Worldcon 75 Membership Report

The latest membership figures were released during Worldcon 75’s staff meeting last weekend.

  • Attending: 4,488
  • Total membership number: 6,944

This includes 1,141 First Worldcon memberships.

The con has gained almost 800 members since the update published in Progress Report #4, vaulting it into second place as the largest Worldcon outside North America.

In fact, with so many attending members they may need to find that missing seat —

40 thoughts on “Worldcon 75 Membership Report

  1. I’ve updated my Google doc for the most recent attendance figures.

    Worldcon 75 is less than 400 short of MidAmeriCon II’s final totals. I have no doubt that they will exceed it by the start of the convention.

    Gosh, don’t you just hate how much Worldcon is dying without the Puppies’ “help”? 🙄

  2. I wonder if the post 2000 era of Worldcon attendance dropoff (thanks for that graph, JJ, it makes it easy to see) isn’t partly an artifact of the increased hassle of air travel in the post 9-11 world.

  3. Paul Weimer: I wonder if the post 2000 era of Worldcon attendance dropoff isn’t partly an artifact of the increased hassle of air travel in the post 9-11 world.

    Really, the only outlier there is Aussiecon4, for obvious reasons. If you leave that one off, the in-person attendance for the last 18 years has been pretty consistent, but growing slightly. Note that Worldcons 54 and 56, and a number of the earlier cons, don’t have Supporting Membership breakout numbers available, so those look as though they had more Attending Memberships than they actually did.

    It’s the Supporting Memberships which have grown markedly in the last 4 years — again, for obvious reasons.

  4. “First Worldcon Memberships”: I thought that was rather nice, free memberships for Mel Korshak and Bob Madle. Then I found out it was for people for whom it was their first worldcon.

  5. I’m going to take the unpopular position that the Puppy perspective in relation to paid attendance was….marginally*….correct. Looking at the data from Worldcon 38 to Worldcon 74, it looks like the trend line is slightly negative.

    I’m not inclined to manually recreate the data to check that pie-by-thumb observation.

    *”marginally” as in a slightly negative attendance trendline is not the same thing as “oh noes! Worldcon attendance is circling the drain!” Not even close.

    Regards,
    Dann

  6. I did a least-squares fit to the attendance data from 1987 (WorldCon 45) to the present for the attending and the total numbers, and there is no correlation. R^2 of 0.02 and 0.04, respectively.

    What’s disturbing is that it has been so static for thirty years.

  7. @Dann: Greg is more industrious than I, but just from eyeballing the data I would have guessed his conclusion: the trend for that period is flat.

    @Greg: I don’t think it’s all that disturbing. The people who regularly attend conventions are only a small fraction of SF ‘fandom’, in the sense of people who regularly read SF – I haven’t been to a convention since I was a teenager. I would actually infer from the flatness of attendance over what is more than a generation that the worries over the ‘graying’ of fandom are somewhat overstated.

  8. @ Greg

    When I was initially replying, the thought in the back of my head was “even if the trend is not negative, it surely is close to zero. This isn’t the data from a growing event.

    Would you mind calculating the trend from 38 to 71? Honestly, I meant 71 rather than 74 in my response.

    Regards,
    Dann

  9. @Dann

    So you’d like to look at the trend from what was then the highest attendance WorldCon, to just before another one which broke the attendance record?

  10. @Mark

    I’m more focused on WC71 as the endpoint than on the specific year used as a starting point.

    By visual inspection…with all the limitations of that method implied…WC38 looks like a reasonable starting point to me. It is reasonably representative of that era. It is in the middle of a period of growth instead of at the beginning or the end.

    I suppose WC36 would also be a good starting point.

    WC37, WC39 or WC40 could also be used I suppose. It might be interesting to see the difference in trend line when using WC37 and WC38 as starting points.

    IMO, WC36 and WC38 make better starting points than WC45. That’s just an opinion and other opinions are equally valid at this point.

    Regards,
    Dann

  11. @Dann

    Would you mind calculating the trend from 38 to 71? Honestly, I meant 71 rather than 74 in my response.

    Wow. That’s almost perfectly flat. r^2 of just 0.0003.

    Note: I’m using the total, not the attendance numbers because many of those years don’t have a breakout. If I use the attendance numbers, there is a decline of about 1500 (from 5500 to 4000) with an r^2 of about 0.07. However, I think the “decline” is because the earlier years lumped the supporting and attending numbers together, so later years that broke them out appear to have suffered a drop.

