16
Jul
08

are conventions doomed?

Today I heard about a fan-run convention that announced it was cancelling the event and no longer taking pre-orders; at least they closed up shop in advance of the con – about a month ago, another event shut down during the first day of the actual programming, leaving a whole bunch of people (and guests) high and dry.  So what gives?  Are sci-fi conventions fading away?  I have a few theories about what’s been going on, and the answers may shock you… *

About a month ago I was waiting in line to see Some Piece of Summer Schlock when a friend had mentioned he’d gone to a low-turnout con that generally had a big crowd.  He felt it was indicative of a trend, and combined with the recent shutdowns, we had to wonder – is science fiction running out of steam?  Is interest in the genre itself dwindling to the point where it will go the way of the Western and only surface for a random movie every few years?

On the other hand, if we’re judging genre popularity based on convention attendance, big events like the annual Star Wars Celebration, last week’s Anime Expo  and the San Diego Comic Con are always bursting at the seams (in fact, as I write this, it’s just been announced that Comic Con, for the first time ever, has totally sold out in advance).

Ok, obviously there are still plenty of sci-fi loving people out there going to big cons – so why are the smaller ones suffering?  Alas, I think we can place blame at the feet of that insideous convention-slayer known as the Internet.

 

CON-KILLING COMPUTERS

When I was a young, nerdy lad, the air was clean, gas was a quarter and candy was free.  On the downside, we had no cell phones, no electric light, no motorcars – not a single luxury. 

And, of course, no Internet.

 

pre-internet fans

 

No Internet meant no websites with daily updates and tidbits about our favorite shows, no Star Wars  discussion groups, no email debates with our Star Trek pals and no YouTube with the latest fan films.  Maybe you were lucky and had two or three like-minded friends at school, but other than that, if you wanted to geek out with your fellow brothers and sisters, you were out of luck.

Until a convention came to town!

Thank god for the conventions.  They gave us a place not just to see our favorite stars and behind-the-scenes people, but we got to see each other.  We huddled in the corners, embraced the Spock ears of the nerd next to us and shouted “you are not alone!”  The weekend was spent attending panel discussions, checking out the guests, sitting in the film/TV room for hours on end watching old shows (pre-internet also meant pre-DVD) and spending the cash we saved all year in the dealer’s room (I remember literally shaking with excitement when I came home from my first con with an actual Colonial Warrior’s pistol and some gold Cubits (all made from the original mold, naturally).

Back then, a convention was the only place you’d ever find goodies like that!  Nowadays, if a cool new toy comes out (licensed or otherwise), you get an email about it the next day, click a link, and it’s yours.

The Internet has replaced many of the reasons we went to cons: the film room, the dealer’s room and the global fan community are at your fingertips, ready to debate the last episode of Lost, 24/7.

 

 THE HUMAN TOUCH

Of course, we continue to go to cons – personal interaction is still something most of us enjoy from time to time and there are some things our modem can’t replace.  We still want to be in the same room as our favorite stars, we want to wear our expensive costumes on a day other than Halloween (because it’s just not the same to put on your Stormtrooper armor and sit down in front of the computer) and, above all, we still crave that communal experience with our peers.

Cons aren’t going to go away, but people are going to be more choosy about the ones they attend.  Given all the con-like zen people can soak up online, they’re going to pick conventions that maximize their out-of-computer experiences.  This probably means they’ll go to the ones that have the most stars and artists they want to see, which is why we’re seeing mega-cons with huge guest lists becoming the defacto standard.  Instead of going to two or three small, local cons every year, fans will pack their bags, saddle up and make the trip to one, big annual event, treating it more like a spring-break pilgrimage.

I hate to see the mom & pop cons disappear and the Wal-Marts take over, but no one forced the fans out of town – they’ve been slowly migrating in this direction for a decade.  Some of the larger fan-run conventions that have made a name for themselves (Dragon Con in Atlanta and Baltimore’s Shore Leave spring to mind) will probably soldier on for a while, but, like it or not, the “boldly go big or go home” fan mentality is here.

