“Best Fancast Not Paying Compensation” — Discussing Item Five from the Chengdu Worldcon Business Meeting Agenda

Introduction: I’m going to open discussion of some of the proposed WSFS rules changes in the Chengdu Worldcon’s Business Meeting agenda by setting the table in a series of topical posts. (Download the English-language version here and the Chinese-language version here.)

WHAT IS THE PROPOSED CHANGE? Tang Chunmei and Tang Shi want to disqualify fancasts that pay compensation to any program participant from eligibility for the Best Fancast Hugo.

Compensation has several English meanings; in the realm of work, it means payment or remuneration.

Currently this is the rule:

3.3.15: Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has released four (4) or more episodes at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and that does not qualify as a dramatic presentation.

WHAT IS A NON-PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATION? A non-professional publication is one that doesn’t provide enough income to be classified as professional:

3.2.11: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:

(1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,

(2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner

That means right now the only eligibility restriction for Best Fancast depends on how much of the owner’s (or other people’s) income it is providing. A fancast can make money. A fancast can pay people. It’s just that there’s a ceiling on those amounts.     

In contrast, the rule for the Best Fanzine category is quite strict. Rule 3.3.14 (1) says a fanzine is ineligible if it has “paid its contributors or staff monetarily in other than copies of the publication”.

WHY ISN’T THAT LIMIT ALREADY PART OF THE BEST FANCAST RULE? I was there when the Best Fancast category received first passage at the 2011 Worldcon (Renovation); in fact, I voted for it. The fans who proposed the idea – Andrew Trembley and six others – did not put any restriction on income in their new category even though they were well aware such a limit was part of a new amendment to the Best Fanzine category definition passed the same year. I think that’s because it wasn’t part of the issue they were trying to solve.

What they said in support of the Best Fancast amendment shows they knew the main appeal to voters at the 2011 business meeting was that it would get podcasts out of the Fanzine and Related Work categories.

…One needs only look at the iTunes Store and search the podcast category to find many fannish podcasts. Fans are producing them, they’re out there, and people are listening to them… In 2011, we have podcasts nominated both in Best Fanzine and Best Related Work. Again in Best Fanzine we find Starship Sofa. In Best Related Work, we have the professionally-oriented writer’s podcast Writing Excuses….

Although there were money-making YouTubers around in 2011 they weren’t landing on the Hugo ballot. They weren’t a problem that could be pitched to the business meeting as an example of trouble in River City. Keeping the Best Fanzine category pure, so to speak, was a separate agenda.

TIMES HAVE CHANGED. Although it isn’t a finalist this year, Our Opinions Are Correct by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders has won three of the past four Best Fancast Hugos. The podcast has a Patreon which says it takes in $1,913 a month, making it easy to tell how they’re doing. I couldn’t say whether the 2023 finalists make any money or not, though my impression is several don’t. However, Tang Chunmei and Tang Shi aren’t just making an academic point with their motion. Business meeting voters will have to decide whether the playing field is level enough to suit them or not.

31 thoughts on ““Best Fancast Not Paying Compensation” — Discussing Item Five from the Chengdu Worldcon Business Meeting Agenda

  1. I don’t have strong feelings on this one, but I do see one potential downside: excluded podcasts might well end up back in the BRW category.

  2. A lot of podcasts have patreons or take donations. Which of them would be excluded under this new rule? What’s the difference between getting money from a Patreon and paying its contributors? Skiffy and Fanty and SFF Audio have patreons…does that disqualify both of them under this rule? I can see the intent of this change but will this change catch a lot of additional podcasts.

  3. This is an important thing to be talking about. I’m not sure if the wording is right, but having a fan category dominated by a project earning almost $2K/month always struck me as skeezy.

  4. Speaking as a podcaster whose Ko-fi tip jar is rarely full enough to even rattle, I would appreciate not being in competition with those who make a living from the activity!

    Seems an eminently sensible proposal to me. However, the English wording of the proposed change is terrible, and needs correcting and clarifying. (Confusing tense and double-negative: “…and does not…met neither…”.)