  12. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that the r^2 number is not a measure of statistical significance. It just measures how much of the variation is due to a trend vs. random noise.

    Anyway, I went ahead and figured it from 1978 to 2017 (using the latest WorldCon numbers). r^2 comes up to 0.115 for total. I also stuck in a fudge factor to estimate attending vs. supporting for years with no breakout. That brings the attending correlation up to r^2 = 0.065. Both show a (weak) positive trend over that period.

    If I just compute 1978 to 2013 (inclusive) both trends are still positive, but just barely.

  13. Dann: When I was initially replying, the thought in the back of my head was “even if the trend is not negative, it surely is close to zero. This isn’t the data from a growing event.

    And the problem with that would be?

    This is the Puppy “Bigger Is Always Better” Fallacy.

    There are a lot of reasons why Worldcon attendance remains relatively steady rather than rising sharply, and those reasons have been detailed repeatedly in threads here on File770.

    As PhilRM points out, concerns about Worldcon dying because of the “graying of fandom” are overstated. What the graph shows is that as older attendees die or gafiate, newer fans are attending in their place.

    It also shows that Worldcon is doing just fine without Puppy “help”.

  14. @Greg

    Thanks very much for your efforts.

    I had a later question on the importance of the r^2 value for this dataset. By the nature of the event being measured, there is going to be a pretty wide degree of variability. Site access is going to be a huge influence (i.e. the Cons in Australia). I would expect the r^2 value to be low in just about every evaluation of this dataset. I’m not sure why the r^2 is important for discussing a trend in a dataset that is bound to have a lot of variance in the first place.

    I found JJ’s data and cheated with MSExcel. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which trend line suggests more Worldcon participation?

    And again, I’m not suggesting that the ends justify the means. I’m suggesting that the data indicates a prior, slight, downward trend in attendance that has been shifted to a slight, upward trend in attendance. Even adjusting for other data windows, excluding the last four years always indicates a relatively lower trend when compared with including the last four years.

    Regards,
    Dann

  15. For something so expensive, without the massive publicity and commercial sponsorship of the Olympics or World Cup, I’d say Worldcon is doing OK.

    The big question for me is how badly the xenophobic and out-of control border control policies, combined with the surge in racism will affect WorlCon 76. It parallels a major worry at my work, where we’ve already seen a 20% drop in international student applications for fall.

  16. Dann: I found JJ’s data and cheated with MSExcel. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which trend line suggests more Worldcon participation?

    Yes, and what those words say is “I deliberately conflated Attending members with Supporting members to distort the appearance of the chart to support my claim”. 🙄

    Your chart does not show attendance.

  17. @JJ: “What the graph shows is that as older attendees die or gafiate, newer fans are attending in their place.”

    Maybe. I’d have to think about that. I’ve had occasion to look closely at a much smaller dataset of a group that is definitely graying that has a curve not unlike that. In the case of that group, the remaining cohort is recruiting people of a similar age as members die off. That trick eventually stops working.

    I’m not saying that’s what’s happening, just that the data as presented doesn’t tell us.

  18. I just noticed that JJ’s numbers differ quite a bit from mine. I took mine from Wikipedia, but Wikipedia cites as its source The Long List of World Science Fiction Conventions. I think this last one is definitive, but, unfortunately, it disagrees with JJ’s numbers and mine both.

    For example, take a look at WorldCon 45 (1987). JJ’s data shows over 8,000 attending, but the Long List and Wikipedia show only 4,000. But just look at Sasquan and you’ll see Wikipedia and the Long List aren’t in agreement either.

    So I went back and redid my numbers to use the Long List instead. Also, the Long List says that when there is only one number, it is usually attendance, so I’ve adjusted my “fudge factor” to reflect that. (The fudge is to assume that attending is 77% of total, based on the median ratio of the years we have both numbers. This means the “Totals” I’m using below aren’t always the same as the ones in the Long List.)

    From 1978 to 2013 (WC 36 to WC 71) both the total and the attending numbers are fairly flat, on average, but the Total trends down by 29 members per year and attendance trends down by 25.

    Dropping the first two years (so doing WC 38-71) makes for a bigger decline. Total declines by an average of 44 per year and Attending declines by 39 per year.

    Using all the data, Total trends up 22 per year while attending trends down 11.5.

    Something that jumps off the chart that isn’t obvious from the statistics is that the all-time record attendance figure was set in 1984. Four of the top five were more than 20 years ago. Sorting by total, if we exclude Sasquan as an aberration, four of the top five were 19 years ago or more.