 

—————————————-

 

 * Ok, there’s nothing shocking here, but blogs are supposed to entice you to click into the main body of the article by ending their first paragraph with the promise that something sensational or taudry lie ahead.  Of course, this is rarely the case; I doubt anyone goes through their day shouting, “thank god I read the rest of that story on that new iPhone accessory, my life is now complete!”  I mean who really cares if you read the rest or not?  Is the point to put more ads in front of people so they might  click one, and getting them to another page increases that chance?  I’ll tell you right now, I’ve been reading top blogs like Engadget and io9 since day one and I have yet to click on anything other than the refresh icon, so if people are making a fortune by luring readers into clicking forward with the false promise of enlightenment, please tell me how.

 

“Lonely Trooper” image: 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/falcifer/544058634/

 

 

 


30 Responses to “are conventions doomed?”


  1. 1 Boris
    July 16, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Stars don’t know the tech or story goodies, so I’m not especially keen on casual, one-of-a-crowd chats with them. (This is one of the things Galaxy Quest got wrong, aside from fans memorizing episode numbers instead of titles – you don’t ask an actor about inconsistencies between starship blueprints and a particular episiode.) Even if there are artists or other production people at the convention, e-mail, newsgroups, and forums are much more efficient since they leave an electronic record of your communication.

  2. 2 Roger
    July 16, 2008 at 5:06 am

    One thing I think you may have glossed over is that the nation’s economic situation is a major factor in con attendance, and affects the small cons much more deeply than the heavy hitters like SDCC and NYCC. I was on the staff of one of those “mom and pop” conventions starting in 2000. The first time out, our attendance was surprisingly good, and grew nicely the next year in the spring of 2001, but after September 11 and the economy took a nosedive, attendance fell off sharply and we decided that we didn’t have the momentum to do it another year.

    The other thing I’d like to say, at the risk of offending the audience but what the hell, is that many people who are hardcore enough to attend conventions like this aren’t always in the best economic situation themselves. Again, based on my experience at the cons, we were always getting emails afterwards from people we expected to see there saying that they couldn’t make it because they couldn’t afford bus fare, or they had to buy a new set of tires for the car that ate up all of their extra cash, etc. And again, the economy at large is a factor here.

    In a time when money is tight and prices for everything are increasing, people are opting not to go to these things because for most of them, it’s just going to be a weekend-long orgy of consumerism (as opposed to a weekend-long orgy, which is probably cheaper). I’ve heard stories of more than one person who bought tickets to Anime Expo or SDCC months ago, and decided months later that it wasn’t worth it to follow through and actually go.

    I wonder if the cons will be forthcoming with attendance numbers if there’s a widespread effect.

  3. 3 The Hey
    July 16, 2008 at 6:23 am

    Just a slight correction – the con in question in Boston (Jump Con) was a professional con for profit and is not a fan run endeavor like DragonCon and Shore Leave.

    Also, aside from the internet I feel one of the reasons that cons are failing is because the fees of guests have risen dramatically ever since Creamation started over-paying guests to price the fan run cons out of the market. Not that I blame the guests – not many of us would take less money to go to a fan run con in Delaware if they can get a bigger fee to go to a bigger event in Vegas or LA especially if you are an actor that lives out that way.

    I think in the future (with exceptions of course) the convention business will taking a cue from the Comic Con business model – why pay for guests when you can have the studios gladly flip the bill to promote the latest movie or upcoming TV season of whatever.

    And I agree with you that now most conventions are “destination” events where people will save up and pay to go to a DragonCon or a SDCC than go to 2 or 3 smaller conventions closer to their home (if there any to be had).

    But, sadly, I think for a while longer there will be some wide-eyed person that thinks he can be the next Gary and Adam and try to put on a large scale con like FedConUSA or Jump Con and see that won’t see that he’s over his head until it’s too late.

  4. July 16, 2008 at 7:45 am

    I dunno: my con experience is fairly limited, but I did witness fans asking Trek cast members exactly those kinds of questions.

    My favorite memory along these lines was the lady dressed in full Romulan regalia ranting at Jonathan Frakes about the fact that TNG did not portray the Romulans with honor (and it was done totally in character).

  5. July 16, 2008 at 8:45 am

    I suspect, based on your writing, that you and I are both Gen X’ers…so I know exactly what you’re saying here, since Gen X fans sat on the fence between the pre-Net times and our current times.