  5. Fan categories should be unpaid:
    Anything “fan” related should be “for the love of…” with no money being made by anyone creating the project(s). If small amounts of money are being made or paid, then it’s a semi-pro category or a pro category. Any amount of money being received makes it a paid for product, and any amount of money paid to talent make it a commercial endeavor. It also gives the paid creator a clear advantage over “fan” productions that are “for the love of…” The rules should be consistent among all “fan” categories. Otherwise it looks like the Hugos are giving preference to creators they like. The award category is either created fairly for all nominees who are considered “fans” or it is created to benefit the privileged who are generating income for their work and able to use that money to enhance the product that they are selling in ways that fan works can’t possibly compete. Monetary privilege has no place in a fan category.

    As for genre or format:
    Podcasts are 100% different than fanzines and don’t belong there. Podcasts also don’t belong in the Best Related Work category because they are a well-defined and healthy genre of content. Podcasts “are” a thing; they are not related to a thing.

    If this means that a new category for podcasts needs to be created for future Hugos, then so be it. Podcasts are not fanzines and they are not dramatic presentations. The genre is solid and large. It doesn’t fit into the other categories any longer and deserves it’s own category. In fact, I would even call the category “AV Casts” to combine podcasts and YouTube channels.

  6. @OlavRokne The money being taken can be going to cover hosting fees and a producer to handle the editing. The editing is the intimating bit of making a podcast which is why I have not done one solo. I think we have to take basic costs of doing a podcast into consideration.

    I did a quick check on Patreon. Unless they are using a name other than their podcast title. None of this year’s finalists are taking Patreon money.

  7. We did discuss this at the Chicon 8 Business Meeting, albeit in relation to the Fan Artist rule change, and the proposed rule change around Semiprozines. My argument then and now is that there are costs associated with fanwork that are much higher than what a fanzine would have incurred in pre-internet times; podcasts in particular incur lots of incidental costs such as website hosting and/or design, hosting the podcast on a platform, paying an editor, or even just paying for the necessary software to do it yourself.

    To illustrate, I’m about to launch a fancast and I pay £30/month for editing software, £12/month for graphic design software, and ~£70 for my website this year alone – that’s £600 we’re talking about, and my podcast hosting is free! Imagine if there was an added cost for that. I work in the arts and make very little, so all of that is coming out of my own pocket – happy to do it, but eventually I do hope to recoup some of it through donations from listeners, sponsorships etc, as I consider putting a podcast out to be hard work.

    So on principle, I think that taking money to cover those costs – and letting listeners give you something extra as appreciation for your work – shouldn’t be penalised outright. This is time taken away from other paid work, or time away from one’s family, that is precious and worth something, even if you’re only making a fancast with 20 listeners. It’s also hard to be consistent in podcasting (most podcasters give up before even reaching their 25th episode), and having some kind of tangible reward can help a lot of podcasters keep it up. Not to mention that by excluding all income whatsoever we’d be making it so only those who can afford to pay these costs and not hope to see any of it back can even make fancasts in the first place. We’d be excluding voices and backgrounds that are sorely needed in fandom – what sort of message does that send?

    That being said, I don’t disagree with there being a threshold as there currently is, where if someone is making their living, or a substantial chunk of it, from this income they should ‘graduate’ from this category and be ineligible. We don’t want little indie podcasts competing with ones produced by media companies or mega-established authors, for example. But there needs to be allowance for making a little bit of money to cover the costs, as that’s just the nature of things online now.

  8. It looks like this proposal would allow crowd-funding, as long as the funds are used to cover costs and not pay contributors or staff. Fancasts with very successful crowd-funding will need to be clear about where the money goes. For example, if they have a paid producer, the producer is a contractor, not staff.

    It also looks like the rule does not prevent fans from using crowd-funding to support their creative work in general.

    What would be right out is having a commercial fancast, that is available only for money, and pays its contributors.

  9. I think the strongest argument against the rule is it wouldn’t change the field. It may impose paperwork requirements, but I’m pretty sure any existing fancasts could find a way to comply and still be eligible.

  10. Tom Becker: If the owner of a fancast is getting their expenses paid, they’re getting paid. The proposal isn’t about profit.

    But I hear you when you talk about some of these other loopholes and dodges. Like someone who crowdfunds their creative work then also happens to produce a fancast.

  11. Kat Kourbell: “there are costs associated with fanwork that are much higher than what a fanzine would have incurred in pre-internet times…”

    As a Hugo-winning former fanzine/semiprozine publisher, I can firmly state that the cost of paper, printing, postage, etc. of a physical publication can be far more than producing something which has no presence in the physical world.

