, 2011 - 2:09 am

    Elizabeth: Renovationdid have reduced-rate memberships for younger persons. (See the full rate table on their web site.)

    Personally, I really wish there was a reliable way to give a price break of some sort to “Your first Worldcon.” But it would be nightmarish to administer. Remember that every Worldcon is effectively a brand new convention, starting up from scratch. It’s not really an ongoing event; it’s an annual series of one-shot conventions, and that means the amount of information that transfers from year to year is quite limited. (And frankly, that’s one of the reasons the convention costs so much; if it was in a static location, it would probably cost roughly half as much to run since there wouldn’t be so much duplication of effort.)

  10. #12 by Ian Randal Strock on September 22, 2011 - 5:50 am

    Interesting discussion, both the newbie/historian’s take on WorldCon, and the long-time attendees/organizers’ responses (and for the fact that I’ll be on a panel discussing this topic at Capclave in a few weeks). Our host brings up some points that have been preying on my mind for a while now, too. I haven’t been thinking specifically of WorldCon, more of the regular regional cons here in the northeast, but I’ve been seeing that graying, too. I’ve noticed that some of the cons seem to be shrinking and graying, as the organizers try to maintain the wonderful conventions of the past. Others seem to be growing with new, young attendees as the organizers adopt more of a “big tent” ideology, welcoming the edges and fringes in with the traditional science fiction convention concepts.

    It’s all well and good to say “this is how we like it, and we’ve perfected the concept over the time.” But the new guy has a point when he says “If you keep throwing a party inviting only the same people year after year, the size of that party is going to shrink, and eventually someone will be the last one attending.” Science fiction used to be stories in ephemeral magazines, and then it changed into those stories and also novels and anthologies. Then came science fiction movies, and then television, and the field allowed itself to be enlarged. We grudgingly accepted publication of our stories in electronic media, rather than print. Now we’re witnessing yet another growth spurt, as radical as the one from print to film, and it’s hard to recognize that this new-fangled thing is still science fiction, but we old-timers have two choices: we can keep yelling at the tide that comics and manga aren’t “real” sf, or we can accept that the tide is rising and spreading, and let our boats keep floating upon it, seeking new lands and new friends.

    Since I started Fantastic Books, I now look at conventions not only as places to meet up with my fellow practitioners and fans, but also as part of my business. And in one year, I can say definitively that I am all in favor of the big-tent model: the conventions that are trying to attract more and more attendees by accepting more and more facets of sf. I still go to the old-line conventions that feel like they’re shrinking, but they don’t have much room to shrink before they stop being worth my financial while to attend.

    And I have to echo that concern about the price of attending WorldCon. Sure, it’s cheap if you voted three years ago, and then paid for your ticket way back then. That’s great for the old-line fans who’ve been part of it forever, and know they’ll be a part of it forever. But it’s definitely not attractive to new people. Do we expect the new guy to look at WorldCon and say “Oh, great. I’ll attend in three years,” or do we want to attract him right now, this year? The difference between buying a ticket and joining the WSFS may mean something to those old-line fans, but the newbie doesn’t give a damn about WSFS, membership, or anything like that: he’s looking for a great experience. And as someone who’s been attending WorldCons every few years for two decades, I, too, don’t give a damn about joining WSFS. Costs of attendance aren’t high because of the value of that membership: they’re high in order to pay the costs of the convention.

    So much to say, I guess we will be filling that hour’s worth of discussion at Capclave, so I’ll cut myself off for now.

    –Ian Randal Strock
    Editor, SFScope.com
    Publisher, Fantastic Books (www.FantasticBooks.biz)

  11. #13 by kastandlee on September 22, 2011 - 6:20 am

    Ian:

    I take that that since you call the admission price a “ticket” and say you don’t care about WSFS that you’ve never nominated or voted for the Hugo Awards? You just want to pay for a ticket for someone to entertain you, like going to a concert or a baseball game?

