The Future of British Conventions
|Title:||The Future of British Conventions|
|Date(s):||January - October 1977|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: TOS|
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The letter addresses many things including costs, the importance of organization, the fear of fandom's fracture, the desire to emulate at least one tradition in science fiction fandom, and illustrates the growing pains of Star Trek fandom in the UK.
Text of the Letter
This letter, among other things, was one thing that led to the practice of Star Trek fans presenting and voting for the series of Star Trek cons that would continue for many, many years:
- There are certain topics that are never discussed in newsletters - presumably because of the risk of offending other fans. But the situation within fandom has now become so complex that I have decided to stick my neck out and air a few grievances.
- The basic gripe is the ad hoc way in which we Star Trek fans decide on the venue and the organising committee of what has become our annual convention. We are content to leave the whole thing to chance. I would argue that the con is vital to Trek fandom in that it gives us a chance to reaffirm annually our identity as Trek fans. It is far too important to leave to chance. There is nothing at present to stop dozens of independent groups going ahead and spending money on convention plans regardless of whether or not dates clash with each other or whether or not the market can stand it. So far we havo been lucky since very few people put themselves forward in any one year and the grapevine is very active.... It is only too easy to imagine a situation where several parties might go ahead with con plans -- each in complete ignorance of the fact that others have had the same idea.
- It seems to me that, as a fairly small fandom, we cannot really afford more than one major con a year. (I am not talking about inexpensive get-togethers but about the 2-3 day event in a good hotel.) Cons are expensive and most of us are suffering from the pay squeeze. Many loyal fans couldn't afford Liverpool this year in spite of the reasonable room prices. The situation shows little sign of improvement. The regular dealers reported that there was far less money spent in the dealer's room than there was last year -surely a sign that most of us (myself included!) have fallen on hard times. I certainly couldn't afford more than one Trek con a year. I feel that if groups go ahead planning cons on paper with no reference to what the rest of fandom may be doing the day is bound to come when we get two groups wanting to run a con in the same year (maybe oven at the same time!). I think that day will be a black one for fandom. Either they will both go ahead and stand the risk of an enormous financial loss (most cons in this country are geared for about 500 members - less than that and they could end up in debt, moreover, I can imagine a situation where, for financial reasons, half of fandom end up at one con and half at another. And we'd only get half the publicity and half the creative talent.)
- Alternatively, one of the parties could back down, probably after spending a fair amount of money on their con plans. All very upsetting and quite unnecessary. All that is needed is a method whereby groups who are prepared to put on a con are given the opportunity of explaining their plans in public, preferably at the previous year's con. Then fandom itself (that's you and me, folks!) would decide which con we prefer for that particular year. The would-be con committee could give us details of hotel and prices and would be available to answer questions and take suggestions from fans. If more than one group want to do a con in the same year they would each outline their plans to us. We would vote our united support to the best sounding proposition. Science Fiction fans have been doing this for years and, although we may not always agree with their traditions, they have been in the business far longer than we have and their system of 'bidding' for the following year's convention at Eastcrcon assures SF fandom of a regular Easter event at a venue and a hotel approved by a majority of their fandom.
- So I would like to ask whoever organises the the Star Trek con to leave a space on the programme to discuss the '79 con. Let us stop relying on chance and rumour and try to work out a logical way of getting the best convention possible every year. Let's ensure that it becomes a regular annual event for as long as Trek fandom exists. Every year we leave the con wondering whether or not there will be another....
- At this point you are probably all heaving a sigh of relief and hoping that I've finished. But the diatribe is not yet done... As the more discerning among you may have guessed, the above was sparked off by my concern about the success of next year's con. I have never written to a newsletter before since I have never before felt strongly enough about anything to want to air my views in public. But I do care about fandom and don't want to see our annual convention degenerate into an exclusive event for well-heeled fans. I'm sure the people who want to put on the con in Slough have the very best intentions. But from the flyer that was handed out at Terracon it seems obvious that there are problems they have not considered and that they lack experience in dealing with hotel managements... [other complaints about dates, logistics, and prices]...
- I would like to see a con committee that has some experience of the sort of hard bargaining required to prevent hotels becoming too greedy. (After all we are filling the whole place.) And a committee that recognises the economic facts of life. The average Trek fan has not got a bottomless purse. The reason why SF cons are cheaper than Trek cons is simply that their committee are more experienced. They too have to import the odd guest from America - although writers come cheaper than actors! And they usually make a profit whereas Trek cons usually make a loss. At least, let us look at the way SF cons function and see if we have anything to learn. I'm not trying to create dissention but would like to see this matter discussed openly. If you plan a con (or do a zine), you are setting yourself up to be criticised and, I think, must accept that fact - especially when large sums of money are involved. And just in case I'm accused of being merely a destructive critic, I know of someone with vast organising experience who would get us a better deal if his arm was twisted. His better half is a well known Trekfan and she's good at twisting arms! I just hope he gets to read this cri-de-coeur and comes up with an alternative to Slough. The thought of spending upwards of £65 on one long weekend fills me with horror.
- It would be interesting to know what other fans feel about this. I know it is considered indelicate and vulgar to discuss money in public but I feel the time has come when Trekfans are beginning to count the pennies and that it's time we started to demand the very best for our money. This is not America - we have a small but united fandom and I'd like us to stay that way. Inflated prices could keep many fans away from cons altogether and divide us into rich and poor. Lack of a central organisation could one day lead to small, poorly attended and financially unsuccessful cons. I'd like to see someone come up quickly with a better idea for next year's con - and I fervently hope it's someone who knows something about the financial side of con organisation!
By all means let's take a leaf from SF fandom - their organising abilities have evolved over a fair number of years so that now they produce highly successful and relatively smoothly run cons. If we are to continue to have STAR TREK cons, they must improve every year or else decline. Basically I'd like to see cons planned over a longer period of time and responsibility for producing them shared among many more people. Does anyone else also get the feeling that by going to a con you're paying your money and going to see what's happening thanks to a small group of people? I'm sure many of us would like to go to a con knowing that we'd helped, if only in a small way, to 'get the show on tho road.' 
I totally agree with Ann about organised conventions. However, there is one drawback I can think of, that is, with people voting, it might mean that the convention always would be held in the south or alternatively in the north. Would it not be better if we worked out some system in which, one year the convention would be held in the north of Britain, the following year in the centre while the year following that, in the south, then back to the north? 
Science Fiction conventions seem to be run primarily for adults, and from what I have seen of them, most of the money is made in bar takings. STAR TREK conventions are not run along adult lines (by adult I mean X-certificate), they are primarily family affairs, run for Trekkers of all ages. If I want to go to a SF con, them I will go to one, and if I want to go to a ST con, again I will go to it, but I would not mix the two! Tho atmospheres are too dissimilar. The idea of voting for a convention I also find stupid. As I understand it, the group that won the vote would be solely responsible for the convention, and all the organlslng. Fine. What happens if all these groups are doing, or who are other than Trek minded? Will we end up with conventions run, not for charity but for the money the organisers and dealers can fork in? Is this the sort of con we want? I don't think so.