    If we decide to cherry-pick, we’d take the eleven years from 2000 to 2010. Now we get r^2 numbers above 0.5 and annual decline rates of 250 people per year. One might reasonably ask what happened there. (War on Terror plus the Great Recession probably had something to do with it. Ending with a Con in Australia helped as well.)

    From 1978 to 2000 there’s a slow upward trend in Total of 15/year and dead zero for Attending.

    But from 2010 to 2017, ooh la la! Total up an average of 675 members/year and attending up an average of 270/year!

    Upshot: I wouldn’t read too much into these numbers. They’re fun to play with, but, for the most part, they’re pretty flat, and where they’re not, there are fairly good explanations for why.

  19. Does VD have an alibi for the theft of the seat? It might be part of his nefarious long-term plan to wreck the Hugos yet again. One seat this year, two more next year . . .

  20. Greg Hullender on May 23, 2017 at 3:28 pm said:

    I just noticed that JJ’s numbers differ quite a bit from mine. I took mine from Wikipedia, but Wikipedia cites as its source The Long List of World Science Fiction Conventions. I think this last one is definitive, but, unfortunately, it disagrees with JJ’s numbers and mine both.

    This is probably because there are a whole lot of different ways of defining the numbers, and nobody can agree on what they all mean, and sometimes it has proved to be quite difficult to acquire the inputs. Worldcon committees have a tendency to collapse after the con is over, and some of them don’t really care about any of these nosy questions from the Formulation of Long List Entries (FOLLE) Committee.

    You can get a bit closer to the source data by going to the Details of membership numbers and sizes for a several Worldcons spreadsheet (warning: Excel file in the link.) FOLLE recognizes nine different ways of counting the numbers, and surely there are lots of other ways of picking the kind of number you think should be used.

    Now as to why Worldcons haven’t been continuously growing: It’s not exactly a deliberate decision, but it’s a function of the way the convention is organized. After the big step change at the first MidAmeriCon, Worldcon was forced to reorganize its management structure, and Worldcons today use substantially the same structure (Chair – Division – Department – Staff). To get much bigger (say >10K people on site) would require another layer of management, for span-of-control reasons. There’s some reluctance to do this.

    More importantly though is that Worldcon keeps moving. No single place holds a Worldcon more than about once a decade, which in practice means that a significant number of the “locals” to any given Worldcon have never heard of the event. It’s not an ongoing continuing event. It’s an ongoing series of one-shot conventions. There’s continuity for the hard core who attend most or all Worldcons, but the event effectively has to start over every year. That is a really huge hurdle to overcome if your goal might be to grow the convention. Imagine if Dragon*Con dissolved after one year and moved to another city in another country, with hardly any organizational overlap other than the name. Then do it again. And again, forever. Would D*C become huge? I doubt it.

    Worldcon could of course grow to the Comicon Internationl (San Diego) size. It would just need to stop moving, put down roots in a large metropolitan area (somewhere in the LA metro area would be ideal), start being run by a single ongoing permanent organization (let’s call it WSFS Inc. for short), and start trying to grow. But would it still be reasonable to call it Worldcon anymore? Heck, it seems highly likely that the next four Worldcons (including this year’s) will all be in different countries, and yet we’ll still hear people complaining about how it’s not “really” a Worldcon because some of them are held in the USA. Few such people are likely to bid for a Worldcon in Oman or Brazil or whatever, and fewer of them would actually attend such conventions, but they want someone else to hold it there to make them feel better about themselves.

    Considering that the demographic bump of the Baby Boom is now on the down slope, the fact that Worldcon attendance is broadly stable even when the people who were attending as teenagers in 1984 ago are now in their fifties (points at self) suggests that the “graying of fandom” isn’t as big a deal as many people think it is. Worldcon is likely to have a larger proportion of older members because it’s generally more expensive for people to attend regularly than most single-location events. Also, the “graying of fandom” argument was old before I was born in 1965, so I tend to dismiss it anyway.

  21. Note that 2000-2011 were a strange sequence for Worldcons with respect to location. 2000-2006 were all in major metro areas, including all four traditional largest Worldcon attendance locations (California, Chicago, Boston, and Britain) and another BosWash corridor location (Philadelphia). 2007-2011 was five straight Worldcons in some combination of smaller, more isolated US locations (Reno and Denver, the latter of which has probably the fewest other cities within a day’s drive than any other 48 state city), very far away from US/Europe (Japan, Australia), and Canadian (which does hurt attendance relative to US-based ones, at least prior to this Administration, probably with a side order of after effects from Toronto). The next two Worldcons in 2012 and 2013 were, as I recall, down about 20% attending from their previous 2000 and 1997 Worldcons in the same locations.