    In any event, the price of a Worldcon membership isn’t high because the organizers like to gouge people and line their pockets. Worldcons don’t make Big Money. They’re budgeted to break even with a small reserve, and Worldcons generally pass along at least half of any surplus (some lose money) to their successors. The price of a Worldcon membership is high because the expectations of the members are such that the facilities are expensive and because the event is a one-shot convention that can never achieve much in the way of economy of scale.

    It would certainly be possible to lower the costs considerably, at the expense of not being sure every member could get to see the Masquerade and Hugo Awards and by significantly reducing the amount of programming. That would allow the convention to shed about half of the very expensive function space, increase crowding, probably generate a lot of queues, and generally squeeze people together more. Do you think that would be a good thing?

    Or Worldcon could be held in the same place every year, run by the same people, and the costs would drop as the convention could get the economies of scale that the other big conventions have. Do you think that would be a good thing? It would lower the cost by roughly half, but it would sacrifice a good bit of what makes the Worldcon the Worldcon, wouldn’t it?

    Finally, there is one other thing: If Worldcon could somehow double its membership, it would probably fit into roughly the same space (although there would be more crowding), and the membership price could be dropped significantly. (It’s the huge fixed costs — on the order of a third of a million dollars — that make Worldcon budgets such a nightmare; variable costs per member are relatively low, so if you could double the membership, you’d roughly halve the cost per member.) But no Worldcon could possibly risk cutting their membership costs in half up front unless someone was willing to put up a half-million-dollar guarantee to back it. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to do that, actually, but short of that sort of magic, what would you suggest if you were running Worldcon that would make it more affordable? Remember, your proposals have to be realistic, concrete, and achievable, not just pie-in-the-sky theorizing.

    People who run Worldcons don’t like having to charge so much for membership, but they also have to bring in enough money to pay for running the convention.

    • #14 by Ian Randal Strock on September 24, 2011 - 6:04 am

      Actually, Kevin, every time I’ve attended WorldCon, I’ve voted for the Hugo Awards, but that’s not really the point.

      I’m not looking just to be entertained: I participate on programming, I make my own good time, meet people on my own, and so forth. (And actually, my echoing of the price concern was a secondary point at best.)

      My main point was the gray-haired cliquishness and the not-invented-here disdain seem to be large factors in the ongoing shrinkage of old-line conventions such as WorldCon.

      And with WorldCon gaining a reputation as the staid, quiet crowd (how’s that for a sea-change from the early days?), while ComicCon and DragonCon are getting all the press as the young, hip places to be, the powers that be really need to decide if they want to keep their convention for themselves (and accept the reality that it’ll eventually die of old age), or if they want to branch out of their comfort zone and try to make it a traveling competitor of those big gotta-be-there cons.

      I had a similar ongoing argument when I was on the Board of SFWA, over the location of the annual Nebula Awards ceremonies: is it a family reunion, or an annual event where we strut our stuff for the world at large. Moving around says to me it’s the smaller of the two.

      Within the last two years, New York Comic Con and the Chicago event C2E2 modified their dates to line up their calendars in concert with San Diego Comic Con. Maybe it’s time for WorldCon to consider teaming up with DragonCon (and possibly those three comic cons) to offer a similar-but-different event annually in one location. While I favor the northeast for selfish reasons, perhaps Texas or St. Louis might be a good permanent WorldCon home.

      • #15 by Kevin Standlee on September 25, 2011 - 2:45 am

        While I understand your point, do you really think that trying to make Worldcon into another DragonCon would improve it? You might as well dissolve it on the spot if you think that trying to create another Large Annual Pop Culture Event would somehow make Worldcon different.

        Meanwhile, while you’re at it, you’ve immediately decided that anyone outside of the USA (and probably outside of the commuting or one-day-drive distance of the single site) is irrelevant and can be ignored. For that matter, you’d be saying that there are Hugo Award winners who can never be allowed to attend Worldcon. (I’m not joking, BTW; there are at least two Hugo Award winners who I personally know who the USA will not let come into the country thanks to our idiotic systems.)

