Worldcons and Hugos by the Numbers

UPDATE

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).

wcnasficattendingntotal

Part 1

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.

wcnasficattendingplussupp

Worldcon and NASFiC Supporting and Attending Memberships 2016 (left) to 1997

141 Comments

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141 responses to “Worldcons and Hugos by the Numbers

  1. snelson134

    I know part of that Chicago decline was my wife — whom I MET at the 2000 Chicago Worldcon — and myself. Worldcon isn’t really on our radar any more — why would we want to go somewhere run and populated by people who will at best snub and insult us for our beliefs and at worst try to get us thrown out of the con and / or hotel? Not worth it.

    • I was at the Chicago 2000 one also. Fun but hard to move, could’ve been set up better.

      Went to weird panel on musicals that assumed everyone went to current Broadway shows. Dude. It was a con in Chicago. And a worldcon, so why not some worldwide perspective?

  2. The 501st had a presence at the Kansas City Comic Con the weekend before this Worldcon. I’m willing to bet they didn’t want / could not manage to do this after that.

  3. Martin L. Shoemaker

    I, I, I just think that the.. uh.. their appeal is becoming more selective.

    As for Star Wars, there was significant behind-the-scenes drama there that one hopes didn’t destroy the experience for any Star Wars fans. A major collector pulled out at the last minute because he and the ConCom had significant policy differences. There would’ve been a much larger presence there had this not happened. And I have reason to believe the ConCom saw this coming and so downplayed Star Wars so as to minimize the damage.

    • Martin, What were the policy decisions?

      • The collector wanted to ask for donations to support his efforts. I can see his point, in that he was presenting the collection as a history exhibit, and he apparently has some pretty historical pieces. It’s not that far removed from a museum asking for donations to defray expenses. But the ConCom believed that that violated the spirit of WorldCon, and they did not cooperate. When a compromise could not be reached, he withdrew his collection, which was going to be the centerpiece of their Star Wars celebration. This all went down in the final week before the con, so there was no time to fill that hole.

  4. Wes S.

    Yes, the increase in supporting and attending memberships coinciding with SP2, and the ensuing decline the next couple of years after the social-justice wankers totally lost their crap over the Puppies, is telling, isn’t it?

    As far as I’m concerned, the Hugos died in 2015 when the Angry Left turned it into a Wellstone funeral, complete with wooden assholes presented by flesh-and-blood assholes on stage. It may take a while for the corpse to lie down, but the Hugos are done. And good riddance.

    • Aimee Morgan

      You can definitely see the drop off after the Wooden Asshole stunt.

    • Um, beg pardon, but ‘wooden asshole stunt’? What was that?

      • They gave out laser-cut asterisks to the Hugo nominees, and made them available to other folk for a donation. The heavy implication was the same use of an asterisk for sports records.

      • snelson134

        The asterisk features prominently as a stand in for asshole in text speak and emojis.

        • Ah, thanks for the explanation.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Yes, that travesty of a ceremony was the breaking point for a lot of people.

            • And that is a sad thing.

              A lot of people have (had) a *history* at Worldcon. I didn’t get this until I talked to some of the fen at a convention not too long ago… It was tradition for some of us, the sci-fi fans of generations before folks my age. Traditions can be hard things to break.

              They’re where you go to meet friends you might see only once a year. Some of them have pretty darn similar interests. You talk to these people. Might find a gal who likes exploding spaceships. Relationships get started like that.

              The whole “wooden butthole” thing understates this. When the Puppies were shown to have come up short, when No Award took so many categories, people *cheered.* They had their little victory dance right there in front of everyone. The sort of prancing nonsense one does only with one’s closest friends, usually in front of the teevee when Our Team just kicked the crap out of Those Losers the next town over was brought out in public view.

              And in the face of some very good people that did not deserve any of that crap. Toni has been a consummate professional through the whole thing, hasn’t taken sides even when I’m sure she’d like to take *both* sides and give ’em a good shaking! She didn’t deserve that, and neither did any of the others. It was disrespectful and indecent- and *highly* unprofessional.

              It’s gone far afield from what I rather expected to begin with. I rather expected folks with a more conservative/libertarian/nonconformist bent to be subjected to PFM’s. I didn’t expect that to spill over onto nigh *everyone* not on the same spectrum of ideological purity.

              I’d wager a bloody good *lot* of nerdy, geeky, sci-fi and fantasy reading fans fall into that “neutral” category. The ones that grew up with Anne McCaffrey and still have cartoony looking dragons on their refrigerator at home, the ones that can recite the whole “Trouble with Tribbles” timeline and have three broken-spined copies of “On Basilisk Station,” the ones that never go anywhere without their lucky telescope and get text alerts from NASA and SpaceX but can’t get enough of that “out there” stuff (even if it’s just fiction… so far)- the politically aware and interested are going to be the minority.