  22. Kevin Standlee: Worldcon could of course grow to the Comicon Internationl (San Diego) size. It would just need to stop moving, put down roots in a large metropolitan area (somewhere in the LA metro area would be ideal), start being run by a single ongoing permanent organization (let’s call it WSFS Inc. for short), and start trying to grow.

    No, not really. The market is nearly saturated as it is.

    This hypothetical might have worked 20 years ago.

  23. Greg Hullender: Upshot: I wouldn’t read too much into these numbers. They’re fun to play with, but, for the most part, they’re pretty flat, and where they’re not, there are fairly good explanations for why.

    I think I’ve misunderstood why people are running these numbers. What is being tested?

  24. @Mike I suspect its the age old fear and concern: The health and future of the science fiction field. Now whether the size of the attendance of Worldcon is a reliable indicator of that is definitely an open question.

  25. Mike Glyer on May 23, 2017 at 5:27 pm said:

    No, not really. The market is nearly saturated as it is.

    Good point. And when Comic Con International “temporarily” moved WonderCon to Southern California a few years ago, it might have been the final nail in the coffin of that idea.

    This hypothetical might have worked 20 years ago.

    Quite possibly. Your Worldcon could have been the genesis of the change. But I’m glad we didn’t do it. Just like I am glad that the Olympics don’t settle down in a permanent venue, even though it makes them vastly more expensive and difficult to stage.

  26. No, not really. The market is nearly saturated as it is.

    People keep saying that, but cons do seem to keep growing.

    Even WonderCon, which expected a dip due to a relocation last year, didn’t get one.

    I don’t think it would be a good idea to change Worldcon into a non-traveling con, but if someone started up a con focusing on SF/fantasy in print & media, in a major city,* and ran it well, they’d be seeing regular annual growth, to the extent that the facilities would allow. Comics International is maxed out, but well-run cons with room to grow keep growing.

    I don’t particularly enjoy the super-big shows, but the demand doesn’t seem to be met yet…

    *and it doesn’t even have to be that major. Rose City Comic Con, in Portland, started up with 4K attendees, and has grown to 42K over 5 years. Dragon*Con’s still growing. But in “major” venues, New York Comic Con blew past SDCC’s attendance figures a few years back and is now selling only single-day tickets to squeeze more people in.

  27. Kevin: what “big step change at the first MidAmeriCon”? The change the Long List shows is a flattening after a short period of explosive growth. Also:
    * At the time, the division-head system appeared new to N2 (1980); how do you date it to 1976?
    * Sasquan had a de-facto 4th level: there were 3 vice-chairs, each of which had multiple DH reports. This may reflect the sole surviving co-chair being overwhelmed, but it existed and (IME as a multi-division connector) was not burdensome as a structure.
    IMO, Worldcon could grow quite a bit without requiring more upper management, especially if the proliferation of areas slows; what it would take is some of the areas having more formal assistantships to deal with the larger amount of work as those areas swell — IFF they swell. (Who knows whether Dealers and Art Show would as much as return to their former sizes if overall attendance doubled?)

  28. @Mike

    I think I’ve misunderstood why people are running these numbers. What is being tested?

    Uh, in my case, it’s the sheer joy of doing it. 🙂

    I’m not sure if this was what Dann meant, but it sounded as though he were repeating the claim that WorldCon membership had a long period of decline before the recent uptrend caused by people reacting against the Puppies. The usual explanation for this is “the quality of the Hugo awards went down, so people stopped coming to WorldCon,” although Dann didn’t say that.

    That 2000-2010 interval does look suspicious, but there are decent explanations for much of it that don’t rely on disgusted members fleeing WorldCon in order to read John Wright books instead. Further, to support that claim, one would have to explain why there was strong improvement in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Did the Hugos abruptly get good again?

    So there’s evidence of something, but it’s weak evidence. To give you some idea of just how weak, if I slide that window back just one year–so we’re talking 1999-2009–then the whole thing collapses. Instead of annual declines of 250 per year and r^2 above 0.5 we get an annual decline of just 10 and an r^2 of 0.0008.

    Like I said, the numbers are fun to play with, but I’m not sure they’re really telling us anything useful. The only numbers that really caught my eye were the ones that said 4 of the 5 biggest attendances were before 2000. I’d be nice to explain that away.