    Everything you are saying is very true…yet as someone who grew up more as a cinephile than an all-out SciFi Nerd, I think there may be a future for cons. The key will be taking a cue from the film festival community — expand the idea of what a con is and can be, and work with the networks and studios to become a place to screen new shows and do promotions in every major market in the US and beyond.

    One of the reasons the SDCC sold out even faster this year, I suspect, is because alot of non-SciFi stuff got added. Lots of “cult” stuff that just appeals to the cultish audiences of cons. The film festival similarities with SDCC grow each year. And IDK if you read the TV/film trades, but you’re hearing a lot more this year from the marketers about how crucial this direct-to-fans interaction has become.

    Someone just needs to go ahead now and start doing “THE SO-AND-SO FILM AND TELEVISION FESTIVAL.” That will go over huge.

    As you say, the desire for real-time in person “meatspace” interaction for fans will never go away.

    *btw…I’ve read many a blog for many a year now, and most of them don’t need to entice me with shocking news and advertising magnets. Blogs are writing, and a lot of us read them because we JUST WANT TO. We enjoy the voice, the POV, the opinions, coming through the nettywebs into our brains. :)

  6. 6 Boris
    July 16, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Steven: Of course there are people asking such questions, but the movie should’ve clearly portrayed the guy as a total novice, not as an expert who saves the day – as it stands, the movie is misrepresenting reality on that point. One way to correct it would be to have another guy pass by and comment on the uselessness of asking an actor, whereas the person who asked the question should be the one causing some real problems for the cast, for example by assuming that the tech manual is gospel while the show is constantly making errors.

    Galaxy Quest uses subtle humor which is grounded in reality, as opposed to being an outsider’s parody, so the audience expects accuracy. Here’s an example of when they did get it almost right, because I’ve seen many such debates (though as in any rational endeavor, you’re not supposed to be “of the firm belief”, but rather “convinced that it is most likely X because…”, at least if you’re supposed to be an expert):

    BRANDON
    It’s been the subject of an extremely heated debate on the
    internet for years. Many believe that is a matter collapser, a
    bomb capable of destroying all matter in the universe in a chain
    reaction lasting 13 seconds.

    JASON
    But you don’t?

    BRANDON
    No, I am of the firm belief that in reality it is not a matter
    killer, but a matter REARRANGER, converting all molecules to the
    exact state they existed thirteen seconds previous to activation
    thus effecting a thirteen second time jump to the past.

  7. July 16, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    None of the conventions mentioned are science fiction cons – they’re all media conventions with paid guests.

    Science fiction conventions, which have been running continuously since late 1930s, are run by volunteers and have no paid guests, including the professional authors and artists who attend. The Guest(s) of Honor generally receive expenses, but no fee.

    Science fiction conventions are alive and well. The World Science Fiction Convention gets anywhere from five to eight thousand members, depending on location, and there are many regional cons with attendance in the 500 – 2000 region.

  8. July 16, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks, Bill, you beat me to that!

    Granted, the fan-run, reader/writer-focused conventions are changing. There is a little more focus on media than there used to be. Hotels and convention centers are getting more challenging to deal with, which means convention rates and room rates for the fan-run cons are going up. Still, while we’re evolving into something different, we’re not dying out any time soon.

    Laurie Mann
    Denvention Webmaster
    http://www.denvention.org

    (PS: Jumpcon was a attempt to franchise media cons nationally; I believe all of them have been cancelled. Good riddence.)

  9. July 16, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    Obviously this is the work of the Christian Crusade To Stamp Out Science Fiction!

    http://www.cornponeflicks.org/ccmain.html

    (joke)

  10. July 16, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Smaller, fan run cons will survive, as they adapt to the entertainment of the time. SF cons became media cons, anime cons became media cons, SDCC became…the insanity of whatever it is now, with Hollyweird being courted and courting for IP and all that buzzword stuff…

    The problem, if it is a problem, is the perception that the small con is COMPETITION for the large for-profit event. It’s not. The small, local, fan-produced con is what it’s always been, the excuse for a bunch of strangers (who are good friends) to get together for a weekend. Doesn’t need to be an event.

