Ann Morris, co-founder of Tampa’s Stone Hill SF Association, has written a post for Airlock Alpha explaining why the Hugos are not all that:
There was a period of my life when I attended the World Cons and voted for the Hugos. But even then, I was aware of how small a sample of people voted and how meaningless the award was for most readers and watchers. I was working in bookstores at that period of my life as well and in talking with hundreds of science-fiction and fantasy readers, I learned that most don’t care about conventions or are even aware of the Hugos.
Who can doubt her experience? Things Americans don’t know are always good for a laugh in the newsroom – last year a poll taken around the Fourth of July showed 26% of Americans can’t even name the country we broke away from to gain our independence. And that’s something people are expected to know about, unlike pop culture awards.
Yet anyone who reads widely in the sf field has a good chance of hearing about the Hugos. My own experience stands in sharp contrast with that of Ann’s bookstore customers. Well before I knew anything about fandom I’d heard plenty about the Hugo Awards. I learned about them from the dominant writers and editors in the field who frequently communicated how much they cared about the Hugos. Isaac Asimov edited multiple volumes of The Hugo Winners (the first two in 1962 and 1971.) Harlan Ellison campaigned successfully to have a fourth fiction Hugo added in 1972. Donald Wollheim’s introductions to stories in his Annual World’s Best SF often mentioned a writer’s Hugos and Nebulas. And so on.
The writers’ synergy with the Hugos has always been the driving force behind its power as a brand, something Ann overlooks in offering her advice for improving the awards:
I think if the Hugos paid more attention to television and movies, they’d get a bigger sample of science-fiction fans and be a more valid award.
Whether an award is “valid” is in the eye of the beholder and Ann evidently feels there’s a relationship between the number of people who vote for an award and its legitimacy.
I would say that depends on the award. If only 1,000 people called up to vote on the winner of American Idol that would be a disaster, because of the contest’s popular premise. On the other hand, the Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the world’s most prestigious award, is determined by a committee of five. The entertainment industry’s most famous award, the Oscar, is voted on by about 6,000 members of the Academy. That’s only six times as many people as voted for last year’s Hugo Awards.
The one thing we can agree on is that it is, indeed, good to welcome more and more people to vote on the Hugos. But they can’t be people whose sole interest is in the dramatic presentation categories or else that will detract from the literary connections that give the Hugos the recognition they currently enjoy. Preferably Hugo voters like sf in many forms.
Hear, hear! Thanks for taking on that story. The mistaken premises in it boggled me, particularly the assertion that Worldcons are steadily shrinking when actually they’re relatively constant in size. I think what’s happened is that the rise of the fixed-site mega-cons like DragonCon and ComicCon are making people think that unless you draw tens or hundreds of thousands of people, you’re not important, and that the Worldcon should of course be bigger than anything else. It’s frustrating. Maybe the problem was 1984 having that huge spike upward — it skewed everyone’s expectations to start expecting more than 8000 bodies on site.
Hi, Ann Morris here. I stand by what I wrote about readers. Hearing the name “Hugo Award” or seeing it on a book has little to do with recognition of what it is. There is a big difference in having heard of something and knowing and caring what it is.
I happen to know the Hugo was named after Hugo Gernsback and I know who can vote and how it works. I also know that any award’s value is in the eye of the beholder. My point is that you must be a member of a select group to vote for the Hugos, a paying group, and that group is relatively small. Also, World Cons are smaller now than when I was attending them. Look up the figures here: http://www.smofinfo.com/LL/TheLongList.html and you’ll see that the only worldcon’s to break 5000 in the past decade were the one held in LA and the one held in Boston. The past three had less than four thousand people.
After you have looked at World Con Attendance, find out how many actually voted. That number will be significantly smaller.
The Hugo is a fan (popularity) award. It is not voted on by a jury of experts in various fields as is the Nobel Prize. The Nobel prize is not a fan award. The comparison of the two is not appropriate, in my opinion.
I was writing my personal opinion and from my experiences working in bookstores for twelve years and as a science fiction club member and convention organizer for over thirty years. The snide comment about Americans speaking from experience and then one about a low percentage not knowing from what country we separated was hardly germane and was downright rude.
I bruised your feelings about the Hugos but I did not attack you. You chose to write a thinly veiled insult to me personally. Write that you disagree with me. Write your opposing views. That’s fine by me. Just don’t resort to insulting my intelligence to make your point.
Your comment about people who only want to vote for the dramatic presentation Hugos detracting from the literary connections is one I disagree with. Would George R.R. Martin complain about getting a Hugo for the television scripts he wrote for “Game of Thrones” over getting one for the books? I doubt that he would.
