Since it turns out that the Worldcon program book’s version of the long lists of Worldcons and NASFiCs was missing a crucial little piece of information in their column headings, namely that the second number they gave wasn’t the supporting membership counts, it was the sum of attending and supporting memberships. Which does mean that Sasquan had the highest-ever membership count. It also means that the numbers are even more dismal than I’d realized.
I’m not going through the post to correct the numbers, but I am posting a corrected version of the graph (with the years in their normal order, starting from 1997 on the left through to this year on the right).
Now that I’m starting to wake up from post-con exhaustion, I’ve started doing some digging into the numbers, and it’s eeeenterestink. Remember last week I said that Worldcon attendance was more or less stable between 4500 and 5000? Well, when I checked the attendance numbers from the program book, I got a Worldcon average attendance over the last 20 years of… 4584.
That’s not the scary part. The scary part is this: In that time frame, several cities have hosted twice. The only one to have a significant attendance increase was Melbourne, Australia (which increased from 1548 attending in 1999 to 2101 in 2010 – not that much in raw numbers but a 25% increase nonetheless). Chicago’s 2012 attendance (4743) is actually lower than their 2000 attendance (5794), and I’m pretty sure the city isn’t in collapse the way Detroit is. Yet.
Perhaps more interesting: the highest US Worldcon attendance is Baltimore in 1998, beaten only by the 2014 London Worldcon.
This is not a healthy pattern.
It didn’t get much better when I added the NASFiC attendances to the years where they were held, at least, as much as I could. The Collinsville, IL NASFiC in 2007 didn’t report any attendance numbers, but the highest reported attendance of the other NASFiCs is Seattle, WA in 2005, with 1785 attendees.
Several WorldCons and NASFiCs in the 20 years from 1997 to 2016 (inclusive, I can math) did not report supporting membership numbers, so I haven’t run the numbers on these – but there was a massive jump (from 6130 supporting memberships for San Antonio in 2013 to 10,718 supporting membership – an increase of around 60% – for London in 2014). I’m sure some will claim it’s purely coincidence that this was the year of Sad Puppies 2 complete with the first campaign to encourage people to buy memberships, read the works, nominate, and vote.
In terms of membership, London was the largest WorldCon ever, with a grand total of more than 17,000 memberships to the 16,500-ish of Spokane the following year. By comparison, this year looks positively anemic with an attending membership count that doesn’t even make the top 50% of Worldcons. Supporting membership is higher, but not enough for the top 75% of total attendance reported.
This is not a picture of health. I know that the structure of Worldcon and NASFiC, with the rolling location and ever-changing management committees makes it harder to build membership, but compared to the population of the cities where the con is held, membership is declining. I would guarantee that the population of the greater Chicago region did not decrease by 15% from 2000 to 2012. And San Antonio’s population certainly increased by more than a measly 5% – and that assumes the number of fans in an area remains constant, which, frankly hasn’t been true since Star Wars was a smash hit.
And speaking of Star Wars, the con made an effort to celebrate 40 years of Star Wars with some special programming but managed to utterly fail to make this a big audience draw. I wouldn’t have known it was happening if I hadn’t read about it (after the fact) in the program. Come on… Where was the 501st? The Alliance? The “Be a storm trooper/clone trooper/Jedi/whatever” advertising to attract kids? If nothing else it should have been in the attendance handouts – which, by the way, have also rather dramatically declined. There wasn’t even a plastic bag to put the assorted sheets of paper in this year – much less a pre-packed plastic bag with all the material as most smaller cons usually manage to do (and I’ve helped stuff when I’ve been at a con early and had time to kill).
There will be more on numbers and the trends they show, but I’ll leave you with a bar graph showing the numbers for WorldCon and NASFic as they stand. The year of the convention is from 2016 on the left through to 1997 on the right.