figmo: (Lynn-Lady)
Every year it comes up: Why aren't we seeing more younger fen at Worldcon (or any of the many other regional general SF cons)?

I remember seeing panels titled "The Greying of Fandom" back when I first got into fandom. It seemed like practically all my friends were into fandom. Many of my co-workers were also fannish. As the years have gone by, the folks I befriended when I started attending cons have remained friends and have grown older with me. Some of them have died; others have GAFIAted. It seems like cons were bigger years ago; that's because they were. A typical Westercon used to attract anywhere from 1800 to 2300 people. Nowadays we're lucky if we go above 700 (this year's did). Worldcon attendance is also down.

What isn't clear, however, is whether we're attracting fewer younger folks, fewer folks in general, folks are losing interest, or we're alienating potential repeat members. I've seen evidence of all of these. The question is why are SF con membership counts dwindling? I'm going to throw out some hypotheses for debate based on my observations.
  1. We're attracting fewer younger folks.
    Part of this is due to changes in tastes amongst the younger generation. I look at my niece as the kind of typical fannish-oriented young adult we want to attract. She already attends media cons and anime cons. She likes to read, she likes to cosplay, she likes the Elizabethan era (she's working Pennsylvania Rennfaire this summer), she likes video games, and she likes SF TV shows and movies. What I don't know is what would get her to check out a general SF con. As far as I can tell, her local friends don't hit general SF cons, either. When she's done with Rennfaire, I intend to ask her what she and her friends look for in a con just as a random sampling.

  2. We're attracting fewer folks in general.
    There are multiple reasons for this:
    • The economy sucks. Many folks are either unemployed or underemployed. When it's a choice between paying rent or going to a con, rent generally wins.
    • School starts earlier. This is more true for Worldcon than other cons, but most fen value education more than con attendance. There are a few who can balance the two, but when going to a con means missing school, parents are less likely to come if they can't take their kids. If one parents goes, the other has to stay home.
    • Cons cost more than they used to. Facilities cost more. Hotels cost more. So does college tuition.
      Perhaps what we need is a Student/hardship membership rate that's half the regular rate. To be eligible, someone would have to present a valid student ID or some proof of lack of income at the time of purchase. So what if it's a student ID that's going to have expired by the time the con rolls around? Students have bigger college loans, too. If they can start attending when they're part of the working world, they're more likely to be hooked. Yes, there will probably be forgeries. So be it. The same folks that might forge a student ID are the ones who would forge a con ID badge, so at least we'd be getting some money from them.
    • Folks are getting ill and dying. Death happens. It sucks. I can think of many folks I used to see at cons in my age bracket who are either dead or not up to attending. There's not much we can do about this beyond encouraging our fellow fen to be more active and eat healthier. Even with a "perfect" lifestyle, some folks get sick and die. My father was the only one in our family who was always "normal" weight and who exercised regularly. When he was my age, he was dying from colon cancer.

  3. Folks are losing interest.
    To some extent, this is a normal part of human growth. Sometimes what interests us at one age no longer interests us at another age. I have friends who have mastered musical instruments and then put them down, never to touch them again. There are more than one areas of fandom, so it's not like you have to keep doing the same thing over and over. On the other hand, sometimes folks feel like outsiders because they haven't kept up with reading SF or watching SF TV or movies. We need to make sure that these folks know that they're still welcome. These are the ones we want to not lose. At the same time, we don't want to seem "evangelistic" when it comes to selling a con to someone, because that can be just as off-putting. Some folks don't go to some cons because the fannish activities they enjoy aren't encouraged. Someone who likes to filk isn't going to want to go to a con that doesn't have a place for filking, just as someone who likes to game won't want to go to a con that doesn't have gaming. If someone is looking for regency dancing and doesn't find it because it's not there, they might not bother coming back.

  4. We're alienating potential repeat members. We need to find ways to make new members feel like "one of the gang from the moment we see them, especially young adults. This year at the BayCon hiss-and-purr session we heard someone complaining about "young punks crashing our party." As the discussion went on, it turned out the "young punks" were legitimate, paying BayCon members, well-behaved, and just dressed in a way that somehow offended the person complaining. [livejournal.com profile] hazelchaz was sitting next to me and rephrased it to me. "He's complaining that some young, well-mannered, legitimate BayCon attendees dressed like punks were attending his party. If most of the folks are that way, no wonder young fen don't feel welcome!" He was right.
figmo: (Default)
The short version:

What if somebody threw a great convention and hardly anybody came?

The longer version:

Silicon was both fun and depressing. I heard that there were around 500-600 attendees, but until the evening, they seemed to get swallowed up by the Doubletree, which is no longer right-sized for this convention. The convention had negotiated a reduced parking fee of $8.00 which didn't include in and out privileges. That was IMHO $8.00/day too much to pay to park my car.