Finally, remember too that when one is writing for AirlockAlpha, one is writing for an audience that is primarily interested in television and film.
In the end, does what I think matter to you? I rather doubt it does. All that matters is that you care about the Hugos and are hopefully one of the people who read and watch everything and vote for your favorites. That is your fannish prerogative and isn’t that what it’s all about really?
Hi Ann. Thanks for such a thorough reply. It was precisely because of your knowledge and extensive fannish experience that I felt what you had to say required an answer. You were writing about the Portal Awards (formerly the SyFy Genre Awards) which, going by the nominee list, has no categories for literature or artwork, so I wondered what use there was in comparing it with the Hugo at all, though that’s certainly your privilege. How do the Portal Awards compare in stature with the Saturn Awards or Constellation Awards, which actually cover the same territory? I’m sure people would have thought it odd if I belabored the Portal Awards for ignoring novels, the most popular Hugo category, because the creators of the Portals never intended to do that work.
For the same reason the Hugos don’t have 8 acting categories (like the Portals), or even one — the community that made them didn’t set out to do that particular work. But I believe that whatever recognition the Hugos have comes from being given by an ongoing community that consists of fans, writers, artists and editors: the members of the Worldcon. Most of them pay for memberships in order to attend the convention, which also makes them eligible to vote for the Hugos, rather than pay the price of a Worldcon membership solely to vote in the awards. You said that the Portals cost nothing to vote in, but then nobody’s mouse-click admits them to a four- or five-day sf convention either.
Our main point of disagreement isn’t factual, I accepted your description of your bookstore experience though it’s true I joked about the significance of your customers’ lack of awareness of the Hugos (“aware of the Hugos” was your exact phrase.) I’m convinced people who are widely read in the sf field will encounter the Hugos either through book marketing (jacket copy, iconography) or writers’ and editors’ introductory comments in books and magazines (whether paper or online). Again, it was book customers you alluded to — for movies and tv almost never reference fan awards in their advertising, so their much larger audiences would not be likely to know about the Hugos.
Now this is what I’m talking about. Good discussion. Your point about comparing the Portal Awards and the Hugos is certainly a good one. It only occurred to me because of the panel at Oasis where Juan Sanmiguel and Mike Hinman did just that.
I honestly like it that I got somebody up in arms–at least a little bit. It’s good to know that people are reading. Now I have a great topic for my next column–why the Hugos are valid. I need to investigate the Constellation and Saturn Awards more between now and then too.
At Necronomicon, the convention I plan the program for, the focus is on literary SF, fantasy and horror. We have panels on writing and genre related topics. Our guests of honor always include authors. This year, we are bringing back Ben Bova, who is a great guest, who has sid Hugos by the way.
We also have a lot of real life science panels. We try to have a little of everything, including some film and television fan panels, but we remain a lit con primarily.
Publishing is finally being dragged into the 21st century, which I think could bode well for World Cons. Those Kindle and Nook ads appeal to people who like tech and, I think, could get more young people reading again. Who knows? Maybe the Hugos will have to add a category for best novel or collection not previously published in E-format. It could happen.
I realize that I digress but I you got me going and it’s fun.
Thank you for posting my reply and for replying to me. Oh, and I do think your Hugos are a valid representation of fan appreciation.
Please pardon my typos. Stupid fingers!
If you look past the surface of those Worldcon attendance figures, you’ll see that one of the reasons that those Worldcons were smaller was that they were held all over the world, in places like Japan and Europe and Canada, not just in Major Metro Markets. If you want to focus solely on the membership size, then you have to consider only ComicCon and Dragon*Con and ignore every other SF genre convention in the world. Worldcon moves. Rather than staying in one place, it goes to the fans. And that means it will almost never grow to the tens of thousands of attendees.
Of course, Worldcon could move to a single fixed location, run by a single ongoing group, and spend all of its resources in getting Big Big Big Big. But could it still be credibly claimed to be the “World” Science Fiction Convention if it were held in (say) Anaheim every year instead of traveling to sites all over?
Try looking at it from the perspective of someone living in Australia: Sure, Dragon*Con and ComiCon are huge and big and large and vast. But for most people, they might as well be held on the Moon. But the Worldcon actually came to Australia last year, and that meant those fans there had a more realistic chance to attend it than they would one of the Monster Giant Sized Conventions.
I’m not denigrating the mega-cons (and I recognize that to some people, even the 3-6K-attendance Worldcons are monster huge events), but they’re different creatures and serve different market and they’re never going to up stakes and relocate for one year to the UK or Japan or Australia, are they?
