Readercon Issues Apology

Readercon’s Board of Directors posted an apology to Facebook for the letter sent to some of its past program participants informing them they would not be invited back this year. The full text of the apology is below.

A number of older writers who received the letter took offense, both for being dropped, and for being offered an unfortunately-phrased “PASTPRO” discount. Readercon apologized for the wording and for failing to make clear that writers getting the letter were being rotated out but could be considered as participants in future years.

The charge of age discrimination, which Kathryn Cramer publicly called on Readercon’s board to investigate, is not addressed by the statement.

Dear Readercon Community,

This year for the first time Readercon sent a letter notifying some previous program participants that they would not be invited onto panels this year. We sent the letter to assist them in planning for the con. We are a convention of under 1000 people. We usually have around 150 panelists/program participants each year, but the list of invitees onto program had grown to over 900.

It has always been our policy that program participants do not pay for their convention membership. In some years we had more invited panelists than paying attendees, and that is not a viable model. We cannot afford to give free memberships to everyone.

Readercon is at its best when we strive to include a mix of experienced and rising authors, editors, publishers, and others in the community. We need to rotate the names on that list to ensure we continue nurturing a strong mix. We only have so many slots available on panels each year.

That 900+ person list was reviewed by several people including the past three program chairs. Together they determined a process for selecting who would rotate out and identified who would be affected for Readercon 29.

While similar rotation has been happening for several years behind-the-scenes, we realized that there was a need to start letting recent program participants know that they would not be invited for programming this coming year.

We realize we did not handle this well. The letter we sent was not well written.

We neglected to point out explicitly that even if individuals were not going to be considered for panels this year, they would always be eligible for consideration in years to come. We would like to make that known now and will be correcting it in next year’s letter.

We should have been more transparent and clearer.

It was never our intention to give people the impression that they will never be invited to participate in Readercon programming again. We also hoped and continue to hope that they will choose to attend Readercon because they enjoy the convention itself.

In conclusion, we messed up and we are sorry.

We should have said upfront that not every program participant will be invited back every year. Our only exception is that all past Guests of Honor receive invitations every year.

As important members of the industry, you are always welcome to tell us if you are an expert on one of our upcoming Guests of Honor or the Cordwainer Smith Award winner, if you are publishing a piece by an upcoming Guest of Honor, or if you have a new book coming out. We have always worked hard to support the incredible people who have participated in Readercon programming over time. This has included talking with the US State Department , universities, and supplying documentation for grants.

The Readercon Board of Directors:

Rachel Borman
Sioban Krzywicki
B. Diane Martin
Emily Wagner
Louise Waugh

41 thoughts on “Readercon Issues Apology

  1. They’ll find an apology is not enough. They’ll have to prove they understand their mistake and wontbrepeat it, and that will take years.

  2. Perhaps a less generous participation policy would be the answer? At British conventions, it’s customary for panelists to receive some form of liquid refreshment during the item, but not a free membership.

  3. Steve Green on March 5, 2018 at 3:15 pm said:

    Perhaps a less generous participation policy would be the answer?

    That helps address the economic issue, but not the programming. Readercon has traditionally had comparatively few parallel tracks — with nothing scheduled opposite the GoH interviews (and/or other GoH items, I think). While there’s perhaps some slack to be had by not giving as many people many items, or making more panels have even more people at the table, that can’t address the numbers gap.

  4. The original letter, which is in no way retracted or amended by this apology, lacked nothing in transparency and clarity. Readercon stated explicitly that older pros were being required to “step aside” to make way for younger authors. This document changes nothing except perhaps the committee is embarrassed that they didn’t do a better job of concealing their real motives. We still have a prima facie case of age discrimination in violation of Readercon’s own stated code of conduct.

    I don’t think a concom that lacks the integrity to hold itself to its own code of conduct is worthy of running a con, or of any trust.

  5. T. Wright: We still have a prima facie case of age discrimination in violation of Readercon’s own stated code of conduct.

    As has been discussed extensively in other File 770 threads on this issue, no, you don’t.

    You have a case of “discrimination” against long-timers. The fact that “long-timer” has a significant correlation to age is hardly surprising.

  6. T. Wright says that We still have a prima facie case of age discrimination in violation of Readercon’s own stated code of conduct.

    No, you don’t as they’re a private organization like the AARP who has a right to set their own rules. What they are guilty of is a poorly written letter that failed to explain this decision.

    As much as anything, they’re more like a local bookstore that invites certain authors to talk about their new book. Just because they don’t invite conservative writers or authors of BD/SM to speak doesn’t make them legally guilty of anything.