    Now the key is, the small con has to ACCEPT that’s what their place is. And promote to that effect. Find things that you just can’t do at home, or see things. Even as we live in the ‘point and click’ age of Buy It Now, were I to stumble across a dealer who had that Spindrift tech manual and blueprint set for 20- bucks, I’d wet myself with joy. Ah, the days of Intergalactic Trading Company and all those lovely ST blueprints…geeze, and all those guys are pros now. Humph. :)

    Back when I was running Babelcon (West Michigan, 1979-1988) we did all manner of things that were unusual, odd and even, dare I say, bizzare?

    Like the year we ran a 16mm film print of ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ in 3D (yes, with cardboard red/blue lens glasses. Hint: those don’t do well in pool water)in the hotel pool. There’s an experience you can’t duplicate on the interwebtubes.

    Actually, if there’s any problem facing the small local con, I suspect it’s having enough people to RUN the thing.

  11. 11 Mike
    July 16, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    WonderFest is this weekend. Not really a sci-fi con per se, more of a sci-fi scale model con, but Keir Dullea & Gary Lockwood will be there, as well as Bob Burns, Dirk Benedict and Rick Sternbach.

  12. 12 xathras
    July 16, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    I don’t believe you can generalize from FedConUSA and JumpCon. In both cases we’re talking about novice con runners. It’s my understanding that the guy behind FedConUSA had a previous failure at running a con. In the case of JumpCon, one look at their schedule said these people were insane (in the delusional, out of touch with reality sense). Eight cons in eight cities in eight weeks as your way of entering a new business? Doomed at conception. Start small, start local or regional, build an audience, learn the pitfalls where you have a chance to recover and regroup, then expand.

    I attend around five cons a year, all fan-run. Two are large regional general scifi cons with writers, gamers, and a few media guests (more likely writers and tech folk than actors). Two are small local literary cons that have no intention of becoming large, and one is a media con that has varied in attendance, and skipped a couple of years in my region as they got cons going elsewhere. A few people have had to drop out due to economic circumstances, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see attendance down a bit at the regional cons in the coming year for the same reason. If established fan-run cons start failing, I’ll start to worry, but until then this is just a couple of noobs who got in over their heads, and had bad timing with respect to the economic cycle.

  13. 13 Mike
    July 16, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    We used to have Trek conventions here in Portland every year in January like clockwork…for 10-12 years at least. The last one was in 2002 and featured as one of the guests Dominic Keating from Enterprise. I remember being embarrassed (for him and for the fans that were attending) because the place was half empty and you could see his face drop when he came onstage, but he was a trooper and kept us entertained. But it was a dismal, pathetic turnout and was the last year that Creation had a con here…it makes me really sad.

    In the early 90’s before the internet, I used to get a actual paper catalog in the mail called Starlog. I would flip through that thing every time it arrived, ordering posters, props, pins, all kinds of stuff, and it was tattered and dog eared within a week. I’d mail off my money order and wait and wait for UPS to bring deliver my package…no online tracking back then. Fans kept in touch via fanzines and flyers, postcards and posters up at the local nerd gathering places. It was an amazing time and I have to agree with you that the internet is what is killing the modern day Con. I hope that trend reverses and people start wanting to leave the house more to connect with other fans, because those early years of my first conventions…and later ones…are some of my happiest. :)

  14. 14 Boris
    July 17, 2008 at 3:37 am

    For fans like me, the problem is that the internet has allowed us to be more into this than would be possible even at the biggest convention. Now you can form communities that are independent of the geographical location, based solely on the level of interest, so once you step outside, you may not find fans of sufficient expertise to be able to form a connection on that basis (which is why I say, pick another basis: work, a more casual hobby, etc.)

    After all, if the person you’re talking to can only accept this as a casual hobby and not as something that at times can turn into a physics exercise (which was used to show, for example, that the Ewoks couldn’t have survived the destruction of Death Star II), they’re going to roll their eyes. Still, they may very well accept the need to develop complex chess or football strategies, because we all know that chess and football are serious hobbies, as opposed to all this nerdy sci-fi stuff.

  15. July 17, 2008 at 6:39 am

    I agree with a lot of the comments. As part of Dallas Fandom and conventions, there is a serious difference between SF conventions and MEDIA conventions. I’m not opposed to seeing some of my favorite actors in person, but I would much rather meet and/or hang out with those who provided the WORDS and WORLDS for those actors to play in.

    As a writer myself, I adore meeting the people who have inspired me to become the professional I am — honestly, those are the people behind the scenes, not in front of the camera.