I agree with you about the figures for Worldcon being smaller when it’s out of the USA and that it should be a world con in fact as well as name. I had to stop going to World Cons because they just got to be too expensive for me. I don’t go to ComicCon or DragonCon because they are too big and I keep hearing horror stories from friends who do go about missing all the things you want to see because it takes four hours to get registered even if you’ve paid ahead and then there are the seat hogs who stay in a room all day keeping other fans out just so they can see some actor on a panel at 5 p.m. On the whole, I think World Cons are much better organized, with a few exceptions. I did go to Nolacon:)
I don’t think World Cons should be as big as those mega cons because they’d be much too much for volunteers to manage well. They would lose some of the flavor that they have as a sort of literary family reunion. That’s what I recall was really nice about going to the cons every year. It was like meeting long lost cousins.
Sometimes, I toy with going back but I’ve found that GenCon is really what works for me in the way of a big con. It’s quite well run and I get to LARP there, which I found out is a terribly fun thing to do. It’s also not as expensive as the Worldcon membership is when you can only buy from year to year. And for writers, they have the best writing panels I’ve ever attended and I’ve been to a lot of those at many conventions.
So, Kevin, you and I do not disagree about World Cons and I don’t actually think the Hugos are invalid. I do think that there are many more SF fans reading and buying books than know about them. I talked with another bookseller friend this morning and she said the same as I about most readers not being aware of the SF community that exists and of what the Hugo Award really is.
This makes sense if you think about it this way. If the only people who bought SF were those who attended conventions and/or knew about the Hugos, none of our beloved authors could make a living writing. If the only SF fans who bought movie tickets or watched SF TV were ones who attend conventions, there would be even less SF in those forms than there is because there’d be no money in it.
Sadly, SF literature doesn’t get the credit it deserves from the general population, so it’s good that at least part of the readership cares enough to vote for the Hugos to give people who create some recognition.
Just so you know, I also have found over the years that most mystery fans don’t have a clue about the Edgars. I haven’t a clue about romance awards.
Well, I need to do some chores, so TTFN. Ann
Hi, everyone! Good posting here, and just wanted to chime in real quick. 🙂
Some of the inspiration for this column came from me and my panel discussion. Juan wanted to just talk about nominees, but I sort of hijacked the idea into a discussion on where the relevancy is today for the Hugo.
Don’t get me wrong, the Hugo is a major award, and no one is saying anything about that. And I don’t personally feel they need to add television media to it the same way we do (we have enough competition for our awards, lol!)
The point I had, however, is that it’s a good ol’ boy-style award selection. And no, you can’t compare this to the Nobel Prize or even the Emmys or Oscars because those are PEER awards. The groups might be small and exclusive, but the Outstanding Writer in a Drama Series category is voted on by … writers, including those who themselves could’ve been eligible for the award.
My issue with the Hugo is that they limit the people who are eligible to vote, but that limitation isn’t based on peer-status or anything else — it’s based on paying a fee. And I just don’t agree with that.
I would never try to say my little awards could even compete at the level of the Hugo, or the Saturn or anything else. But I can say that I feel that if the Hugo really IS going to be a representation of the fans, then it needs to be a representation of the fans (not just the people willing to pay for a membership to a convention).
I understand that this is a way for the organization to raise funds to pay bills and such, and I’m not saying that the WSFS has to change their rules. I simply said I disagreed with it, and agreed more with the model of “If it ain’t peer-reviewed, than open it to everyone, without asking for something in return.”
Just one thing to note for those note familiar with our awards — we do everything we can to maintain integrity. You can vote once per day for 30 days, and we closely monitor that, and will eliminate votes that are irregular. We work hard to make sure it really is the fan’s voice that wins out. 🙂
I love the Hugos, and I’m only offering my opinion on it. 🙂
So would you say that if the members of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, or the members of the New England Science Fiction Association, or the Bay Area Science Fiction Association, or any other SF/F club decided to give out awards for SF/F based on the preferences of their members, then they shouldn’t just limit the voting to the members of their club, but should allow anyone who wants to participate to do so for free?
If you say yes, then I’ll grant you consistency. But if you say, “No, that’s a club, and they can make their own rules,” then I’ll point out that WSFS is a club as well, and its members get to make rules for their club. Yes, it’s a pretty large club, and it’s easy to join the club, but it’s a club nonetheless.
Note that I personally think that the approximately $50 we charge for the least-expensive club membership that includes voting rights is too much and that it would be better to be in the $20-$30 range, but I also would object to making voting amounts to “anyone who can get a web connection” too.