[Disclaimer: I missed Friday. I was busy running errands and was too tired when the day was over to party. Most of what I caught was Saturday with some Sunday.]

It could have been that the economy played a large part. Most of the folks I came across were either unemployed, underemployed, had received notice that there was a pending layoff where they were working, or had taken a pay cut in the last year. It seemed more like the publicity was lacking. The folks in charge know there were problems with the web site, but there are other ways to publicize a convention. Heck, I've been involved with local press in one way or another since the late 1980s, so I know how to publicize something and what gets an assignment editor's attention. The lack of people milling around when I arrived and the small-sized dealer's room and art show were kind of depressing. Still, when times suck, folks like me come to the convention to network and, most of all, to get our minds off our current situation. In this, the convention succeeded marvelously.

The panels and science exhibits were excellent. The guests were excellent, especially the toastmaster, [livejournal.com profile] kproche, who could liven up a funeral. Getting to bring Lady was a plus, and she enjoyed the con, too, save for her "costume" as the "Killer Rabbit" from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" as part of the "Knights of the Log Table" team. She smiled on stage as I got to announce, "The teeth are real," then as soon as she got off the stage, she shook her body and "removed" her costume. Folks got photos, and I hope they get posted.

Lady and I spent most of the night at KJEve's Karaoke party. We missed the San Jose Westercon party, which I heard later was the only one with anything approaching food (if you call crackers and dip "food"). Lady and I eventually nibbled on the crackers (which hurt a bit for me to do, but we were both famished), which had made their way to the winning Ultra Fanzine Lounge. Most of the parties had pretty good wine, however. We also spent time in the Internet Lounge, which was staffed by really sharp and helpful folks. I was trying to do some tricky and oddball things, and I wound up putting them through their paces.

The highlight of the convention for me was that karaoke party. At one point a guy dressed as Captain Kirk from the original "Star Trek" was singing Prince's "When Doves Cry" when a small group of large, burly Klingon guys walked in behind him from the terrace and started giving him strange looks. The whole room was doubling over laughing while the Captain Kirk guy was totally oblivious to what was going on until one of them wrapped his arm around him. The Captain Kirk guy didn't miss a beat and kept going to the point where he had four Klingons dancing behind him at the end of the song. Folks were snapping photos; I think someone even caught some of it on a portable video camera. If it shows up on the net I'll point to it.

My only significant complaints were the lack of a filk track and the menu at the hotel's coffeeshop, which has gone way downhill. The "baby menu" they served this weekend sucked because it was too limited and too pricey at once. There was only one item on the menu I could eat, and that was the Popcorn Shrimp appetizer for a whopping $12. The "entrees" on the menu were all burgers or sandwiches, both of which are painful for me to eat. If I could have parsed it, the "obvious" item to have ordered would have been the burger with bacon and cheese. I don't know whose idea the limited menu was, but folks, you need to serve real food. Caesar salad with dead animal in it for $14 does not constitute "real food." If it involves my having to chomp through a piece of thick or hard bread, it's not "real food." If it is hard to chew or mostly involves parsing with my mouth and not with utensils, it's not "real food."

I missed Sunday's programming because I had already planned to go elsewhere, but I'd heard the Match Game SF rocked. Later that day I went to BASFA's 1000th meeting, which was fun.

To the folks who run Silicon: You have a great convention. You make money for really good causes. Now we just need to get the rest of the planet in on it.
figmo: (Default)
Short version: It wasn't the Worst Baycon Ever, and it was far from the best. Sometimes it's the folks attending the con that make it, and this was one of those times.

The bulk of the problems that plagued this year's Baycon seemed attributable to screwups rather than to malice. Several notable people and things were absent (besides the Author GoHs and Fan GoH):The "A Shot in the Dark" panel was so missed several folks took it upon themselves to make it happen, despite the objections of the person in charge of Programming. First it was supposed to happen on the mezzanine at 5:30pm Sunday. When we gathered we were told to go to one of the programming rooms. We went there and were told, "You can't use this room. If you wanted this item on programming, you should have talked to [the gal in charge of programming who didn't want the panel to happen]." Brilliant. [livejournal.com profile] flamingchords and [livejournal.com profile] trogula then offered their hotel room, so around 20 or 30 of us shlepped up to room 718. Just as things were getting started, someone was sent up from Programming. "You can't hold an open party on a non-party floor. You'll have to close the door." We were glad that was all they made us do! Suffice it to say it was the Best Panel Ever and was well worth missing dinner (and I'm hypoglycemic!) and a place for most of us to sit.

The number one line in conversation seemed to be "What are you reading these days?" It's been years since I've heard that as a conversation-starter at a con, even though IMHO it ought to be. I had interesting conversations with lots of folks that way, including some I'd never met before at places like the hotel sushi bar (which appreciated our vigorous business) and random places waiting in line. The best scheduled panel, IMHO, was the one that involved making liquid nitrogen ice cream. If nothing else, I now know where I can get my grubby little hands on a dewar of liquid nitrogen.

