Since I'm ranting anyway: Conventions

Whence comes this custom of, “If you will agree to be our guest, you may bring a companion at a special discounted rate.”  What the hell?  Now even Readercon is doing it; I had thought better of Readercon.

This should be part of a longer rant on how to treat guests and guests of honor, which I may get to someday, but for now, this business irritates me.

In general, as Conventions have become more diversified, they have been forced to invite more guests of honor for the same number of members.  It is more or less expected now that there will be a writer, a fan, an artist, a filker, a gamer, a media guest, a science guest, and maybe one or two more.  As a result, what is being offered the guests has generally dropped (with a few notable exceptions).  It is been increasingly common in the last ten or fifteen years for a convention to say, “I’m sorry, but we cannot pay transportation for a companion for you.”  As an Old Time Fhan, this is a little annoying, but it is also understandable.

But to invite someone who is NOT a guest of honor (that is, someone just being offered of free membership), and then not even offer THAT to a companion, well, there are several ways to interpret that and none of them are good.

1. We don’t actually care about you; we care about money.

2. Our financial condition is so desperate that there is a 50-50 chance you’ll show up to find the whole convention has been cancelled.

3. We’re idiots.

Are there other interpretations I’m missing?

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0 thoughts on “Since I'm ranting anyway: Conventions”

  1. They’re just victims of capitalism, Steve. Is the season being hard on you? Do you know what Marx and Engels did for Christmas? (Not a rhetorical. They were surrounded by Victorian Christmas, so I’m curious. Maybe I’ll google that now.)

  2. I remember the days when everyone BUT the Guests of Honor PAID their way in and, IF the con made enough $$, then Program Participants got their $$ back. Their companions got zip back.
    And No One but a GoH was considered a Guest. Everyone else was just a Program Participant.
    I guess you could say the Cons are rebelling against the Program Participant Inflation in which everyone on the Program should be considered a Guest and get a free membership for themselves and a companion.
    If you have 100 Program Participants, that is 200 free memberships. And if the con is less than 1000 that’s a lot of free memberships.
    So cons have also been cutting back on how many program participants Now Guests they can have a con, which also cuts back on the types of programming they can have.
    Or They can start charging Program Participants for their companions (usually the staff rate) or give No Free Memberships save to GoHs. You choose.
    Note – Most cons still set up reimbursement procedures IF the con makes enough $$.

    Lisa Deutsch Harrigan
    Treasurer, The Mythopoeic Society & Numerous Mythcons
    Treasurer, CostumeCon 26
    Treasurer to Fandom

  3. Completely off topic: I don’t know which of you are in town, but Miss J will be cooking tomorrow evening, dinner is at 6pm, you and yours are welcome. There will only be one child to bed down, so post dinner the adults can play demon or some other silly immature nonsense. If you decide to come, call and let us know, and bring alcohol. :P


  4. I was involved with a smallish (~1000) con about 5 years ago. I volunteered to work registration, and many (about a quarter I’d say?) expected to get in for free and took their resentment out on us grunts at the desk (forgetting we were _volunteers_ doing something for the good of the con). Most who made a big stink got their way (friends and family of bigwigs were the worst, followed by gamers). Fans are generally nice people, but working registration I saw a nasty side of ’em.

    I didn’t see the books, but I know the con was just slightly less than breaking even every year. Decision was made one year to really tighten up at registration, and people got even nastier. I stopped working registration because of it.

  5. Lisa: This “staff rate” stuff is new also, and I don’t like it what it implies about conventions. As I recall from working on conventions, we all paid our own way. There wasn’t a distinction between people running it and “attendees.” When I work on a convention, I expect to pay my membership. I still do at 4th Street, and if I can make it back to Minicon, I’ll expect to pay for a membership whether I work it or not.

    The idea of having “guests” who are not guests of honor, but are encouraged to come to the convention by being offered free memberships goes way, way back. The idea that it doesn’t apply to your companion is new, and offensive.

    Thanks, Gail. We’ll be going to visit Reesa’s mother. I appreciate the offer, though.

