Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

Why Worldcon Isn't Free and in Your Backyard

Adapted from a post I made today elsewhere, little of this will be new to most of you, but I guess it bears repeating periodically.

One of the repeated complaints I hear is that Worldcon is Too Expensive and that it's "always" in the USA and that it's wrong and the Worldcon should be held outside of North America more often, like maybe every year or at least nine out of ten. Notwithstanding the arrogance that blithely considers Canada to be part of the USA*, there's a whole lot more to unpack in complaints that there aren't enough non-North American Worldcons and how unfair it is that Americans always have a Worldcon near them.

  1. You can only hold a Worldcon in a place where a group of people bid for it. It's like the joke about asking Ghod to let you win the Lottery that ends with Ghod saying, "Meet me halfway: buy a ticket!" If people don't organize a bid for a given site, that site will never host a Worldcon. And bidding is expensive. I chaired the bid for 2002 that eventually led to ConJosé and in the end it cost me roughly USD50,000 out of my own pocket. That's not money the convention reimbursed me, nor the roughly USD30,000 the bid itself raised and spent to promote itself. That's expenses I personally incurred chairing the bid.

  2. You can't make people hold a Worldcon. The members of Worldcon once voted to require that every other Worldcon be held outside of North America. The following year's Worldcon was in Germany. The fans there voted to repeal that provision, as they had no interest at all in being "forced" to hold a Worldcon every other year.

  3. North America is Big. Los Angeles-Boston is approximately the same driving distance as London-Moscow, according to Google Maps. Even within North America, you're very likely to hear people complain about how awful it is that Worldcon is held in far-away cities like Boston or Los Angeles or Chicago or Montreal instead of being held In My Backyard. Even within North America, you generally are only going to have a Worldcon near you (for various values of "near") about once a decade.

  4. "Nearby" is relative. While promoting San Francisco for the 1993 Worldcon at a convention in San Jose (less than 80 km/50 mi away, with regular commuter train service between the cities), I was sincerely told by too many people that San Francisco was "too far." Some of these same people didn't even attend the Worldcon in downtown San Jose because it was "too difficult" to get there. (Despite there being 24 hr light rail service and plenty of parking garages — essentially unless it happened to be in a semi-suburban location with free parking not more than 5 miles from their homes, it was Too Far Away.)

  5. Supporting membership prices are coming down. Worldcon members passed a rule change not long ago (it first takes practical effect this year with the 2014 Worldcon) that has the effect of allowing Worldcons to charge somewhat less for their Supporting Memberships than they had been doing. (I can explain the details of what was keeping the price up above USD50 if you want to know.) This means that the 2015 Worldcon, whoever it is (and note that Helsinki is one of the cities bidding), is likely to be able to charge only USD40 for their Supporting Membership. [Year corrected from comment; I was off by one year, having forgotten when the change was ratified.]

  6. Worldcons are the wrong size. Worldcons are conventions of around 5000 people who have come to expect a certain level of amenities. The number of places around the world where you can get those amenities are limited. And 5,000 turns out to be a really awful number of people for cost-effectiveness. If attendance was less than 1,000 or more than 10,000, the cost per member (and thus the cost the convention would have to charge) would be substantially less than it is today. (Again, I can elaborate if anyone wants to know more about it.) The last two British Worldcons were in Glasgow, and the complaint then came that "it's too far away to travel to" even from people from within the UK! The places with sufficient facilities are, generally speaking, inherently expensive, and if they happen to have sufficient facilities and are less expensive, they're likely to be very inconveniently located for most people. (Winnipeg, for instance, on whose committee I served in 1994, had nice facilities in a fine city and cost a fair bit less per member to run than most Worldcons, but was perceived as very difficult to get to even for people within North America. Reno in 2011 also wasn't too bad, but again was perceived as inconveniently located.)


So really, there's no conspiracy. It's impossible to run a Worldcon that costs $25 to attend with a 5000-room cheap hotel connected to it with lots of cheap, good food right around it and also that is located in a major metro area with cheap, convenient transportation links to everyone in the world. If you can't travel very far, the best you can do to continue to participate is to buy a supporting membership (and actually to vote in Worldcon site selection, which amounts to buying your supporting membership to Worldcon N+2 every year at the lowest possible price) and plan for that once-a-decade shot when Worldcon is within easy travel distance. And if you live in a tiny village hundreds of miles from the nearest large metropolitan area, well, frankly, you're out of luck. It's not the job of Worldcon to come entertain you, and demanding that it do so is just being unreasonable.


*I wonder how many people so easily declaring that Canada is just part of the USA would react badly if I declared that Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast, and Dublin were in "England." (Nobody need educate me on the difference between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, thank you. I'm making the errors deliberately to demonstrate other people's foolishness.)
Tags: geography, worldcon
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