  12. @Andy: Back when Nicki and I were publishing Mimosa, for about the last 10 issues of the run it was a loss of somewhere around $2-3,000 per issue due to the printing and surface mail costs. Once in a while someone would send us money for a few back issues but the vast majority of our mailing list received their copies gratis because of fanzine trades, letters of comment they’d sent in, or because they were on the ‘permanent’ list for whatever reason (usually that meant they’d had an article published in one of our issues or had been a cover artist).

    Crowdfunding wasn’t a thing back then, but even if it had been we wouldn’t have gone that route to cover expenses. It wouldn’t have seemed right.

  13. I’m curious how this would be implemented, in practice. Will the Hugo administrators be asking fancasters to open their books in order to be considered eligible?

  14. I am one of the co-hosts of Hugo, Girl!, and I’m speaking for myself only (not the group – we haven’t discussed it). I’m not a fan of making a bright line like this. I think excluding people who make a little bit through Patreon or or other means will be bad for the field. The end result will be that only people with sufficient disposable income to buy equipment, pay for hosting, etc, will be eligible. That strikes me as an elitist outcome that most people probably don’t want.

    I think the current rule is imperfect but I’d rather be overly inclusive of people who make “too much” than shut out people who make a little to help defray their costs so they can keep creating. I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I feel that this proposal, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, isn’t it.

  15. The other thing is, we need a definition for “paid.” What does that mean? Took in any money at all? Took in money and had a surplus after expenses? If the latter, who will be charged with reviewing a finalists financial reports and approving or denying them? (I feel like nobody wants that job.) If someone has $20 leftover after they covered their expenses for the year, does that count as getting “paid?” This seems like a lot of work for not a lot of benefit.

    This is a worthwhile thing to examine and think about, but to me it requires a lot more deliberation.

  16. Chris R: Hugo finalists are given a copy of the category rule and asked to self-certify whether they are eligible. This is, after all, supposed to be an honor, not a job application.

  17. Lori: Paid would have its ordinary English meaning. Given money – as in given money for work done or in compensation for an expense.

    There’s no complications about profit or loss. It’s about receiving any money.

    And I say that to help clarify the discussion, not to advocate one way or the other.

  18. I really think there’s a need for separation of Pro podcasts and Fan Podcasts, and we have that elsewhere on the ballot (Fanzine and Semi-Prozine, Fan Artist and Pro Artist are the two most obvious) but Crowd-funding makes this stuff so much harder. Now, taking the case of Our Opinions Are Correct, should we consider it a Fancast? Well, bringing in 24K a year from Patreon is a chunk, and there are at least 2 people so that would be 12K a year, so either of them would need to make 48K+ a year total to qualify.
    That, though, is an easy example.
    Personally, I’d say anything providing 25% of anyone total income is probably as good a measure as we’re gonna come up with that doesn’t disqualify a swath of really great stuff.

  19. Can anyone with a popular SF podcast give us some numbers on what they cost for hosting and streaming? Having numbers like the ones we just got for the Mimosa printzine would be helpful.

  20. @Chris: It would seem there’s already a separation between “pro” and “fan’ podcasts. The “pro”, for the purposes of Hugo voting, is called “Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form”.

  21. There is also the consideration that many fan writers and artists, as well as pros, also have Patreons. I don’t see why fancasts should be treated differently.

  22. @rcade – I don’t mind sharing ours. We’re finalists this year, if that counts as popular.

    Squarespace: $168/year or $14/month
    Transcription: approx. $12/month (HappyScribe AI, then I fix it which takes about 3-4 hours)
    Libsyn: $15/month

    One of my co-hosts pays for our domain on GoDaddy. I’m not sure what that costs, but I think it’s not super expensive.

    So as you can see, it’s over $40 a month to disseminate the show, plus whatever GoDaddy is.

    As far as hardware –
    Our mics were about $60 each, including a stand and cable (x 3 of us). We have had one or two crap out and had to replace them.

    Headphones were about $15 each (x 3).

    Our recorder was $200-$250. That’s going strong (knock on wood) so hopefully it’s a one-time purchase. And of course a computer is needed for editing.

  23. While I see the sense of unfairness that can come with a high-earning, highly professional podcast competing against project-of-love level shows, I’m not sure where the dividing line is (though that “25% of someone’s income” metric is already established and a good starting point). I definitely feel that “no income at all” is highly problematic and would exclude maybe even the majority of current podcasts, since having a Patreon is fairly standard.