    That being said, I’ve hired media guests for a short lived fan-run convention, and I totally agree, much of the implosion of these new media conventions comes down to inexperience and the run up of the prices of actors from “professional” for profit conventions. When I was hiring, I talked to the rep of an actor I’d had a fangirl crush on since I was 14. When I heard his fee at the time, I LITERALLY said, “I don’t love him THAT much.” It SHOCKED me the first time I went to a convention that REQUIRED me to pay not only to get in, but for photos, autographs, and time with the guest. What is that all about?

    But don’t mind me, I’m “just” an author. I have the old school attitude of “if you have the book, the least I can do is sign it”. Fans are hard enough to come by without stripping them of every cent they ever thought of earning.

    As for the internet, I didn’t even know Fandom EXISTED until I was computerized. I’m glad I have the internet to connect with other fans — I go to conventions to meet people I’ve only known electronically in flesh.

    It’s a tough gig, but I think it’ll survive and adapt. I know actors have very little to say about which conventions to go to on their own, but if they want to be part of the solution rather than the “problem” then some of them might want consider taking on an authorial viewpoint — come to a convention, sell some pictures, but give the autographs away.

  16. 16 neutronjockey
    July 17, 2008 at 6:41 am

    Stopped by via Jay Lake’s blog.

    What cool synchronocity here: I was just listening to podcasts with authors at conventions doing workshop panels (or just the authors themselves talking about …*whatever*). I think a couple of workshop panel podcasts in I remarked to myself, “This is kind of like having my own Con, right from my laptop speakers.”

    I’ve saved thousands of dollars on airfare, hotel, and con attendence fees. Not too mention the bar tab…which usually costs me as much as the airfaire and hotel fee combined. *hic*

  17. 17 Neil Ottenstein
    July 17, 2008 at 6:58 am

    In terms of getting some information, the internet may be killing some aspects of the convention, but fan run conventions are still quite strong. There is a strong community. The Washington DC/Baltimore area still has several strong conventions of a variety of size. The ones here that I go to are Farpoint (a more modest SF media convention), Balticon (a standard relatively large science fiction convention with SF authors), Shore Leave (a quite healthy SF media convention), Baltimore Comic-Con (a comic book convention that seems to be getting better and better each year), and Capclave (a small science fiction convention focusing on the short story authors in the DC area). All of these conventions in the area satisfy most of my interests and I know there are other conventions on topics I’m not as interested. There have been other conventions around here over the years that have died, but all of these appear to be quite healthy. Everything I read about Jump Con gave me a bad feeling and I’m not surprised it doesn’t appear to be working out.

  18. 18 darthmojo
    July 17, 2008 at 11:12 am

    I agree that this post has largely focused on media cons, but I’d eat a copy of DUNE if the latter hasn’t also seen a decline in attendance. All the points still hold true.

    And, despite my sensationalistic headline, I never actually stated that cons are doomed or are going away. Perhaps some of your comments are based on only reading the headline! So much for literary fans ;-)

    BORIS: Do you not see the humor in arguing the technical accuracy of a fan arguing technical accuracy in a movie satarizing conventions and fandom? You, my friend, win this week’s irony award!

  19. 19 JohnV
    July 17, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Just a bit of epilogue on the cancellation, if you please, the Convention goes on..

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Randolph, MA. – July 17, 2008 – United Fan Con Inc., a small not-for-
    profit fan-run group located in Randolph MA, has stepped up to give
    the fans in Boston the fun-filled weekend that they were anticipating.

    On Tuesday afternoon, July 15th, the Milford, NH based event
    promotions company, JumpCon LLC, cancelled a large Science Fiction /
    Pop Culture event scheduled for this weekend July 18th-20th at the
    Sheraton Boston Hotel. This is a second time in the last two months
    events like this have collapsed at the last minute, in June Fed Con
    USA in Dallas , TX canceled the rest of their show during the actual
    event itself.