        • #16 by Ian Randal Strock on September 25, 2011 - 3:34 am

          Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but who is WorldCon for? And are those people best served by the graying and shrinking of WorldCon, or would they (and the con) be better off growing?

          • #17 by Kevin Standlee on September 25, 2011 - 3:38 am

            To answer your question: Who chooses where Worldcon is held? Who makes the rules for selecting Worldcons?

  12. #18 by allandaros on September 23, 2011 - 5:42 am

    @kastandlee: While this has been conflated a bit in the discussion, I submit that the issue isn’t “WorldCon are being BIG MEANIES by having such a high price.” The issue is “The high price of WorldCon winds up having a strong dissuasive effect on people’s decisions to attend.”

    You list some reasons why WorldCon does things as it does in regard to pricing. Fine. Those are understandable. But those decisions have consequences. Some good…some bad. The question becomes, are the opportunity costs from keeping the status quo less than those from finding an alternate solution?

    • #19 by Kevin Standlee on September 23, 2011 - 6:15 am

      Well, so far, the answer is “yes, keeping the status quo is less expensive than any suggested alternative solution,” because every suggested alternative would probably destroy the convention to save it. What would you suggest doing that could reduce the price? Lock the convention down in one place under the same organizers every year? Limit the membership to only about 3000 people, so that it would fit into cheaper facilities? Cut the amount of programming and exhibits by at least half, so that you wouldn’t need to rent convention center space? Can you think of anything else?

      • #20 by allandaros on September 23, 2011 - 6:31 am

        Off the cuff, I’d say that keeping the con in one place would be a simple method for cutting costs and allowing for more attendees. Yes, this would detract from the “World” component of Worldcon, and no, that’s not a trivial loss by any means.

        I don’t say that this is definitively the best solution. I don’t know that it’s a viable solution at all! But talking about possibilities (and their consequences, both positive and negative) seems a lot better than the stance that all possibilities have been tried, and all alternatives would inherently ruin the spirit of Worldcon.

        • #21 by Kevin Standlee on September 23, 2011 - 2:08 pm

          Oh, it would be great for anyone who lived in the same metro area as the home of the so-called “World” con. But what about everyone? Do you really think that cutting the price from $200 to $100 would make that much of a difference if you lived more than commuting distance from the convention? Think about it: If you live in San Francisco, the fact that the Worldcon in Chicago would cost $100 instead of $200 doesn’t really help you that much. It seems to me that you’d rather have a $200 convention in San Jose that you could actually get to than a $100 convention in Chicago that you couldn’t.

          • #22 by allandaros on September 23, 2011 - 2:34 pm

            Certainly travel costs will remain an issue, and in my proposal one metro area would have a much easier time getting to the con than all others. But having a fixed location makes it a lot easier for people to plan for attending, even if it’s a year down the road. With Worldcon shifting from location to location each year, you lose that ability. You also lose the economies of scale as discussed above.

            • #23 by Kevin Standlee on September 23, 2011 - 2:49 pm

              So basically you’re saying that one metro area should be happy, but everyone else can go pound sand? Think about it: What if that Permanent Worldcon Site was in Melbourne, Australia or Glasgow, Scotland? Do your really think that saving $100 on the membership cost would make it more likely that you would ever attend it? Isn’t it better that the convention periodically come within striking distance at a higher membership cost? Wouldn’t your cost of attendance when you can get there be lower?