    As a talking point, here are some logistics for my own podcast (the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast, which could have marginal eligibility given that some of the content I cover is fantastic literature, and historic fantasy is accepted for my fiction series).

    If the standard is “the show’s creator cannot receive money in connection with the show” then my Patreon eliminates me. Currently my Patreon provides $28/month. It’s not a very active part of my structure, but I wanted a way for people to support the show if they wanted to. One could argue the technicality that the Patreon is actually supporting the associated blog, rather than the podcast, but since I mention it in the podcast, that would be a bit weaselly.

    More relevantly, my podcast includes a short fiction series, for which I pay royalties. I also pay narration fees when someone other than me narrates the stories. And I pay for transcription of the interviews I host. (The main content is scripted, so I don’t need transcription.) All of those expenses come out of my pocket, but they mean that my “contributors” are being paid. If I couldn’t pay my authors and narrators, then I couldn’t have my fiction series.

    The Patreon is the only source of non-me income for the show, but there are additional expenses, most relevantly the podcast hosting site. Although the podcast also uses my website (hosting fees) and I do my interviews through Zoom (for which I have a paid account), one could validly argue that I’d have those expenses even if I weren’t doing the podcast. I wouldn’t count any of my hardware or software because I would have them anyway. I do my own sound editing, so no expense there. So the bare-bones podcast expenses for 2022 were $1780 and my Patreon defrayed maybe $360.

    I see people suggesting that defraying “operating expenses” shouldn’t count as “income” but if I’m otherwise paying out of pocket, then anything I get to offset those expenses is “income” for me. I don’t see how to get around that.

    For me, the spirit of “fancast” should include “fan” in the sense of someone’s labor of love as part of a community. But it’s not that easy to decide at what point money makes someone no longer a “fan”, even though it could be easy to find examples of corporate, sponsored shows that address sfnal topics but don’t fit within the spirit of “fancast.”

    How serious a problem is it for big-budget, professional-level podcasts walking away with Fancast Hugos? If this is a pointed dig at Our Opinions Are Correct (which won 3 out of the last 4 years), do people seriously think that income is the reason for their popularity, as opposed to the popularity of the hosts themselves? I don’t know the finances of all the past winners, but I don’t see any pattern of “professional” shows winning, as opposed to shows with interesting content hosted by personable and popular people. If implemented as it stands, this proposal would vastly decrease the diversity of the pool of potential fancast nominees, not increase it.

  24. It seems like we have three category descriptions working at the same time – and the root of it is whether a fancast that gets any money qualifies as profesional, semiprozine or fancast and that may depend on whether the creators are being “paid” or the money is only going to fund the podcast

    Is the pod professional?
    3.2.11: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of
    the following two criteria:
    (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
    (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a
    quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

    Is the pod a semiprozine?
    3.3.13: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional
    periodical publication devoted to science fiction or 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,
    which does not qualify as a fancast, and which in the previous
    calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria:
    (1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the
    (2) was generally available only for paid purchase,

    Is the pod a fancast?
    3.3.15: Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio
    or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related
    subjects that by the close of the previous calendar year has released
    four (4) or more episodes, at least one (1) of which appeared in the
    previous calendar year, and that does not qualify as a dramatic

    Even if the proposal goes through, it brings it in line with fanzine and we’re looking at whether the staff of the pod are being paid money outside of operating costs or not. If it’s operating costs but no income is generated, the pod seems like it would be a fanzine. If, say, a patreon goes above operating costs (and those costs aren’t being banked for future expenses) and the creators are taking in money as income – then it’s a semiprozine unless it qualifies as professional.

    A case can probably be made that Our Opinions Are Correct should be a semiprozine based on patreon income.

    (this does’t apply to Fan Writer because their writing can appear in semiprozines and a patreon that doesn’t provide a quarter of their income would suggest that patreon is a semiprozine. But maybe I’m looking at this wrong)

  25. I spend a considerable amount of money on Patreon but not currently any on a podcast – writers mostly but even an epidemiologist as keeping track of the developments of the Covid virus is oh so important.

    I’m opposed to this as paying podcast guests and such a small renumeratin makes perfect sense. No one from the podcast host to engineer and guests aren’t getting rich but small amounts of money acknowledge this indeed something worth doing.