    United Fan Con has been producing fan-run events in Massachusetts for
    the past 17 years and knows when events are canceled like this it
    leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouths; it hurts everyone involved:
    actors, agents, hotels, other promoters and especially the fans. This
    time it is different, a lot of fans that were planning to attend the
    now canceled Jumpcon Boston have rallied together to put on their own
    mini convention. It started with online forum posts discussing the
    situation and then moved to the realization that many people were
    still coming to Boston regardless of the JC cancellation. These fans
    decided to organize and started planning a mini fan event. United
    Fan Con stepped in to help the fans make it happen, giving the fans
    the funds to rent space at a new venue and use of any and all
    equipment and supplies needed to host an event. In addition UFC is
    contacting actors, agents and vendors with the hope of making this an
    exciting weekend.

    This Fan Con will be free to all attendees and include; games,
    videos, fan panels, auctions, vendors and more. The event will take
    place at the Hilton Back Bay, located at 40 Dalton Street, Boston MA
    (directly across the street from the Boston Sheraton). The event will
    run from 3pm – 10pm on Friday, 10am – 6pm on Saturday and 12pm – 6pm
    on Sunday.

    Here is what is being said about the fans efforts:
    “It’s really cool that you are trying to help these poor fans”. –
    Bob Catalano, Westland Productions
    “I hope you can make something happen with the fans, thanks for doing
    this.” Julie Catlin Brown – Illumina Productions,
    “How nice of you to reach out and see what can be done. We greatly
    appreciate your thoughts and willingness to try and make something
    positive out this fiasco Thank you”. Erin Gray – Heroes for Hire.

    What we need is you, the fan, to get the word out! Tell all of your
    friends and tell us how you can help. This is a true FAN CON!

    http://www.nefe.us/

  20. July 17, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    You say that “[a]ll the points still hold true” for the non-media cons, but I disagree.

    they’ll go to the ones that have the most stars and artists they want to see, which is why we’re seeing mega-cons with huge guest lists becoming the defacto standard

    That’ll kill small local media cons, sure. (That, and rising appearance fees.) As Bill Burns and Laurie Mann have pointed out, fan-run non-media (and non-profit) cons have been doing fine; people who jump (or Jump) in and think they can run a con as a money-making venture, on the other hand, seem to have issues.

    Looking at the Boston-area fan conventions this year:

    Arisia 2008 hit their membership cap of 2000, AFAIK. Boskone 45 broke 1000 attendees. Readercon (this weekend, and unlike JumpCon, still happening) I don’t have membership numbers for, but it doesn’t seem to have fallen on hard times. I don’t know about Vericon’s numbers, but it’s arguable that they had the “biggest name” Guest of Honor of the four this year despite being a student-run convention!

    (Arisia: Laura Anne Gilman; Boskone: David Weber; Readercon: Jonathan Lethem and James Patrick Kelly; Vericon: Orson Scott Card.)

  21. July 18, 2008 at 12:18 am

    As has been pointed out, both JumpCon and FedCon USA were for-profit cons being run by people with little to no convention running experience. A lot of us saw a disaster in the making with JumpCon based on their weekly schedule for the next YEAR when they first posted it. The ala-carte method of media con costs were really getting out of hand with their planned event. What it really ends up hurting is the fans who made committments to attend, the guests who passed on other opportunities to take their offer, and other events who might have had those guests scheduled but they weren’t available.

    Creation has scaled back a lot of their general shows in a lot of cities. Their last full show here in Phoenix was in 2001 (albeit in October, so being not more than a month after 9/11 didn’t help, either). Some fan-run media conventions are doing better, Gallifrey One had their biggest year last year and will probably be even bigger next year. Local fan-run cons depend on putting on a good show for their local fans and as long as they do a good job and provide a good experience, most fans will come back. Having good or well-known guests is a big plus, too.

    My experience with actor guests has been mixed and in pretty much every case we’ve not drawn enough additional people to fully justify the extra expense for an actor guest. Admittedly, none of them were the top draw from their shows, but convincing any con banker to commit a sum equal or more than what the con’s usual budget is for a actor is not something that can be done. I’ve found that behind the scenes people can be more satisfying guests than the actors (include Mojo himself!), and they aren’t near as costly as an actor.

    The key thing, especially with a new convention, is to make sure you don’t commit to more than you have to spend and really make sure that you don’t have a hotel contract that will bite you in the ass. I can only imagine how much money JumpCon is going to owe the hotels for their cancellations. Before I went ahead with the North American Discworld Convention I’m chairing next year, I made sure we had a decent hotel contract we could live with, budgeted for a conservative number of attendees (we’d love to have 800-900 people, but we’re budgeting for 500), and haven’t over committed ourselves on guest expenses.

