The Shrinking Worldcon?

Emily Mah, an sf and fantasy writer (who’s also published as E. M. Tippetts) found Denvention 3 a cause for mourning, for a couple of reasons:

And sadly, WorldCon seems to be shrinking. This one in Denver was notably smaller than any other I’ve seen. Some think that WorldCon is slowly being cannibalized by ComiCon, and that’s definitely a possibility. Perhaps the saddest thing was how few of the Hugo nominees and winners came. The ceremony was dominated by other people reading acceptance speeches of little slips of paper.

What saddens me about all this isn’t so much that Denvention wasn’t the nonstop party that WorldCon usually is, though that too was a bummer. It’s hard to watch the community dissipating. One of the most interesting things about SF, that I learned coming out of Clarion West, was how interconnected everyone was. I.e. Connie Willis tells a story about turning down an offer to cowrite with David Brin, getting chocolates from him, losing said chocolates, and having Bruce Sterling help her find them again. Connie Willis, David Brin, and Bruce Sterling write in rather different styles, yet they all knew each other socially and artistically.

Best Novel nominees Sawyer, Scalzi and Stross all attended — if the voters wanted a winner to accept in person they only had to back one of them. Truly, I’d say the combination of (1) major sf/fantasy writers coming from all the largest English-language countries, and (2) Worldcons happening around the globe in places they can’t all afford to go, practically guarantees there will always be several proxies accepting others’ Hugos.

But Mah’s observation about the diminishing focus on the Worldcon for a closely-connected community of sf writers sounds like it may hold some truth. I don’t feel that way because Denvention wasn’t a large Worldcon, that may just coincide with the fading of the Boomer generation, which may be the real cause.

Update 8/21/2008: Cheryl Morgan points out that Ian McDonald (Brasyl) was at Denvention, too, so the only absent Best Novel nominee was the winner…

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18 thoughts on “The Shrinking Worldcon?

  1. I wouldn’t be writing the obituary of worldcons just yet. Denver had low attendance by fans as well as pro writers due to several factors, and I don’t think that Comic-Con was the main one by any means.

  2. I have some observations to make about the greater enthusiasm for Comic-Con shown by some Worldcon-going fans, and how that might inform Worldcon-planning. Still mulling them over, but they’re in the docket.

  3. I wonder if the effect of the low numbers in Denver was exacerbated by the dispersed nature of the convention, where there was no definitive focal point. A point where, if you sat there long enough, everyone would walk past you sooner or later.

  4. Just like the place the protagonist waits in Sheckley’s Mindswap, which Jo Walton was writing about only the other day?

    I assume you spent a lot of time at one of the fan tables, in the vicinity of what I would have called the focal point, because it was also near one of the main program venues. So you would know better than I whether it really was one.

  5. I think about this problem quite a bit. When I went to my first con in 1979 (at 15) I was the youngest there. I frequently find myself still one of the youngest and when I mentioned this at Denvention3, I was poo poohed and told I was wrong. I disagree. Fandom is greying and disconnectiong.
    I am currently in Europe and when I went to Eastercon in London this year, it was a return to a fandom that I had almost forgotten. With everyone hanging in the general hall (turned into a subsidized bar, with cider and OJ for the non-beer drinkers) I met all the authors (not hidden in Green rooms or private by invitation only parties). I met authors in registration lines (not walked through away from we plebian readers). There was a general dinner available for all fans (subsidized in the hotel restaurant)- although the Pheasant Pub was way tastier- it reminded me of banquets at Worldcons past which gave us a focal point.

    I didn’t bring my kids to Eastercon (thank goodness for grandparents) but I could have: a child’s membership would have covered babysitting for the entire convention, rather than having poorly-defined, not explained babysitting at some hours through the convention at $10 an hour as at Denvention (and not even available at most cons). I noticed how the ages at Eastercon were more thoroughly dispersed and I think it is clearly because people like myself can participate and our kids would grow up thinking cons are fun places to go.

    I’ll be going to more European cons and I don’t wonder that general sf cons are greying inthe States. What amazes me is that people are hostile to any mention of the fact or discussion of how to keep fans from needing to gafiate due to family concers. (BTW, the time change is, of course, far better for both parents and college students).