  7. I guess I’m not clear how “Now let someone else have a turn on the swingset” is discriminatory. I absolutely get how the people who are on the swings are upset about being asked to let other people have turns, and I definitely think that this came across more like “GET OFF THE SWINGS NOW” than “Okay, it’s time to let Mary have a turn, and then you can get back in line for another turn”, and it’s totally reasonable to be upset by that.

    So, yeah, I think Readercon was right to offer an apology for the way they stated the new policy, but I don’t see that the policy itself is a problem. And I think that NOT having the policy IS a problem.

  8. @Steve Green: Comping program participants is common — possibly standard, but I’m not in the SMOFloop — for US conventions. Some hold down the lossage by comping only multiple-panel participants. (Many also give people who work a certain number of hours a comp membership for the next convention.) I know this is not universal. (Wiscon, for instance, did not comp participants when I was going, but they had an unusual model.) But Readercon would have some issues (no, I don’t know how much) if it stopped comping, even though the comp is a small part of the cost for many participants.

    @Lis: we will see whether there is a long-term effect. They may gain, both from an influx of new members hearing the con won’t be the same-old same-old, and possibly from not having to deal with participants who threaten suit, demand more-elaborate apologies, etc. (There are high-PITA participants, but it’s arguable that’s higher among the ones who have less to say beyond “Look at me!”)

    I would be surprised about their not previously mentioning that this is a rotation, but I get the feeling they don’t get around much; they may not have noticed the kerfuffle when Baycon(?) told Arroz “not this year”.

  9. Maybe they thought that after the Arroz episode no one would dare stand up and say, “Hey! I’m entitled to be Program Participant For Life!” and then allege discrimination when that didn’t work.

  10. Greg Hullender: Maybe they thought that after the Arroz episode no one would dare stand up and say, “Hey! I’m entitled to be Program Participant For Life!” and then allege discrimination when that didn’t work.

    Maybe, Alex, but I’ll take “A Readercon board member who is an utterly incompetent communicator, and should never be allowed to send e-mails to professionals without first being revised by someone with actual communication skills” for $500, please.

  11. JJ, been watching Jeopardy tonight? (Me too. Andy Weir!)

    Chip, WisCon actually does give partial rebates to program participants post-con, if funds are available. I have forgotten if it’s for one panel or more than one, but it’s about $20. Some people don’t take the rebate, to help support the con. Volunteers get the same thing if they’ve worked 6 hours, IIRC, plus some minor swag. It’s less than many cons give because about 1/3 of the attendees are on program. Which reminds me it’s time to sign up for panels.

  12. Chip

    Comping program participants is common — possibly standard, but I’m not in the SMOFloop — for US conventions. (Many also give people who work a certain number of hours a comp membership for the next convention.)

    Really? My only experience is non-US Worldcons, where I’ve done enough to get a t-shirt and nibbles in the volunteer lounge, but nothing more, and no obvious signs that people were expecting more.

  13. @NickPheas: yes, really. I get the impression that facilities costs are much higher outside North America; this may constrain non-NA Worldcons’ ability to refund. (US convention centers are frequently designed to generate business; whether they’re expected to break even directly varies.) I also note that Worldcons are by definition one-offs, each with its own policy — although IME (now at least 13 years past), (some?) program participants at US Worldcons expect to be comped in advance, while worker refunds happen if the convention has money left. I didn’t even ask after a couple of full days at Glasgow (1995), because I’d already gotten the things-are-different vibe from the Jersey Smofcon. (I got around more in those days — but Jersey came from winning a charity raffle.)

    @Lenore Jones: I hadn’t seen/heard that — possibly because the letter to me was always phrased as “Here’s something if you ask for it; thanks for working” (Art Show setup manager all 15 years) rather than “thanks for participating” (panelist for ~10). (I never bothered sending back the if-you-want-it; didn’t seem worth the small amount or the fuss to the committee.) And note that it is <50%, and a rebate (~Worldcon style), rather than the full comp (and frequently advance comp for participants) that I see at regionals.

  14. @Cat Eldridge . . . doesn’t make them legally guilty of anything.

    It doesn’t have to be a “legal” issue. This is an equity issue — does Readercon discriminate by age? Age is a named category in the Code of Conduct, so it appears to go against the spirit of that Code. The fact that, as JJ has pointed out, they have an ostensibly rational reason to do so doesn’t erase the effects — this scrubbing of the invitee lists seems to have a disparate impact on older people.