  22. 22 Muneraven
    July 18, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    I find this very interesting because more than one person I know this year sat back and began to ask her/himself hard questions about SFF cons. Questions like: Why do I go? What do I expect to get out of this? Is this worth the time and money? Isn’t this con thing getting repetative? Questions like that. I think that may bode ill for con attendance, frankly. I think something is changing. . .several things mebbe. Not sure what. Thanks for the thought provoking post, though.

  23. 23 Boris
    July 19, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Of course, I wouldn’t have argued Brandon’s technical accuracy had the writers not made him sufficiently accurate to make it worth my while, and in order to achieve that, they had to become moderate fans themselves, thus following in the footsteps of Bill George supervising visual effects for a movie satirizing the work of Bill George.

    How about this: propose to Gary Hutzel or another potential victim of David Eick’s video blogs not to play along, but in such a way as to parody his own parody of himself (or herself). Maybe the result will actually be funny.

  24. 24 adallahq
    July 19, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I think you have a good point there Mojo. That the internet is destroying the face to face interaction between human beings in our society. SciFi conventions are not the only thing being affected. Practically every aspect of society is deteriorating or improving as a result of the internet. I mean, I dont think it has been given a name yet, but as sure as we had a Stone Age, a Bronze Age, an Industrial Age etc etc…we for sure have entered the “Internet Age” of mankind. It has transformed every aspect of human society, from communications, to the economy. I indeed have heard “Information Age” describing our current times, but Internet Age would describe them very well also.

    While I cannot think of a world without the internet now, there simply are too many good things it has brought us, the negative impact on our society is also very evident. The biggest of these is the fact that more and more people spend time in front of a machine rather than in front of a human being. From online dating, to online banking, online shopping, online socializing, online working, online news, online reading…more and more things are being done “online” than “off-line”. With the iPhone just being launched in Europe and 6 million copies sold out the first day, that is another very strong indication of the new direction society is taking. The iPhone has literally allowed mankind to be one step closer to the Star Trek Tricorder. The iPhone has combined today’s most popular “necessities” such as the celluar phone, the internet, and some such “phones” these days even have Global Positioning so we dont get lost on our way to a new Wal-Mart.

    Soon we’ll have Apple rolling out their newest product. the iBrain. A little chip you’ll implant under your skin somewhere that will connect to the internet and everything else in this world to your brain directly, without the need to use your hands or eyes or ears anymore.

    Soon my friends, we’ll have live “feeds”, much like RSS Feeds, from SciFi Conventions that send signals to our brains through the iBrain, making the actual of going to such events as real as receiving the signals into our brains through the iBrain.

    Maybe when they’ll come up with 800 mph magnetic speed trains linking all the Cities and Mach 3 small airport-to-small-airport jets and reduced travel fares…perhaps then people will really have fewer excuses to attend a Convention.

    For now…with the oil barrel heading to $200 dollars…and the internet getting chaper…well, YouTube and Blogs it is eh?

    Adalla

  25. 25 kraig
    July 22, 2008 at 11:39 am

    You should have seen videogame’s E3 this year. If that were used to answer your question, the answer would be: Yes, conventions are done.

  26. July 23, 2008 at 9:01 am

    One factor that hasn’t been mentioned which I believe is another reason for this decline is the media stars that are often used to headline these events. If you look at these two conventions that fell apart this summer, you’ll notice that for some of the genres like Star Trek, the guests being used are ones who convention-goers have probably seen a few times already at previous conventions. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were still working on the show that they are there representing. One thing we have to remember is that when stars from the modern Trek shows attended these conventions, they were able to talk about what fans had just seen on TV or in the movies and possibly even hint at what’s to come.

    Now, with no new material to talk about, these actors are left repeating the same stories that they said previously. Sure, not everyone has heard them, but by now enough people have that they want to hear something new from them. And let’s face it – people aren’t going to these conventions to see the actor; they’re going to see the actor who played this character on one of their favourite shows. So, hearing about their latest role off-broadway and such is unfortunately not likely to fit the bill.