    Now streaming: Castle

  26. This is a very good discussion and has pushed me to think a bit more deeply.

    One point that has become very clear is that it is a bad idea to try and hardwire a general over-arching definition of fan vs pro activity into the constitution, as was advocated by some last year. The line falls rather differently between zines, ’casts and art, and the definition of each category should clarify the boundaries for that category only; that is sufficient.

  27. This is a category that I make a priority for nominations and voting. There have been some dandy podcasts on the shortlist over the years.

    This change seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Even in the case of OOAC, it is hard to see where the net income generated would be sufficient to disqualify their effort as not being sufficiently fannish.

    If any change needs to be made, then any qualifier for fancasts ought to focus on two tests.

    Can non-subscribers still access the content for free? People donating in response to a free product/work is different from a commercial transaction where one is required to pay before accessing the content.

    As an example, I subscribe to Grimdark Magazine via Patreon. I get billed whenever they publish a new edition.

    But I donate to the Cinema Story Origins podcast at $2 per episode. I can stop donating at any time and will still get to listen to that outstanding podcast.

    Is the net income for any of the creators (or one of their subcontractors/vendors/editors/etc.) more than 25% of their total income? Expenses vary from podcast to podcast. The CSO podcast expenses include reference books for when Paul is researching the background of a given story.

    If/when we end up with many finalists that are generating a living for those creators, then we will have crossed over to a condition where a more complete discussion about how to properly categorize works as not being sufficiently fannish. Until then I’d rather leave it alone.

    I don’t have issues. I have subscriptions.

  28. This discussion is very interesting, but the wording in the amendment above does not deal with whether a podcast makes money, raises money, gets donations, gets subscriptions or any of that. It disqualifies any fancast which pays a staff member or contributor, even if it is out of their own pocket. If a podcast pays someone to make a transcription for the hearing impaired, they’d be disqualified.

    The costs paid out as mentioned by Heather Rose Jones, Lori and Kat Kourbeti would disqualify them, and frankly most fancasts, from this category.

  29. Coming to this late, but I wanted to note that I feel like the discussion here is leaving out an option:

    What about having a semiprocast category, modeled after and analogous to the semiprozine category?

    (This would of course require a separate Business Meeting proposal, not just voting yes or no on the proposal at hand.)

    I don’t particularly want to proliferate categories. But I feel like a lot of the discussion here is saying “There are some podcasts that don’t fit into what we want the fancast category to be, but that also aren’t professional broadcasts that the hosts make a living from.” And that seems to me to be a really strong parallel with our current definition of semiprozine.

    A few people here have talked about the existing 1/4-of-income rule (section 3.2.11 of the WSFS Constitution); that’s a fine thing to discuss, but that rule only defines a threshold for professional publications. It says that anything less than a quarter of the income isn’t professional, but it doesn’t directly say how to categorize things below that threshold. And so sections 3.3.13 and 3.3.14 define two categories for prose publications: semiprozine and fanzine.

    So it feels to me like a lot of the argument we’re having is analogous to saying “but what about people who make a little bit of money from their online prose magazine but don’t make a living at it? We should/shouldn’t include them in the fanzine category!” And the answer we currently have for that issue is the semiprozine category, so an analogous answer for podcasts seems like it would be a semiprocast category.

    To put that another way, here are two premises that I think many of the commenters here have agreed on:

    A podcast is a different thing from a written magazine. (So podcasts don’t belong in any of the not-specifically-about-podcasts categories.)
    There are podcasts that we don’t feel comfortable calling fan productions but that we also don’t feel comfortable calling pro productions.

    …And given those two premises, I think a semiprocast category would be a pretty good solution.

    (For reference, here’s a link to the WSFS Rules page, which links to the current version of the Constitution.)

  30. Does anyone understand what this proposed change would mean for YouTube channels? (For the record, mine is not eligible to be monetized, but I nominate predominantly BookTubers in this category every year, and it’s not necessarily public info for viewers whether a channel you’re watching is monetized or not.) That’s not exactly the fancast paying its staff (BookTube channels are often solo endeavors), that’s YouTube paying the creator (and not very much, by all accounts). Would this disqualify anyone doing paid sponsorships in videos, AND anyone monetized through YouTube, AND anyone who also had a Patreon, etc.? Even if they only earned pennies?

    I’ll admit, I got a little excited for a moment over how this rule change could improve my own chances at a future Hugo nomination in a category where the playing field sometimes feels uneven, but in all honesty I wouldn’t want to be nominated just because too-wide swaths of the competition were all disqualified.

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