The Corporate Con Crisis: Does Fandom Really Belong to the Fans Anymore?

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Title: The Corporate Con Crisis: Does Fandom Really Belong to the Fans Anymore?
Creator: Julie Evans and Kimber Norquest
Date(s): 1993
Medium: print
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The Corporate Con Crisis: Does Fandom Really Belong to the Fans Anymore? is a 1993 essay by Julie Evans and Kimber Norquest.

It was printed in the zine My Name Ain’t Mary Sue! #1.

The subject was Creation Cons and similar large, for-profit business disappointments.

From the Essay

This is it! The weekend you've been anticipating for months now. You've pinched pennies, recycled bottles and cans, donated blood, maybe even taken out a loan. It's—CONVENTION WEEKEND! You're positive this is going to be the greatest weekend of all time. Your favorite actors and writers are going to be there. And all the ads have promised that you'll have the chance to talk with them and get their autographs.

By Sunday afternoon, you are bitter and disillusioned to the point of considering never attending a con again. Some of the stars mysteriously weren't there and the ones who were apologized profusely, but still refused to sign autographs. Organization was practically non-existent, as scheduled events were continually cancelled or, changed around at the last minute.

Has this ever happened to you? If you're like most fans, it's probably happened more than once. It certainly has happened to your editors, and now the zine with something to say to fandom has something to say about what's happening to conventions. IT SUCKS!

Recently, we attended one of the most publicized conventions in the mid-Atlantic region. While sitting right in the middle of the above-described disasters, we were, ironically enough, listening to one of the guests, Joan Winston, tell glorious tales of early Star Trek conventions. She described a con that cost a grand total of two dollars for the entire weekend, which hosted guests such as Gene Roddenberry, Shatner, Nimoy—you get the idea. At the con, the guests mingled freely among the attending fans, signed autographs, and a good time was had by all.

Sadly enough, all of this sounded like a fairy tale to us, a couple of next-generation fans who've only begun attending cons in the past five years. It was enough to cause us to really begin to think about the kind of cons we're being offered today.

Let's begin by looking at the amount of money required to attend a con. Weekend passes for your average con start around $40.00. If you're traveling any distance to attend the con, which we usually have to do, you'll have to pay for a hotel room, the cheapest of which begin around $80.00 (and there ain't no mints on the pillow!). And of course, driving to these events requires gas, which will vary depending on how far you're going and how good your car is. And don't forget you need to eat — that's another $30.00-40.00 for an entire two or three days.

All that rounds up to at least $160.00, and you haven't even hit the dealer room yet! And we're not saying that all of this might not be worth it if the convention delivered everything it promised. Too often, guests are late or don't show at all, and it's becoming the norm for major guests not to sign autographs at larger cons.

Now if you're a fan-con organizer about to blow you're top don't. This isn't directed at you. We fully realize that fans still get together and arrange fabulous conventions with what they have to work with, and we have the utmost respect for you folks. You are the ones keeping fandom alive for the fans, and we thank you! However, we also realize that fan-cons are not usually as widely publicized or as accessible to the average fan. They're usually regionally-based, and few folks outside the immediate area ever even hear about them. Also, they're faced with the dilemma of not being able to attract the more major guests, thanks to our buddies at the corporate cons (i.e., can you say Creation wanna-bees?) to whom this diatribe is really directed.

The point is yes, we know something needs to be done. But what can we do? It seems that fandom has been taken out of our hands by people who propose to make this their "business," and devote their time to organizing cons that will save them the most money, while taking the most they can from you and me. Do we really want this to become the norm?

Fan Comments

I did read the diatribe, as it was called, on corporate conventions, and as treasurer of a fan-run convention, I agree and you can quote me! In fact, Jacksonvile (our near neighbor to the northeast) is getting its first Creation Con this weekend (March 7–8, 1993), that bunch's first foray into strongly fan-run Florida. They picked the wrong city for that! Jacksonville has probably the lowest median income level of Florida's major cities! Fen here can't afford their prices!

1 can't believe that charging out the ying-yang, tacking on another fee for "preferred seating," herding everyone into one large room where al the activities take place, CHARGING for the privilege of getting an autograph, having the same damn thing on both days, and being open from only 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. is called a convention! No panels? No banquet? No filksinging? No masquerade? No all-night fizzbin games in the lobby? What is this!

You're right in that fan-run conventions can't afford BIG NAME guests. The con I deal the money for is CrackerCon, a general interest s-f, media, fantasy, horror, and anything else we deem interesting convention. We have a "green" track of programming (ecology based) and do other off-the-wall stuff just because we think it'd be fun. Our guests last year were Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. They're big enough names, and were WONDERFUL guests. This year, we're having Florida-resident s-f author and editor Ben Bova and s-f artist Jeff Adams. Will we ever have a big media personality? No, simply because we can't afford them.

CrackerCon is produced by CrackerCon, Inc., a Florida corporation operated as a not-for-profit organization. Nobody gets paid for their work. Not the corporate officers, not the con staff, not nobody, not nohow! We don't even get gas money, and we all have to pay to get in just like any other attendee. We do this because we love it and because we're crackers to even think of doing it (part of the origin of the name CrackerCon). All the money we take in from dealer table rentals, banquet tickets, art show commission, and admissions goes to the convention. ALL of it. Period. We don't have big corporate backing, though some local businessmen, notably Doug Tappin of Tappin Bookmine, do help us out. So far as bucks are concerned, we can't hope to compete with the big corporate cons.

Nor do we want to try, because their style is cold-blooded, profit-oriented, and doesn't give a damn about what fandom is REALLY al about: people making connections with other people who share a common interest. They, as Al Gore said during the presidential campaign, just don't get it!

Why do they succeed? Because some fen don't know any better. This is the only thing they know with the designation 'con' attached to it. Fans need to be educated that there is more to fandom (I would like to use the term condom, but I think I had better not!) than this, and cheaper and more fun, too.[1]

References

  1. ^ Karen Rhodes in "My Name Ain't Mary Sue! #2