I’m amused by contentions that the Hugo Awards lack relevance because of the lack of TV/movie awards because of the huge complaints about when we doubled the number of categories that recognize non-print, audio-visual performances from one to two. A fairly loud minority complained that not only should we not create a second Dramatic Presentation category, but we shouldn’t have had the first one to begin with!
Well, if a localized club wanted to hand out awards, they should. But if you’re going to consider something far-reaching (like, say, international), then you should probably open it up to a larger stage. 🙂
My issue isn’t the lack of television awards (I’ve actually just posted a column on this topic, where I echoed a few things here). Mine is just the fact that it’s just a few hundred people deciding. 🙂
And if you don’t open it up to fans, is it really a fan-fueled award? Does it really represent what fandom is feeling?
The Hugos to me are a bit of an anomaly, one that would make a great sci-fi story on its own, that might just win its own Hugo, lol! They are not a fan award, but they are also not a peer award. So what are they?
Okay, Michael, so what do you say to your “everyone can vote” awards to anyone who says, “That just means anyone with a computer can vote, so they probably just programmed their computers to flood the ballot boxes, so it’s utterly meaningless.” And they will, trust me.
When you say “open it up to the fans,” you’ve just said, “Anyone who joins a Worldcon isn’t really a fan.” Did you really mean to say that.
The Hugo Awards are not “the awards for the people who are the most popular in the whole world based on the votes of every science fiction and fantasy fan in the entire world.” They are the Awards of the World Science Fiction Society, a club with several thousand members with relatively low but non-zero entry requirements.
I find it incredibly ironic that people like you say that the Awards are not good because any award that requires more than the ability to click on a web page is obviously flawed, while other people complain (every year, without fail) that the Awards are not good because it’s far too easy to vote. It means that people with what I consider moderate opinion such as myself (voting is too expensive now, but should cost about the cost of a new hardcover novel) in the middle, being criticized by both sides.
And in the final analysis, let’s look at what works have won the Hugo Award in the past. While certainly the Awards have thrown out a few clunkers, on the whole I think the results are pretty good. Tinkering around the edges isn’t bad, but trying to overturn the entire system (which is what a free-for-all anyone-with-a-browser someone-else-should-pay-for-it-but-not-me system entails) is not, in my opinion.
Actually, I think you’re actually saying, “Someone else should pay for things. What I want should be free.” To this, I say, “TAANSTAAFL.”
One of the reasons I have been encouraging Worldcons to lower their supporting memberships (and working on structural changes to WSFS rules that will allow them to do so) is that I think that Worldcons would take in more money than they currently do on supporting memberships, as they’d sell more than twice as many supporting memberships at $25 than they do at $50.
@Kevin: The situation is simpler than you’re making it sound. The Worldcon is a convention. And it gives a set of awards. You have to be a member of the convention to vote in the awards. Anybody can become a member. A great many organizations restrict voting privileges to members, because that is part of democratic self-government, and not all of them are as easy to join as the Worldcon. If somebody’s grandiose sense of entitlement leads him to declare he should have the privileges of membership without joining the community, that’s a bit bizarre, but nothing more.
One reason your argument with Hinman is getting so complicated is that you don’t really agree with the case I’ve just stated. You say “voting is too expensive now” because you do, in fact, believe that Hugo voting rights are a commodity to be sold separately from Worldcon membership. So the two of you are only haggling over the price.
I am surprised always in these arguments that no one mentions the Locus Awards – where to be a voter all you really need is an internet connection, or a stamp.
My reading of the Locus Awards is that they are considered by most (if considered at all) to be much less prestigious than the Hugo precisely because of that openness.
Hugo voters, having jumped at least a couple low barriers, show that they care enough about the genre to be at least a little thoughtful in their choices. There are always people who complain because their nominee didn’t win, but that will happen whenever there is any kind of contest.
If you think that the “free to anyone” model is better – go off and promote the Locus Awards (or one of the other similar “anyone can vote” awards). Start a campaign to try to make them better known.
But those singling out the Hugo Awards for disdain, are conceding the point that they ARE valid. That they ARE a more prestigious award than the ALREADY EXISTING open-vote alternatives. Otherwise, you wouldn’t feel the need to try to make the Hugos (brand) more like those others.
Not much into going into point-by-point discussions. And I’m really not here to defend the Portal Awards. They are what they are.
However, there is no ballot box-stuffing. As I already talked about before, we have a number of safeguards in place that protects the integrity of the vote. That includes identifying irregular voting behaviors, either while the votes are being cast, or in the daily monitoring process.