  6. Dan: Cross-posted. If the drain on the Convention is too small to support that many “invited guests,” (ie, those being offered free memberships, then don’t invite so many. If the Convention is too small to treat all the Guests of Honor as they ought to be treated, don’t invite so many.

    Underneath it, as I posted above, is this business of a “staff rate,” which implies that there is a staff throwing a convention for the pleasure of “attendees.” If that’s how things are going, I’m tempted to do the media guest thing: 1st class air fare, please, and a substantial speaker’s fee. The reason I don’t do that is because I see the conventions as being put on by us and for us.

  7. Having never been only to one Con (the Final Fantasm in Atlanta) as a participant, I don’t have alot of experience, but that is ridiculous. I am wondering if this is signaling the beginning of the end to small to medium things of this type. They are not going to be able to get the Guests that their participants want if they cannot offer some kind of incentive for the Guests to be there.

    Maybe I’m a little naive about such things, but (if I had the money) I would pay a little more as a participant to get a good range of GoH, entertainment, and just general fun.

  8. I don’t think I get it it. What does it cost a con to give someone who wouldn’t be going otherwise, a free membership? Especially if it gets the guest they want to come?

  9. I agree that guest handling and membership has gone too far. My line got drawn far sooner than yours, though. I never understood the pay your own way when working on the con, thing.

    When you spend hundreds of hours organizing the con, and then spend most of the con working (registering attendees, organizing events, wrangling guests, dealing with site staff, etc.), it’s personally very offensive to be expected to pay $30 on top of working to just be there and attend the maybe one panel you have spare time or real interest in seeing. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me and what stopped me from participating in the local con.

  10. There are just too many conventions out there. Half of them need to simply fold, and half of what’s left needs an 80% turnover in staff. The word ‘sclerotic’ comes to mind.

    The specialty conventions – anime, furry, gaming, media – are doing much better. Anime and furry cons both have regionals that are as big as Worldcon, and considerably better-focused. The regional ‘mainstream’ cons keep trying to be all things to all people in order to draw enough to survive, and they just can’t do it. There are too few fans in that milieu, and far too many conventions available to them.

    I think what you’re seeing is the tension between trying to be all things to all people and the economics that say there aren’t enough fans attending for the cons to make their numbers. They’re cutting back on expenses, but doing it badly – and sometimes rudely.

  11. I’m going to go with 3). I think it’s offensive too.

    A professional’s attendance at a fan event is not an honor or a privilege, it’s a courtesy.

    Don’t invite someone to be a guest if you’re not prepared to act like a host.

  12. 2 is closest, IME, but it’s not quite that bad. More like “If we let your friends/family in free, we may not have enough money to do this again next year.” as for chuck’s question @8, extra costs associated with extra members include con suite supplies, printing costs for program books, badge supplies, and, if enough free memberships are involved, facilities.. Further, the guest-of-guest is rarely someone who wouldn’t come anyway, but often a regular attendee who happens to be a friend of the guest in question. Some people have been known to sell their guest-of memberships, though this is frowned upon.

  13. Re 12: Er, I meant with 3) that “they’re idiots”, not “we’re idiots”, but quite possibly “we’re idiots” is correct too, depending who we are :)

  14. I was involved in a small student run con for a number of years – ran it twice, staffed it many times. We certainly never asked guests or their companions to pay to come in, within reason (a spouse and maybe a child- Jack Chalker brought his son, as I recall). We didn’t pay for transportation of companions, though.

    Student cons have structural issues that other cons do not, I think. All of the management is completely changed every four years at a maximum – my wife and I tried to institute some sort of continuity, but there was a strong attempt to reinvent the wheel each year. How much should we charge vendors? It changed on a regular basis. Should we make a profit on the art show? Sometimes yes, often no – all profits to charity. Plus, because the con was a) small and b) associated with a student organization, funds were often hard to pry out of the treasurer, who had other events that needed funding as well, so if the con did not make money (or even break even), it was difficult to adequately plan for the next year.