    If I were at Readercon and made a derogatory comment about all the white-haired people in scooters jamming up the aisles, it would rightfully be taken as age-discriminatory, even if the aisles were jammed up with white-haired people.

    And given that the signers of the letter, the Board of Directors, are all women, and all of the people who I’ve heard of that have reported receiving the letter are all male, it appears to be just as much a sex discrimination issue.

  15. Bill: Unless you actually know:
    – the ages and genders of all the people not invited back
    – the ages and genders of all the people invited back

    — AND can make a case by the disparity in that information that the criteria which led to the former list included at least an unconscious bias against actual elderly people and not against people who have done programming a lot in the past but might be seen as a stale returning choice —

    — then I am left to conclude that you are guessing as much as the rest of us.

    Yes, the comment would be derogatory.

    Right now, however, it looks like you are taking a comment about “I’m tired of seeing the same fifteen faces at every panel for 20 years straight” and crying that it is clearly a derogatory comment about the aisle filled with white haired people. Some of the people the comment refers to might indeed overlap with the group of white haired people hanging out in the aisle, but this does not of itself prove the comment is about the white haired people hanging out in the aisle.

    (It does not prove immediately that it is *not* derogatory, but this is not the same as proving it is.)

  16. Bill: this scrubbing of the invitee lists seems to have a disparate impact on older people.

    Again, this is not surprising, because long-term panelists are generally going to be older.

    That does not make it age discrimination, no matter how hard you insist that it is.

  17. @Lenora Rose

    Bill: Unless you actually know:
    – the ages and genders of all the people not invited back
    – the ages and genders of all the people invited back

    Wouldn’t one also need to know the # of times these two groups previously attended?

  18. @Lenora AND can make a case by . . . included at least an unconscious bias

    No — this is what I seem to continue to fail to convey. There does not have to be a bias against older people for discrimination to occur. Discrimination is defined by the effect, not the purpose.

    @JJ That does not make it age discrimination, no matter how hard you insist that it is.
    See above.

    How many times have I read in the comments here, “Intent is not magic.” I think I’ve even had it said directly to me.

  19. Microtherion: good point.

    Bill: I’m not arguing here anything to do with intent. I am not even arguing there was no discrimination.

    I am arguing that you are saying there Was, flat out, no ambiguity, on what looks like very ambiguous information. There are too many unknowns as far as I can tell to make that determination.

  20. Bill: There does not have to be a bias against older people for discrimination to occur. Discrimination is defined by the effect, not the purpose.

    There is a difference between a policy that makes sure everyone gets a turn and discrimination. It is disingenuous to argue that one is the other.

  21. So, I am a Young(ish) Person, but the idea that discrimination isn’t really discrimination if you didn’t mean to do it and it is just a natural consequence of an innocent and entirely different aim… That would make almost every case of disability access issues not-discrimination, because only very rarely is someone going “mwahaha, this set of stairs/other obstacle will stick it to those people in wheelchairs/insert other disability here!” But the impact is the same even if it was just someone making a choice without thinking, or making Rational Economic Choices (which is a different problem/rant but anyway), or whatever. Wheelchairs still can’t fly.

    So I’m on the side of disparate and disproportionate impact is a thing, although we absolutely do not have the data available to us to judge whether it is a thing in this specific case.

  22. (Arguably, you could say that a policy of reinviting everyone, every year, will at some point have a disparate and disproportionate impact on the ability of younger participants to get on the programme. That point probably passed some time ago with a standing list of 900 odd. This might then be seen as a corrective to that impact.)

    (Yes, I probably should have thought all that through for the first comment, but all of my braining is currently being used up on making pretty outfits for my WoW characters for the Trial of Style miniholiday.)

  23. I have to agree with Meredith and Bill. Disparate impact is absolutely a real thing that the law takes seriously in considering claims in discrimination things. Readercon has a real problem with its entirely too large list of program participants, and it has to address it. Unfortunately, they’ve been really ham-handed about it, and everything we know or can find out from the outside suggests they’ve hit upon what might have been a brilliant course of action if only no one cared about age discrimination.

    In a lawsuit, plaintiffs would have to prove that case. In the court of public opinion, Readercon has let the impression take hold, and has offered nothing effective to counter it. And they’re taking a public relations hit for it that is entirely their own doing. I’m not convinced they definitely are doing what a court would call age discrimination, but it does seem more likely than not.

    And an organization that has screwed up the handling of other discrimination/harassment issues in the past, is not doing better with this one. That doesn’t build my confidence.