Could someone set up a macro to vote once per day for 30 days for them automatically? Sure. And that’s legal, as long as they are just voting once per day.
Trust me, we heard about it in the early days. We don’t hear it anymore, except for people looking for a way to wedge in an argument. 🙂
And please don’t put words in my mouth. The context of my statement was quite clear. The Portal Awards are open to ALL fans, not SELECT fans. That is the discussion here — ALL vs. SELECT. Not Fans vs. Non-Fans. If this is the type of discussion you’re interested in having, I won’t be participating.
WSFS may have “thousands of members,” but according to the 2010 voting statistics for the Hugos, the number of people actually participating in the voting was less than 850. Now don’t get me wrong, the number of people participating in the Portal Awards is a fraction of our overall readership. But that is a small sampling, and still without real definition.
I’m cool with saying that this is the awards representing the WSFS. But then my question is, if I’m not a member of the WSFS, why would I care about the awards? What makes the WSFS more important than, say, Stone Hill (which was brought up because of Ann’s association)? I mean, you can understand why I would be scratching my head, wondering about relevance, if that is how the Hugos are to be described.
Also, I never said that the Hugos were “not good.” I simply stated that I disagreed with the system of having balloting limited to paying participants. I never said it was wrong, that it was “not good,” or that WSFS should even change it. I just felt that times have changed, and that with so many other options out there now, if I were a part of the WSFS leadership, I would be thinking about change.
But that is just my opinion, and whether WSFS listens or not, really doesn’t faze me. I still respect the organization and the Hugos.
I am also not saying other people should pay for things. I am just saying that a non-peer selection event shouldn’t be a paying event. It’s simply my opinion. And I also have no idea what that string of letters say.
Mike — first, please don’t just refer to me by my last name. I know you don’t intend for it to be rude, but it comes off that way. You can simply call me Mike as well, or Michael if you want to keep distinctions from you and not cause confusion.
I’m perfectly fine with the Hugos being an award system handed out by a specific club of a specific club. But then that goes back to my original question — what is the relevance of the awards to general fandom? I mean, if we want to put a lot of stock into the membership of WSFS, then it would be relevant.
But for me, I don’t know people in the WSFS, except for a few people here and there, whom I respect. I just don’t know why the opinion of 850 people of WSFS is more important than the people of Stone Hill, or OASFIS, or Starfleet, or any other fan organization. 🙂
Hi! I want to jump in here and talk about something that Mr. Hinman has brought up — the idea that “850 people of WSFS” are an exclusive awarding body. I frequently works as an election inspector, which in California is a non-partisan volunteerish position. I typically handle a precinct that has oh, 900 registered voters. Of those, maybe 500 will vote in a presidential election. But non-presidential elections, that number is much smaller. In local elections, it can be *very* small. Of the 900 eligible voters, maybe 175 will cast a ballot. That’s unfortunately true in much of the country.
I point this out because as far as I’m aware — and Mr. Standlee can correct me if I’m wrong — the vast majority of the 4000+ members of a Worldcon have Hugo voting rights. Many of them have Hugo nomination rights. However, they’re not using them. Whose fault is that?
Yes, there’s a buy-in for Hugo voting; as Kevin has suggested, having a lower buy-in might be nice. There’s also a buy-in for voting; I can’t tell you how many times people have told me they don’t register to vote because they “don’t want jury duty”, or how many registered voters complain about jury duty. Or just can’t be bothered, or a zillion other excuses.
So, here’s the thing. When the majority of eligible electorate chooses not to vote, is that the fault of those who did vote? Does that make the dutiful citizens who vote in every election a cabal of elitists? A group of insiders? I would argue that it does not. If I choose to exercise my voting rights, and others do not, that doesn’t make me an elitist — especially when the folks choosing not to vote have no impediment other than their own inertia or lack of interest. (To be clear, I have worked for years to enfranchise every possible voter, something dear to my heart. One of the most important aspects of my elections work is explaining to voters the history of their voting rights, why they have them, how the voting process preserves them.)
This isn’t just an academic exercise for me. I have attended conventions for over a generation. I didn’t attend my first Worldcon until 2003. I attended several after that without ever voting. I knew about the Hugos, but I didn’t really *care* — in part because I saw them as excluding women and minorities — just like our civil voting process has and sometimes still does. But at some point, I realized that complaining about that exclusion was bull if I wasn’t nominating and voting. So, I’m an enfranchised Hugo voter now. This year was the first year I’ve nominated. I’ve also gotten friends involved, especially those women and minorities I was talking about. You know what? There are more women on the ballot now. There are books and people I care about on the ballot. It’s *just* like civic voting.