              • #24 by Helmut on May 25, 2012 - 1:58 am

                I wrote a letter to the Tolkien esttae about whether or not I could make prints of my Tolkien illustrations. I can’t call Hobbit Feet Hobbit Feet . I have to call it Halfling Feet because Tolkien has a trademark on hobbit .Some of my pictures were made for official Tolkien events, others not. While I still own the copyright, there are restrictions on what I can do with the pictures.I once dealt with someone who was making my prints who openly violated the terms the Tolkien Estate set up. We are not supposed to print proper names on the prints, certificates of authenticity, etc. We can’t print Lord of the Rings on them.I can make a picture of a noble elf, everyone knows it’s Thranduil. But I can’t splash The Hobbit all over it.I know several top illustrators who have done official and unofficial Tolkien illustrations and commissions. Some have contracts to do so, others don’t.If you make a picture of Galadriel, you just name it Lady of the Golden Wood . Everybody knows it’s Galadriel. It’s your picture, and if you are not copying something from the film, what you have painted is a picture of a blonde woman with pointy ears.

    • #25 by Kevin Standlee on September 23, 2011 - 6:17 am

      There’s a certain irony that if we put a membership cap on the convention, we could cut the cost in half. Of course, the actual price wouldn’t really be cut in half, because what would happen is that the memberships would sell out in advance and a secondary market would develop, selling the memberships above face value. And nobody would be able to join at the door, so it would be even worse than the current situation, as new people would never be able to join at all until enough Old Pharts died.

      • #26 by allandaros on September 23, 2011 - 6:31 am

        Ah! We are in agreement on the non-viability of this option, at least. 🙂

  13. #27 by Jonathan M on September 23, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    Interesting stuff.

    I’ve never been to a Worldcon but my experience of SF fandom very closely mirrors your experience of the con:

    SF Fandom is very old and because it is very old it has a number of venerable institutions including journals, awards and conventions. SF Fandom prides itself on being very open and the idea is, as you note, that you turn up, feel alienated but then find your place and eventually wind up as one of the grey-beards that looks in turn upon the alienated younglings. Unfortunately, the reality is not what is written in the tin.

    In practice what happens is that older fen socialise chiefly with older fen and have little interest in either socialising with or reaching out to younger fen. This means that the bulk of younger fen either get disgusted and leave fandom altogether or wind up setting up their own websites, online cliques and occasional cons and imprints. SF Fandom is not just a gerontocracy, it is also a gerontocracy dominated by white men, which is why there are habitual shit storms over issues of gender and race. They are habitual because nothing ever changes.

  14. #28 by Stu Segal on September 30, 2011 - 1:21 pm

    Your comments are very insightful. I have attended about 15 WorldCons, starting when I was in my late 40s – I love it enough to return each year, but I have come to accept “it is what it is”.

    Though there is always lipservice by WorldCon attendees and conrunners, and though there are a few people who would truly like to see change, the great majority of WorldCon “regulars” and WorldCon “conrunners” are not interested in a) Change, b) Media, c) Crowds, d) Any genres (except SF&F) that appeal to folks under 30, e) Media Guests, f) Young fans (they claim they are, but they start to shudder and sweat when you mention anything that reminds them of Dragon*Con or ComiCon), G) Cosplay.

    If you are looking for a smallish (by modern standards), uncrowded convention that is well run, moves at a modest pace, has no queues or autograph fees, and is heavily attended by authors and editors then WorldCon may be for you. If you are looking for something with the vibe and energy of a ComiCon or Dragon*Con, then WorldCon is not for you.

    • #29 by Ian Randal Strock on September 30, 2011 - 10:49 pm

      That’s a pretty good description. I only take issue with “heavily attended by authors and editors”: the authors and editors I’ve been talking with over the past few years have been considering WorldCon less and less of a requirement on their annual calendar, opting instead for the larger conventions with more potential customers. Unfortunately, economics does have to figure in to some of our decisions.

      • #30 by Stu Segal on October 1, 2011 - 4:10 am

        Well, maybe I should have said “heavily attended by old time SF&F authors, including some big names”, as the truth is, excluding Gaiman and GRRM the popular authors who make it to the NYT Bestseller list are mre often at Dragon*Con than they are at WorldCon. The next 2 yrs, when WorldCon and D*C go head to head on Labor Day, could be quite interesting as more and more authors follow the money.

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