The proposal to eliminate the Best Semiprozine Hugo has gotten so much attention it’s been easy to overlook the major surgery that the Best Fanzine category will undergo if the final product of the “Making the Web Eligible” motion, the language shown in underline, is ratified at the 2009 Worldcon Business Meeting:
3.3.12: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.
Before you suspect me of being only a guy with a paper zine trying to deny the electronic future, let me say that I actually agree that internet publications – such as blogs and websites — need to be brought into the Hugo Awards.
The problem is introducing the “making the web eligible” changes without any attempt to define new criteria that will align commercially-motivated internet publications in another category.
I worry about fanzines and fannish websites/blogs being shut out of competition by a combination of trade publications and mass-media-promotion websites. If the voters in the Business Meeting intend a laissez-faire approach, I suppose the chips will fall where they may. But having made a point of preserving existing semipro critiera in the other major rule changes they may be open to a suggestion.
Look into the future. You’re at the 2010 Worldcon in Australia attending the Hugo ceremonies. Someone is announcing the five nominees for the Best Fanzine Hugo. But which of these three lists are they reading?
The Drink Tank
SCI FI Wire
The rules are being changed to make paperzines share the glory, so List A, a rerun of this year’s slate of nominees, is unlikely.
List B is a realistic possibility. I’m impressed that eFanzines already dominates its category in the FAAn Awards. The others are just a few examples of online publications that have a lot of fan support.
Everything depends on what Worldcon members vote to put on the final ballot. One smof is fond of quoting the axiom Vox populi, vox dei. A Hugo Administrator would need nerves of iron to rule out List C if voters ranked these pro sites in the top five. So if this list isn’t anyone’s ideal, more concrete rules would help.
The change throws a great burden on the Hugo Administrator without providing much guidance. Controversy always stalks the awards to some extent, a prospect that deters most administrators from any action not required by a black letter rule. The probable outcome is that voters will be the ones deciding the categories where internet nominees belong.
The 2008 Business Meeting minutes say very little about the scope of the change or how to administer it. When somebody questioned the Chair whether blogs would belong in Best Fanzine or Best Related Works (amended from “Best Related Book” by the same legislation), the Chair said that would be up to the Hugo administrator. But on what terms? The minutes are silent.
Voters have the semiprozine criteria for paid material and more-than-half-of-one’s-support to filter some things out of the fanzine category. Unfortunately, those aren’t good tools for the work.
Consider: Is Locus Online semipro? It repeats some material the magazine presumably paid for. Does it fulfill any of the other criteria? There’s advertising, but mainly at the top of the landing page – so, far less than 15% of the site’s overall space. There’s no way of determining if Locus Online provides more than one-half of anyone’s support (or any support at all) without them announcing it, but how likely is that when editor Mark Kelly has day job in aerospace? Very possibly Locus Online is not semipro as the Hugo rules define the term, even though one of its goals is to steer business to the magazine.
Next, consider Whatever. It’s popular with tens of thousands of readers. Most fanzines and fannish blogs have about one percent of that readership. Otherwise, they have in common a devotion to sf and fandom in their own way. Whatever carries no advertising and pays nobody to write, to my knowledge. Instead of drawing a distinction between Whatever and other publications I’m practically delivering a sound-alike for the “If you prick me, do I not bleed?” speech from “The Merchant of Venice.” Where should it compete?
A lot of the other high-traffic sites are easier to classify. Poke around and you eventually find a reference to the top editor having been hired away from a big-name pop culture magazine. Click on the “advertising” link and you’ll be taken to a corporate webpage declaring that millions of people read its spectrum of special-interest sites. But will this circumstantial evidence be enough to empower a Hugo Administrator to disqualify something as a fanzine?
What does the future hold? As you can see, a lot is riding on the work fans will do at this year’s Business Meeting.
P.S. One other thing bothers me about the soon-to-be-ratified rule change. Why haven’t the knowledgeable fans who proposed it given the category a new name in order to avoid the clumsy anachronism of calling virtually every form of two-dimensional fanac a fanzine, as the rule will effectively do?