So I hear you when you say that a small percentage of people vote. To that, I point to those *other* 3150 or so Worldcon attendees. What are you doing to engage them in voting? Are you reaching out to them? They’re fans. They’re just like me. Unfortunately, some of them actually buy into this whole “850 people choose the Hugos” crap, without realizing that could be many *more* people, if they paid attention to their ballots and voted.
WSFS is not a tiny organization of 850 voters. It’s just like the US — a bigger organization with a core of dutiful voters, and a majority who don’t exercise that voting right. Until those people start voting, I’m not impressed with arguments that the voting bar needs to be lowered. I mean, the US civic voting bar is *way* low, and look at how few people voted in the last election. *sigh*
(PS: I also apologize for my typos. I don’t care for the tiny box writing interface.)
You can argue almost anything based on personal anecdote. I have no doubt that what you say about the stores where you worked and their customers is true, but here’s my experience. Next weekend I am attending a convention. I have been asked to be on a panel about the Hugos. The convention is in Sweden, and the vast majority of attendees do not have English as their first language. I can’t see that happening with any other science fiction award.
I appreciate your wanting the Hugos to be better known (it would help sell books, right?). However, I don’t think that simply paying more attention to film and TV would help any. What really works is marketing. Over the past few years the number of people participating in the Hugos has increased significantly (numbers here). That, I am fairly sure, is down to better marketing. The Hugos now have a modern-looking website, a presence on Facebook and Twitter; they have the Voter Packet and the logo; and there has been live coverage of the ceremony.
Clearly there’s a lot more that could be done. There’s still a lot of confusion out there: people who think that fantasy works are not eligible; people who think you have to spend thousands of dollars on attending Worldcon to vote; people who think that the Hugo winners are picked by the shadowy Hugo Committee appointed by the fabulously wealthy and secretive directors of the World Science Fiction Society. But to some extent it all comes down to how you choose the community that is involved.
Our host suggests that it is all simply a matter of whether you are in the community or not, and that arguments over price are irrelevant, but black and white cases only exist in online debates, not in real life. Every award has a group of people who are allowed a say in the results. That might indeed be a jury appointed by a board or directors (as with the World Fantasy Awards). It could be a group of accredited professionals (as with the Nebulas). It could be anyone who has attended Worldcon regularly for the past 10 years. It could be anyone prepared to stump up the price of a hardback book for membership of WSFS. Or it could be anyone with access to a web browser. And indeed there are many shades in between, including what we currently have now.
The eligibility criteria you choose are entirely up to the community that runs the awards, and there is always plenty of debate. One of the questions you ask in that debate is how the choice of voter eligibility affects the status of the awards. Personally I think that the Hugos still have plenty of status because of their history, and because they are comparatively widely known. But in these days of global communication I can quite see why people like Mr. Hinman doubt the validity of an award that is voted on by a small fan club that is expensive to join. Equally I see the concern that if voting were free the Hugos would simply reflect best seller lists. There is no right answer to this, simply a continuous process of adjustment to current community sentiment.
The only real issue here is that, unlike many awards, the Hugos cannot simply decide to change radically overnight. There is no board of directors, there is no shadowy Hugo Committee. Every change that happens in the Hugos has to be voted on by the members of WSFS at two successive Worldcons. Whether you like it or not, that’s the way it is, and the only way to change it is to get involved. The upside of that is that you can indeed have a say. No one owns the Hugos. And that, I think, is something we should fight to preserve.
To: Mike H.
TANSTAAFL means “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.
I think I remember correctly that Larry Niven used the acronym in his NEUTRON STAR stories. It’s a common term in the lit con community and has been around for as long as I have been in fandom, at least.
Thanks for bringing up Stone Hill. We have been around for 32 years and many of the older ones of us used to go to World Cons together. Ten people in a room and no meal more pricey than a McDonald’s burger and fries, was how it was back in the day. We knew the people who were BNF’s (Big Name Fans) and verged on being SMOFS (Secret Masters of Fandom) but life changed and we have only one person who still goes to World Cons. Mostly, we began to care more about the city the con was in than the con and that led to going to other cons and taking real people vacations to places we liked. But, we still know the acronyms.
Funny old world, as Terry Pratchett would say. All this communication got going just because of a lightly attended Sunday morning panel at a small convention in Florida and my writing a column because I was at that panel.
Yep, funny old world.
