rosefox: Steve Martin wiggles his eyebrows and says "REALLY" (skeptic)
Rose Fox ([personal profile] rosefox) wrote2015-07-21 04:48 am

"Why be realistic? Don't wake me from my dream"

I mentioned in my previous post that World Fantasy Convention membership lets you attend program items and gives you early access to banquet tickets. There is one other benefit that might be attached to membership. The fine print regarding the banquet says "Seating for the Award presentation after the Banquet will be available for those members who do not attend the Banquet." I note the word "members" there. Does that mean that award nominees must buy full $275 memberships in order to attend their own award ceremony? That seems absurd to me. But I realize I've never attended an event as an award nominee or paid much attention to what it's like to do so, so let's look at some numbers from comparable events.

If you're a Shirley Jackson Award nominee who doesn't usually go to Readercon, a Sunday day pass is a mere $25, and you get access to four tracks of some of the best SF/F convention programming in the world plus two tracks of readings. The Locus Awards Weekend sets you back $50, and that includes the banquet cost as well as a day of single-track programming and a six-month subscription to Locus. The Nebulas also do day passes for the day of the ceremony, separately from the $80 banquet ticket; the day pass costs $60, and the day's programming and the pre-banquet reception are included. Even Worldcon has $70 day passes for the day of the Hugo ceremony, and there's no banquet to factor in. So I'm willing to accept that it's fairly standard for award nominees to pay some amount to support the organization bestowing the awards--assuming that at all these events nominees are actually required to be convention members in order to attend award ceremonies, which may not actually be the case, and only considering nominees who would not otherwise have attended the events hosting the awards--but the strings attached are all well under $100 with no multi-day hotel obligation.

(All numbers are from 2015 events; future events may vary, of course.)

WFC outdoes the most expensive of the bunch by a factor of four, simply by virtue of not offering day passes (which WFCs are forbidden from doing by board regulations). And having to buy a full weekend's membership means people spend more on lodging and food, which can't be justified as supporting the organization that bestows the awards. At that point it's pure barrier to entry.

I would be entirely happy to go up to WFC on Saturday, pay for one night in a shared hotel room and three restaurant meals, buy a Sunday day pass for $70 or so to attend the award ceremony and support the convention, and then head home. That would not feel disproportionate to what I'm getting out of it. But because the WFC board bans the sale of day passes, the only support-the-convention option is $275 + three nights of hotels and meals, and that is quite possibly not an affordable option for me. Since WFC forces an all-or-nothing choice, it has to contend with the possibility of nothing. (But it doesn't care, because all the memberships are always sold one way or another. If my choice is "nothing", the next person in line will happily go for "all".)

WFC sells out very quickly every year, so sure, if you want to be a pure capitalist about it, charge all the market will bear for those limited spots (with no comps for program participation, unlike Readercon and most Worldcons, because after charging far more than many people can afford to pay for convention membership, WFC wants to foster an atmosphere of "equality"). The individual organizations that host each iteration of the convention get to keep their profits--they're encouraged, but not required, to help seed future WFCs, and the extent of the help they give is up to them--and those profits are substantial, even with host orgs having to pay to have the award statues made. So WFC attendees are basically subsidizing small local convention-running groups, many in out-of-the-way places, that might otherwise struggle for funds. I can get behind that as a system people might freely choose to participate in. I'm having a harder time with it as a system that costs award nominees 4 to 13 times as much as other SF/F events where awards are bestowed. Again, I'm willing to accept that nominees will always be asked to support the events giving them their awards, but that is a significant difference of magnitude, and a significant financial hit and barrier to entry for the people the awards are supposed to recognize.

The convention and the awards are inseparable--the board primarily consists of the award judges, which I think is even more intimate than the link between Worldcon and the Hugos--so my first assumption was that the convention came into existence to draw people to and support the awards. But if a significant purpose of WFC is to honor and recognize great works and their creators, why set the system up this way, with no allowance for any of those creators who happen to be low on funds and don't have major publishers subsidizing their attendance? Small-press works have been on the WFA ballots literally since the first year the award was given, and broke yet award-worthy creators were hardly unknown in 1975, so if the organizers wanted to give any kind of real-world support to those people and publishers, they could easily have made arrangements to do so. But they didn't.

The only conclusion I can draw from the evidence I have--with full acknowledgment that I may be missing something--is that it works the other way around from what I originally thought: WFC exists to make money for hosting organizations, and the WFAs exist to draw people to WFC. The centering of profit gives rise to the belief that anyone who can't afford to attend isn't worth having around, award-nominated or not. Once that belief is accepted, all the rest of the policies make perfect sense.

To be entirely clear, I'm looking at this through the lens of being nominated because that's the position I'm in this year, but I think the cost of WFC is generally indefensible for any organization with "world" in its name. Again, if you want to hold a small, exclusive event and people are so eager to go to it that it sells out within a few weeks of tickets becoming available, by all means, raise your prices. But don't then claim that it's for the whole world, or trumpet your badges that don't distinguish between fan and pro. Of course you don't need to distinguish between them if the costs of the con have already shut out a whole lot of the non-pros.

To also be entirely clear, I'm well aware that just being able to contemplate spending $400 on ghosting the con puts me in a pretty high privilege bracket. This post isn't intended to be an extended whine about how I can only afford to spend $400 on a convention, woe, poor me. It's also not intended to suggest that WFC needs to change its policies to benefit me personally. The policies for this year are what they are, and I don't expect to ever create more WFA-eligible work (though anything's possible, I suppose), much less be nominated again, so future changes wouldn't be to my benefit. (Given the cost of membership, WFC would have to be literally down the street for me to consider going without an award nomination drawing me.) I don't know that I'm even arguing for the policies to change at all; if I were going to do that I'd have to think a lot more about what changes I'd suggest. It's more that there's a lot of stuff here that I didn't know until I started digging a bit, so I'm sharing it for those who likewise didn't know and might want to.

If I'm wrong about anything or missing anything, please do tell me.