  6. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason I can think of… Thanks for pointing out the typo.

  7. What I find interesting is that we’ve got a yearly local Anime convention in Denver that gets 5000 in attendance each year… but they wouldn’t generally be interested in shelling out $200 to attend a convention in town, I think.

  8. I can tell you what kept me away from Denver and will, it turns out, keep me out of Montreal next year as well – the trend to hold Worldcons in August instead of Labor Day. It makes attendance very difficult on my usual schedule.

  9. John: Is that Nan Desu Kan? I don’t know what their facility (the Marriott Tech Center) charges, would it be safe to guess that it’s a lot less than the Colorado Convention Center?

    The undoing of Worldcons is what bidders have to offer to compete for voter support. For one thing, high-profile facilities, like a downtown convention center. Does a 4-5000 person con need that kind of facility?

    It seems to me there are two viable choices for the long-term survival of Worldcons.

    One is to take what we do now and stage it in hotels, and use the savings to make other parts of the con better.

    The other is to grow the Worldcon larger again by adopting parts of the anime conventions’ economic model, and making media sf a more intentional and prominent feature.

    It would require a risk-taking group of Worldcon bidders to try and sell either approach to the current set of site selection voters.

  10. Mike: Given that NDK is able to use smaller prices, I’m guessing that Marriott Tech Center is much cheaper than downtown, yes. Now, I’m not sure on the difference in event rooms – MTC has a lot of rooms on the smaller side (like the 60x rooms in the convention center) and not as many on the large side, like the 50x or Korval ballroom rooms.

  11. I read and wonder what the facts are, what membership was like in comparrsion to recent years, and what the attendence was like in reagrd to authours.

    In wonder why there wasn’t a focal point. No fan bar like glasgow then?

    I don’t understand how comicon can impact on worldcon, maybe DragonCon can, but I do know that more promotion and outreach and less releience on the internet might help cons to get in touch with book reading people who might then go to major SF conventions.

    Anyhow, I hear of plans for bids and bids for some years to come, new people will find their way along, and also new organisers will prioritise what they see fit.

    thing about Blogs is they are musings, and its a shame there is no solutions, or ideas, or constructive critiscism to fix the perceived problem.


  12. We’ll get numbers eventually. It seemed to me a lot of top writers were there, too.

    I’m not sure how much direct impact Comic-Con has, though I assume having their dates this close together is an inconvenience for the people who want to do both.

    The indirect impact of Comic-Con comes from its being a huge success, attracting enormous media coverage, presenting LOTS of high-profile media/comics/etc. stuff, and especially, being awash in young fans of various kinds of stfnal things. When the Worldcon hasn’t been a big hit on its own terms, and the blogosphere is going through a cycle of yakking about the graying-of-fandom, there’s more of a tendency to look around at stfnal events that don’t need to make any excuses.

  13. Well if Denver had some things that could be improved on, then fine,let’s here them and look at solutions. A dealers room the size of, is it seven or nine football pitches is not a practical solution.

    I been to comic con. It is awesome. But what book event can we look at?
    To compare and contrast?


  14. I expect Montreal to be larger than Denvention, so would I be foolish to expect the same voices of doom to rejoice over the growth of Worldcon?

    Probably not.

  15. No, but that’s why we don’t pay too much attention to the voices of doom.

    Will Montreal be larger than Denvention?

    The last Canadian Worldcon, Torcon 3 in 2003, reported 3,834 attendees. Even Glasgow drew more fans in 2005. I took a quick look and there’s not a lot of difference in airfare from LA to Toronto or Montreal. The costs of going to a Montreal Worldcon might not be any worse than going to Toronto. Does Montreal have as big a local fan base as Toronto? If not, it’s hard to imagine attendance at the 2009 Worldcon looking a lot different than Toronto and Denver.

  16. One thing to consider re Montreal attendance: I believe it is currently less painful for non-North Americans to get into Canada than into the US.

    Another factor: their GoH, this Gaiman fellow who does have a rather large fan base.

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