It does go to show that the Hugo Awards still have some cachet. I mean, who makes blog postings complaining that the Locus Poll is only open to subscribers?
I should have written, who complains that the Locus Poll weighs subscriber votes double that of non-subscribers?
Given what a huge fan of SF/F you are, I didn’t think it would be necessary to footnote such a common phrase as TAANSFAFL, but since it obviously was, I provide for your benefit a link to the Wikipedia article on the subject. It means that somebody always pays. Saying nobody should have to pay to vote means “somebody else should pay for me to give out awards.” I’ve encountered this sort of attitude before from people who are convinced that conventions shouldn’t cost anything and it’s Mean to actually charge membership fees, since all of the money is obviously going right into the organizers pockets.
I agree with the self-government issues. But WSFS voted in structures that had the (bad in my opinion) side effect of forcing supporting memberships up as high as they did not to make voting expensive, but because they were trying to impose an attending-membership price cap for “insiders.” Making supporting membership cost about twice what it practically should cost IMO was simply what happened when Worldcon committees (who are not fools and don’t want to sell attending memberships below the cost of provision of the service) adjusted their prices. That’s why I supported the proposal to decouple the cost of an advance-supporting membership (“voting fee”) from the initial cost of an attending membership. That proposal didn’t go through, but there is a pending proposal that would change the multiplier in such a way that Worldcons could set their supporting memberships down around $25-$30 rather than being forced to charge $50 or more just to keep from losing money on attending memberships.
What I want is for more people to want to feel a sense of membership in the World Science Fiction Society, even if they can’t attend the annual convention every year. I actually consider the supporting membership to be the actual WSFS membership, while the difference in cost between supporting and attending is the “convention supplement,” which is common in membership organizations that also hold annual conventions. When I was a member of the California State Association of Parliamentarians, I paid one set of dues to CSAP, and when I attended the CSAP annual convention in Sacramento, there was an additional fee for the convention on top of my CSAP membership.
I think the Worldcon would be stronger if it had more supporting members who got into a habit of paying their supporting membership dues annually and staying involved in paying attention to Worldcon. That would make them more likely to want to attend the convention when it happened to come within their travel ranges. It might even make it slightly less difficult to promote Worldcons to these people, since we wouldn’t have to keep starting from zero every single year.
So no, I’m not just “haggling over price.” I want more Worldcon members because eventually I want to have more people attending Worldcon and discovering what a wonderful event it is. And it seems to me that attracting people who are interested in the content of our annual awards is the best way of getting the attention of people most likely to enjoy the content of our annual convention.
@Cheryl Morgan: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I wanted to delineate something you said to Michael Hinman, “The only real issue here is that, unlike many awards, the Hugos cannot simply decide to change radically overnight.”
What changes would you make to the Hugo voter requirements, at whatever rate of speed, and how radical would they be? You’ve publicly supported a couple of ideas for minimizing the Hugo voting fee. One was a proposal to trim the supporting membership fee to breakeven on the costs of services for these nonattending members (publications, mainly). Another time you answered with a resounding “YES!!!” when one of your readers suggested a way of making Hugo voting free, though ended by saying “a small fee would provide valuable income for Worldcon.”
@Kevin: Since you agree with the self-government issues, I’ll grant you that it’s bogus to keep Worldcon site selection voting fees artificially low when every voter who wants to attend ends up getting whacked with a big conversion fee. But that’s my complaint, it may not be yours.
With Worldcon progress reports freely available through the convention website, why would anybody who’s simply interested in “paying attention to Worldcon” need to become a supporting member, except to help support the Worldcon financially? And that being the case, why lower the bar? In the end, when you squeeze out the economic support that caused supporting memberships to be invented in the first place, what else is that but a discounted sale of membership privileges? Are you arguing that it would be made up on the volume? If so, what is the evidence? I need hardly tell you that at $25 you’re still not going to please those who want free voting.
Looking back at the comment you link to, I think that “YES!!!” was more agreeing with the worry that the Hugos were losing legitimacy and respect rather than free voting. Free voting could be done, but personally I don’t think it is a good idea.
You are absolutely right that there will always be people who are upset that they can’t vote for free. The question is, what proportion of the people who currently think voting is “too expensive” would be upset, and how do you minimize the level of upset.
Here’s where I’m coming from. I think WSFS/Worldcon is a valuable community and I’d like to see it continue and grow. There are actually lots of people who care about it. Here in Europe there are a couple of thousand who go once every 10 years, because they can’t afford to fly off-continent. Back in the Bay Area there are people who go every 3-5 years when Worldcon is within driving distance. All of those people have an interest in Worldcon; possibly the same level of interest as people who go every year, but less money.