  29. Greg Hullender: “There are numbers, they must be crunched!”?

    I don’t get a feeling that the WorldCon is in immediate danger of disappearing into nothing. But I am also not feeling like we’re going to have a 20k+Worl;dCon anytime soon

    There’s also the distinct possibility that a massively larger WorldCon would have a sufficiently different feel to it. Not, mind you, that the three I’ve been to felt the same, but there were certainly quite a lot of commonalities.

  30. Chip:

    The mid-1970s growth triggered a change in how we manage the event that N2 solidified. It didn’t happen overnight.

    Several other conventions have put that Vice-Chair level in their structure (with division heads reporting to vice chairs), but it’s primarily a reaction to local conditions within their own management group rather than a real span-of-control need.

    I agree that Worldcon still has room to grow before it morphs again. The next step change is in the neighborhood of 10K bodies on site. (Total membership isn’t the same thing.)

  31. Kevin: the main growth was in the late 1960’s (abrupt doubling to ~1500), then in the early 1970’s (1600 in 1971 to 3500 in 1974); the mid-1970’s were relatively level. What (belated?) state changes do you see happening in the mid-to-late 1970’s? (I was active by then, but not much connected to Worldcons — I did tech for the 1978 masquerade but that was a pretty independent area, at least partly because the Phoenix people didn’t have the spoons to interfere.)

  32. Chip Hitchcock: Here’s my explanation of Worldcon growth in the 1970s.

    First, it needs to be recognized that most sf lovers never get involved in fandom. The quantity of people who became actifans in the Thirties and Forties was a minute percentage of sf readers — a few hundred people, even though, as you probably know, there were pulp sf magazines with a couple hundred thousand in circulation.

    The paperback revolution took over some of that audience in the Fifties and Sixties. Then the baby boomer generation came along, the first generation that never discarded its youth culture. Then Star Trek went into syndication in the early Seventies. The TV audience is much bigger than the print audience, so now there was a greatly increased population of sf-interested people from whom that minute percentage of actifans might be drawn. (The drawing power of the earliest Star Trek conventions also shows something, but that’s a separate story — few of them crossed over to Worldcons.) All three factors — baby boomers, longer-lived interest in youth culture, and mass popularization of an sf show — meant that even if only a small percentage of sf-oriented people would become actifans, the absolute number of them was now in the thousands.

    And the already-invented and refined-in-the-fire social institutions of fandom exploded in popularity. Clubs proliferated. APAs multiplied. More conventions were started. And the Worldcon was recognized as a place where everyone’s favorite writers went, so if people were lucky enough to hear about it they might go.

  33. As always, I apologize for the delay. I just haven’t had the time to rub two thoughts together for a few days.

    @Mike

    I think I’ve misunderstood why people are running these numbers. What is being tested?

    As Greg has suggested…there were numbers, they must be crunched. Also as he suggested, no one should over think the numbers. Which means this is also a good time to say “Thanks for all your thoughts, Greg.”

    The only hard conclusion that I draw is that prior to the kerffuflage, participation* was ever so slightly declining. Afterward, it seems to be increasing….again, by a slight margin.

    *I define “participation” to include those of us that buy supporting memberships. Clearly, those funds are of some modest benefit to the organizing committee.

    IMHO, more is better. If you are looking at the long-term health of any organization/event. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of growth, but there should be some marginal amount of growth.

    The increase in supporting memberships may result in future attendees. It certainly helps to broaden the exposure of the awards. And if one assumes that the Hugos represent the creme de la creme of SFF, then more exposure is a good thing for the genre, for active fans, and more passive general readers at large.

    Regards,
    Dann

  34. I think it is totally impossible to draw conclusions from only a few years when we are talking about a con that moves every year to totally different circumstances.

  35. I also think that claiming that the Puppies’ cheating crappy work onto the Hugo ballot, resulting in a temporary rise of memberships by people upset by it and wanting to ensure that none of it got rewarded, was a “benefit” to Worldcon is grossly disingenous.

    That’s the sort of “help” that Worldcon and the Hugo Awards did not need.

  36. We really need two or three of puppy-free conventions without the distraction of a major economic downturn before we can have any confidence as to what the net effect was. And in saying that, I’m implicitly assuming that the impact (for good or ill) will be very small.

  37. @Greg: Agreed, although I think the major economic downturn is going to be a permanent feature of the US, and possibly world, economy.

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