  24. @Daniel Dern:

    So, ahem, “The Old Equations” ?

    Maybe Readercon could mitigate the problem if more funds were available. How about signing up one of those hip new lifestyle companies as a sponsor?

  25. microtherion on March 7, 2018 at 4:16 pm said:

    Maybe Readercon could mitigate the problem if more funds were available.

    I can see how sponsorships might help with reduced rates and/or comping?

    I don’t see how it helps make more participant slots available. Perhaps Phil Farmer’s Slice-Only-On-Tuesday (or whatever)-World day-fractioning might, though that presents its own scheduling challenges.

    Or perhaps quantum conning. Of course, then you either know whose panel you’re on, or what the topic is, but never both… (I know, that’s Heisenberg; q-c’ing would mean access to infinite Cons, or whatever.)

  26. This is an equity issue — does Readercon discriminate by age?

    Or perhaps the issue could be seen as — is Readercon correcting for age discrimination?

    If they’re removing a bunch of oldsters from an oldster-heavy list and replacing them with youngsters, resulting in a more-balanced assortment of guests, have they discriminated against oldsters or corrected a discrimination against youngsters that arose over time?

    Note that I have no dog in this hunt, have never been to Readercon, have no knowledge of who’s been Disinvited and who’s been Invited in Their Stead, or any of that. Just pointing out that if you can’t legally discriminate on the grounds of age, that covers more than just the old.

    Was Readercon’s umpty-hundred list of guests already tilted toward one end of the spectrum? Does adjusting it restore a balance?

    Maybe not. But if you can’t ever not-invite someone because they’ve become a long-timer over the years, and you only have so many slots, then you’re eventually going to be discriminating against the young, as your aging cohort of panelists prevents bringing in new faces.

    Of course, the idea that free access to an SF con has risen to a legal entitlement through repetition is kind of shaky to begin with. It would doubtless be pretty easy to argue that the criteria being used don’t include age, even if age vaguely correlates with the results, but popularity, which is not a protected status. Putting together a schedule people want to attend for involves balancing a lot of things, including experience, popularity, visibility, freshness, variety and lots more that might correlate in some ways with age without being a consideration of age.

  27. IIRC, legally speaking, age discrimination only applies to those over 40 in the USA (on a federal level – some states may have their own rules).

    Court of public opinion, of course, may make its own rules.

  28. As I was critical of the original letter, I want to point out that this new letter pretty well addresses most of the concerns I’ve seen. As other suggest, if the idea is to get more new talent in the pool, then the result necessarily will involve reduced participation by more established authors; and that skews a bit towards older, white men.

    FWIW.

    That and $1.50 will buy a nice cup of coffee.

    Regards,
    Dann
    TANSTAAFL/TINSTAAFL/TNSTAAFL – Truth no matter how you slice it.

  29. LOL!!

    I just noticed the comment preview was generating…ummmm…unusual dates.

    Or at least it is in 7068.

    Regards,
    Dann
    The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. – Dorothy Parker

  30. Dann, this is the first time you’ve encountered the File770 Time Machine? Alas, the Shoggoth seems to have taken off in it again, as it is a mundane 2018 here right now….

  31. It looks to be that way, Cassy. Or at least, that was the first time that I was able to scroll what was patently before my pixels.

    But I seem to be back in 2018….where the location of that blushing/embarrassed emoji seems to be hidden safely out of reach regardless of my considerable need.

    Regards,
    Dann
    Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. – Calvin Coolidge

  32. So are awards for new writers open to lawsuits on the basis of age discrimination? Their requirements in practice make it harder for older people to win (in comparison to the entire adult population)?

  33. While I appreciate young, hot males on panels, what I really want to see is the best people on panels that can hold an intelligent discussion about the topic because they know something about the topic and are not blowhards. I generally prefer them between 14 and death. If your programming comps are killing the convention, change the programming comp rule. Most conventions don’t comp everyone on programming, and several seem to be surviving.

  34. I’d add to the discrimination discussions that if most of the past panelists are older white cis dudes and women bringing in younger NON-white LGBT+ panelists would be fixing a number of existing discrimination issues. It’s been a couple years since I last attended but the ratio of older white cis to younger non-white was glaringly obvious both in panelists and not surprisingly in attendees. When listening to, as well as participating in, discussions on how to “fix” the lack of younger attendees and POCs I was hearing the exact same things I heard 15+ years ago before I had moved to NJ (and back to MA) by some of the same people even…

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