What I would like to see is all those people who enjoy Worldcon when it comes to them to feel sufficiently part of the community to want to take part in some way every year, including voting in the Hugos. I think you are absolutely right to say you can’t just do that with progress reports. No much one reads them anyway. But I think that if conventions get creative with the Internet they can find ways of making people think it is worthwhile to spend $20-$25 on a supporting membership, and give those people a taste of the convention in addition to voting rights.
Ann Morris says:
I don’t think World Cons should be as big as those mega cons because they’d be much too much for volunteers to manage well. They would lose some of the flavor that they have as a sort of literary family reunion. That’s what I recall was really nice about going to the cons every year. It was like meeting long lost cousins.
And that’s precisely the difference between our cons and commercial ventures they superficially resemble. Worldcon is the largest or second largest convention in the world with no paid staff whatsoever.
(This is why saying “ticket” instead of “membership” can get you flamed in some places.)
Michael Hinman says:
I understand that this is a way for the organization to raise funds to pay bills and such,
Unfortunately, by saying that, you show that you do not understand. Worldcon is not a fundraiser. In fact, one of the challenges in running a Worldcon is to neither make nor lose money, but to break even.
Well, if a localized club wanted to hand out awards, they should. But if you’re going to consider something far-reaching (like, say, international), then you should probably open it up to a larger stage.
In the last ten years, Worldcon has been on four different continents. So far, unfortunately, it is localized to planet Earth, but we encourage efforts to remedy the situation.
And if you don’t open it up to fans, is it really a fan-fueled award? Does it really represent what fandom is feeling?
Please do not start trying to delimit “fandom”. Just don’t go there, ok? Personally, speaking only for myself, if you think “fandom” and Worldcon don’t overlap, you’re . . . no, if I finish the sentence you won’t read any further.
to Kevin: you do, in fact, believe that Hugo voting rights are a commodity to be sold separately from Worldcon membership.
No, he does not, and you threaten your credibility as someone able to read by suggesting it.
@Neil: Have you never heard that an argument isn’t just contradiction? Take it from Mr. Python.
In this essay at Science Fiction Awards Watch Kevin (one of the editors who signed the piece) wrote:
Kevin wants to move the price in to reach a particular goal (outlined in this article, and in posts at his LJ), and he’s creative, so over the past few years he’s offered various ideas for getting there while keeping the existing definition of membership, but he ‘s on record in this article as also being willing to create a class of voting memberships — which means selling voting rights separately.
Neil Rest said:
>>And that’s precisely the difference between our cons and commercial ventures they superficially resemble. Worldcon is the largest or second largest convention in the world with no paid staff whatsoever.<<
Not to nitpick, but that's not even remotely true. There are dozens upon dozens of fan-run conventions that eclipse Worldcon in size with no paid staff whatsoever. As an example, nearly every anime convention is run on a top-down volunteer basis, and most anime conventions are much much larger than your average Worldcon.
Anime Expo (Los Angeles) – 45,000
Otakon (Baltimore) – 27,000
Anime Central (Chicago) – 18,000
Sakuracon (Seattle) – 17,000
Anime Boston (Boston) – 16,000
Anime North (Toronto) – 16,000
FanimeCon (San Jose) – 15,000
Anime Weekend Atlanta (Atlanta) – 12,000
Ohayocon (Columbus) – 11,000
And those are just the ones that are over 10,000 in attendance; the vast majority of others are the same size or slightly larger than your average Worldcon.
Not to dispute your main point, but doesn’t Anime Expo have a paid Executive Director?
I don’t begrudge mega-events like ComicCon, DragonCon, and yes, an event as large as Anime Expo a small number of paid staff. From the last time I researched it, I concluded that the paid employees of ComicCon aren’t paid very well for the work that they do, even if it sounds like a lot taken in isolation.
I just now looked up the website for the SPJA (Society for the Preservation of Japanese Animation), the organization that runs Anime Expo, and it does have paid positions, with an “s”. My mistake on that one. The nitpicker gets nitpicked. >_< I can tell you though, having worked four of the other conventions on that list (and personally ran the one on the bottom multiple times), none of those others have any paid positions.
But I do agree with your point that when an event gets quite large, running it really does become less of a "fun hobby" or "enjoyable volunteerism" and more like a job. And if it's taking up that much of of your time to put together a large event like the ones we've listed, I wouldn't begrudge compensation to a few key individuals at the top who are probably working every day on the event. Not the most fannish thing to admit, but admittedly practical.