    So while I agree that the internet is having a significant impact on the relevance of conventions to fandom, I think that the inability in some genres to present new and fresh content is also another reason why convention attendance may appear to be waning.

  27. July 23, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    A bit late, but I just ran across this story of a small con in Wisconsin (must. resist. pun.) that made me smile:

    http://www.wiscnews.com/spe/news/297479

  28. 28 Helge
    August 2, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I think SF conventions have always been in trouble.

    I’m associated with three, in a state that’s got a modest population. Our conventions are midsized, between 300 and 600 members in recent years, with attendance from about 500 mile radius. (Guests may be from farther away, of course.) What we’ve had to do is adjust our expectations as everything has gotten more expensive, and local fans are also more price conscious.

    We’ve even hosted a World Costume Con and a World Horror Con in this state. So we know what we can do, and what it takes.

    I see a lot of reasons for conventions to fail, and none of them are new.

    * con-running is demanding, and when key people burn out a con often fails.
    * economic ups and downs have always blindsided convention planners.
    * sometimes one or two idiots can ruin it for the rest of us. I could tell you stories…
    * graying fandom often doesn’t look for young blood, for whatever reason. If your con-runners are all over forty, you may be in trouble.

    As for the semi-pro and pro cons, I couldn’t speak to those. A couple of them have blown through town in recent memory, with nothing to offer that interested me. (Who needs a signed photo?) They haven’t been back, so I guess we didn’t make them happy.

  29. November 18, 2008 at 1:01 am

    In the 70’s before VHS, the only way you got to see classic sci-fi movies was to go to the conventions. And signed autographs were free then. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were always talking about (well, mostly Jack Kirby was) Comic Con one day being huge with movie versions of their Marvel Characters. This was before personal computers.

    Then the porn took over. The pogs took over. The magic cards took over. Then the new 90210 series took over, etc. And no, I don’t go anymore.

  30. December 16, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for the mention about United Fan Con in a previous post. We did indeed host a small gathering of fans who were stuck without a convention in July, for three days. We footed the bill for food and beverage (the hotel was very kind in allowing a corkage waiver)and 1/2 the hotel cost. Another fan-run convention Arisia, came through with grant money to cover the other 1/2 of the hotel cost. This was a pure case of fans helping fans, and media vs. literary be da*ned. That said, we did try to interest some in attending ReaderCon, running the same weekend, but fans of media often are not readers.

    We moved our convention from Springfield, Massachusetts, into the Boston market this year (Cambridge) because we were indeed burning out our convention runners. We didn’t have support in a substantial way to stay in Springfield, except from the attendees. Our volunteer staff all lives in and around Boston. We also took on a new tactic and renamed the convention, the New England Fan Experience.

    New problem, vendors… We got twice the usual number of attendees, exactly as we predicted, who spent 1/2 the usual money… the vendors are/were livid. That’s what’s going to be hard to overcome next year, the vendor community expects to make the kind of money they make at the Anime Boston sized conventions (14,000 this year) and doesn’t appreciate the smaller conventions… even though their table costs are 1/4 that of AB.

    We had hours and hours of top programming, with authors, artists and scientists complimenting many of our media genre guests. From Anime to Twilight, from Star Trek to Stargate, from Heroes to Lost in Space to real astronauts. We had not only the actors, but fulfilled our educational aspect with panels hosted by authors, scientists, conception artists, fan-film directors and actors. We had the whole gamut. And in the end we even have the attention of the mayor of Boston’s office. We hope this bodes well for our future, and we keep on keeping on.

    Boston has a lot of great fandoms, fantastic convention runners, and long running small conventions like Boskone in it’s 46th year, Arisa in it’s 18th year, United Fan Con/New England Fan Experience 18 years, and the pletora of little gaming conventions and small reader conventions, making this a great place to be a fan. But big sharks do come our way, Anime Boston is just the most recent of them. We’ve heard tell that some larger convention running companies have their sights set on a Boston move. I personally woudn’t advise it because New England isn’t very hospitable to egasized cons… Creation, Wizard World, and even the Fan Expo have come and gone from here.

    Anyway, thanks Mojo for letting me have some input on a subject near and dear to my heart. OH, I should say that if anyone wants to lower their taxes and let their fannish heart feel good this holiday season, give a tax deductable donation of cash to your local 501c3 educational fan convention.


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