It was great seeing lots of folks I haven't seen in months or years, as well as those I see regularly. I could fill a page just listing them and even then I'd probably miss a bunch of folks. It wasn't great having a sinus infection (the same one I've had more on than off since December) during the con, which is why I didn't try to get a concert this year or even filk, for that matter.

Update

Aug. 8th, 2008 11:57 am
figmo: (Default)
Tuesday night I had my first "solid" meal -- gnocchi in tomato sauce. It was ideal because I could use my tongue to flatten the little pasta pillows, then swallow them whole. I savored every one of them. Mmmmm....

Wednesday afternoon the stitches came out of my chin, although the doctor did put some kind of goo and tape on the suture because it still had scabbing. "Do not take this off," he warned, "and don't pick at it." If the tape falls off I'm to start applying Neosporin to the gash.

Yesterday morning I saw the dentist. He did some stuff to help correct my bite (which is still way off). He also took a full-mouth x-ray (my first since I was 19 and Dad's friend, the orthodontist, teased, "I think I can see some wisdom teeth buds in there!") He explained that the gash across my chin isn't just a gash -- it's where the fracture happened. He also advised me to take lots of Ibuprofen to cut down the swelling. The wires don't come off till Tuesday at the earliest.

My flight out of SJC was delayed several hours. I didn't get to the hotel till after midnight, and then there was confusion about finding the filking and my roommate (I eventually found both). Right now I'm in my hotel room working out subtle details for my concert. I need to go down to the hotel's Business Center and print stuff out. I also need to go through real registration and do my site voting while I still can (today's the last day).
figmo: (Default)
...and I came and went at Baycon. Given that the hotel was outgassing, I'm glad I not only commuted to the con but wound up sleeping through large parts of it. I missed some programming I really wanted to catch, but I figured the 17+ hours of sleep I got between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were much-needed. I'd have posted this sooner, but my Internet access has been sporadic due to flakiness on Comcast's part.

I ran into lots of friends. It'd been years since I'd seen [livejournal.com profile] cat_herder. She, [livejournal.com profile] howeird, and several other folks whose names I'm blanking on chatted for a while. Saturday night I had dinner with the Starship Ada folks and special guests Keith Henson and Arel Lucas, both of whom I also hadn't seen in years. Keith was in amazingly good spirits, especially after all he's been through.

The Monday afternoon surprise party for [livejournal.com profile] capplor and kids came off well. I was relieved when it was all over. While I'm perfectly capable of keeping a secret, trying to execute a "double-jeopardy" surprise has its ups and downs. On one hand, Fred expected there to be a party, so going around and conspiring looked perfectly natural to him. On the other hand, trying to keep him in the dark about what was really going on without making him panic was tricky.

I was also grateful to get lots of help with putting the party together. Folks came out of the woodwork. In addition to [livejournal.com profile] dimakoi, [livejournal.com profile] lisa_marli and her Harolds helped, as did Lucy Stern, the Saidaks, and other folks who I'm blanking on because I was busy trying to decorate the going-away cake. After the big SURPRISE I could finally relax.

The last couple of days I've had a sore throat and a minor headache. I feel physically like I spent ten minutes in the office of a certain previous employer....
figmo: (Default)
I saw boxes of this this in Walmart yesterday:

figmo: (Default)
...and short.

To quote [livejournal.com profile] bovil, "This was one of the best-run Westercons in years." I'm not just saying this because [livejournal.com profile] jbriggs is on my friends list, but because it was. I had a splendid time. if there were any nasty politics, I didn't feel them. That, to me, is a sign of a well-run convention.

People all around me seemed to be having a good time. The folks having the least-good time were the poor souls in the con suite when dealing with folks who were under the misguided impression that the con suite was there to feed them full meals. I gave high marks to the suite. They had something for just about everyone. For me it was the variety of diet sodas available. Being able to hydrate myself with something flavored and non-caffeinated that wasn't lemon-lime was a godsend. Finding munchies like hummus and pita bread wedges, cheese, and fruit to hold me over between meals was also a godsend.

I love southern California and the fen who live there. Getting to catch up with all the wonderful folks who were at the con was a joy. I tried typing in all the names, but it'd take at least half an hour if I were to complete the list, and even then i'd probably inadvertently leave someone's name out.

The con was weird because I actually slept at least eight hours every night -- sometimes more. There was one day where I had to order in room service for breakfast because I could barely get out of bed and had a panel and concert to do.

Despite my perpetual fatigue I got in lots of walking, a trip to Tijuana, and even wrote a new song. If you're at Worldcon this year I'll make sure to do it in my concert set.

Anyhow, I'm overdue for sleep...as usual. Thank you again to everyone involved in putting on Conzilla.

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