    So, perhaps, what you’re seeing is a combination of 2 and 3 – with the proviso that any organization involved in repeatedly reinventing the wheel looks like one run by idiots. I am inclined to think that most small cons are not a case of 1 – fan run cons should be amateur affairs in the class sense of the word – done out of love; by fans, of fans, and for fans.

    Incidentally, repeated suggestions that Mr. Brust be invited as GoH, or possibly as musical GoH, were shot down by Management – too obscure, and too far away (both absurd).

  15. I’ve worked on Arisia in Boston (and a few other cons) for almost 20 years. We really haven’t changed our policies on Program Participants/EventParticipants and GOH’s for the last several years (aside from some fine-tuning of definitions.

    We deliberately keep the number of GOH’s low to avoid diluting the honor (Writer, Artist, and Fan, and occasionally a Special Guest or 2 (Musical/ Gaming). GOH’s get all expenses paid for themselves, and 1 (or occasionally more) companions. Depending on the year, Special Guests may get full expenses, or something short of that.

    Non-GOH participants are offered a free membership for themselves, and Green Room access. We have never offered companion memberships for non-GOH participants.

    BTW, staff get a free membership to the following year, and can be comped for th current year at the Chair’s discretion. I have long been of the opinion that someone who is willing to volunteer to make the con happen should be encouraged to do so, and that starts with not making volunteers pay to attend.

    As far as what does it cost us goes, we are currently 2200 attendees or so, and are in a hotel that is small enough to require a strict cap. If we move into a larger hotel again (which won’t be until at least 2011) adding additional comps is really not a big deal. Until then, a comped person is one less paid attendee that we can let in.

    Nevertheless, we have gone out of our way to set reasonable and consistent comp policies, and to be fairly liberal with comps offered to folks who are doing something for the con. As a result, most folks are happy with what we offer, and we seem to have no difficulty getting good participants every year. At the same time, we’re in reasonable financial shape.

    I invite anyone looking for a good con to come see what we do.

  16. Really seems like the meaning of the word “guest” has been lost. If I invite a guest to my home, it is my obligation to be the best and most generous host I can be. If I am someone else’s guest, the obligation exists not to push the hospitality

    Asking an invited guest (of Honor or Otherwise) to pay to bring a companion to an event is offensive, regardless of the reason. I cannot draw a single analogy to explain this behavior.

    Therefore I offer choice 4. They are boors.

  17. Steve, I have seen that happen this year as well, and in at least once case it was a change from previous years as well (and the notification in that case came at the last minute).

    I know that cons are as hit by the economic downturn as anything else, but the instance I saw could certainly have been handled better.

    But, in general, it bothers me more in how it is done than the fact it is done. If what the con is willing to cover is declared up-front, that is one thing. Changes from past policy are another, and last minute changes are right out.

  18. Steve,

    I’m afraid I can’t shed any insider light on the reasons for this shift, since my one involvement with a con was some time ago in my student days, however I wish to express my hope that this situation won’t escalate to the point where you stop accepting invitations to cons.

    I’ve been a fan of your writing for many years. I was at Eeriecon 9 two years ago and meeting you was the highlight of the experience for me.

    Paul Baughman

  19. Thanks, Paul. I love most conventions, and go to as many as I can afford. Alas, these days, that mostly means the ones where they pay my way. I hope that will change. Generally, the only things that keep me from conventions are lack of funds, and draconian anti-smoking policies (spending a whole weekend irritated and twitchy isn’t fun).

  20. So would I be too much of a jerk to suggest quit smoking? 9-)

    I havent directly smoked a day in my life but my mother has been a chain-smoker ever since I was born. Now that she has cancer… she keeps smoking. But I actually get it. People will continue to do things that have a higher than normal probability of shortening their lives. Reasons vary but it is just in our nature. My vice is speed, I drive fast wherever I go. 9-(

  21. Last time I was off for 18 months. The only time I’ve gone 18 months without writing a word. Fuck that noise.

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