              The Con is *supposed* to be about Cool Things. The stuff that makes our geeky hearts sing, new books, good stories, and the smell of fresh pages. Maybe that last one’s just me. *grin* Worldcon staked it’s claim on a different territory. They seem to want gender awareness, class/race conflict (the boring kind, not the kind of cast-iron caste system in SotBS, or the war of the races in Tolkein), and a glue-pot full of -isms.

              If that’s what makes them happy, aighty then. But making Worldcon all about that took the con away from the folks whose Cool Things were focused on ‘splodey spaceships, byzantine alien intrigue, blow-the-blast-doors action, pithy plots, and fascinating questions that run from the hard science of how we’re going planet-hopping to what it means to be human when we’re no longer irrevocably tied to natural genetics and unaugmented consciousness. And it did it in such a way that made a lot of folks feel alienated.

              It’s sad because folks like us are used to feeling alienated. Lan parties are rarely as well attended as pep rallies (unless it was a really small school), and the astronomy club probably never had enough members to fill even the back bench on the football field. We’re a minority already. Turning Worldcon into an ever more exclusive club ain’t helping.

              What gives me hope is things like DragonCon, Gencon, and even little LibteryCon (small only by comparison, but with lots of heart). That’s where the future is now. Can Worldcon come back to earn a place in the hearts of the next generation? I dunno, but they could do worse than hitch their cart to a bigger draw like DragonCon or one of the big Comicons… and ditch the ideological purity and go back to “awesome stories! Check these out!”

              • Kate Paulk

                Dan, that’s it exactly. The sense of getting together to get your geek on is gone from WorldCon these days.

                • Ben Yalow

                  It isn’t for me. The Worldcon was still full of those magic moments, despite being an enormous amount of work.

                  But watching a real astronaut accepting the Campbell for Andy Weir bubbling about how he got the science right was magic. And looking at the original typewritten correspondence between the previous KC Worldcon (in 1976) and Heinlein (the GoH that year). And walking into the exhibit hall, and seeing Fred, our 25 foot high inflatable astronaut — knowing it was named Fred because the funds to get it were donated by a Texas club in memory of Fred Duarte, a friend of mine for decades, and Vice-chair of the first Texas Worldcon, who died much too young last year. And having a video of a panel from 1976, with Jon Singer showing how a mimeo works by kneeling on a table and having the other panelists crank his arm. And watching the Business Meeting tie itself up in knots, and going through a long parliamentary routine, so as to let Kate Paulk ask Dave McCarty (this year’s Hugo Administrator) to state his opinion on the wisdom of EPH at a time when that question wasn’t in order (and, as expected, he was able to answer that he was opposed). And seeing Robert Silverberg at the Hugo ceremony, realizing that he’s been to every one of them since the first one in Philadelphia in 1953. And — I could go on for a long time, but won’t.

                  And watching, and being part of, a team of volunteers from around the world get together to make it all happen. We agreed on some things, we disagreed on others — but it all happened, and lots of people went home with their magic moments. And that’s what’s important to me.

                  • The trend I am seeing, sir, and I wasn’t there so this is my gauge of the reactions to Worldcon rather than a substantive analysis of Worldcon itself (though there are a few implications in the reactions, I’ll get there.) Those who have been involved in the ‘inner circle,’ such as yourself, are pleased as punch and still getting their magic moments. The people who are new and the people who have been attending long term, but have not been as involved, are feeling cut off and ostracized. They are feeling like they have to shut up and put up if they want even a chance at the magic moment, and more often than not I’m hearing that they’re not getting it even a little bit.

                    Now for some of my background and some worrisome things. I help run an anime convention in the Midwest (3k the last couple of years, so an appreciable fraction of Worldcon’s size). Cons and anime are not things I particularly love (I got involved because three very good friends were desperate for help.) so I tend to be more dispassionate when it comes to analyzing our attendee reactions. My military background is in analysis so my natural mode is take in data, analyse, build a mental model of likely outcomes. When it comes to the Hugos and Worldcon that has been unfocused analysis; however, the trend I am seeing is not a healthy one. If I were hearing from the attendees at my convention what I am hearing about Worldcon I would be very concerned. I would be addressing issues with my director and up the chain. Especially hearing some of our long term attendees were walking away because of how they were being treated.

                    • Ben Yalow

                      I’ll certainly admit to having been attending these for a long time, and some of my magic moments come from seeing people again who I rarely see, except at few places, since they’re from far from where I live.

                      But I also spent a lot of time with the Dublin bid committee (full disclosure — I’m helping that bid, so clearly I’m very much in favor of it). And many of them are half my age, and some have been to a tenth the number of Worldcons that I have. And they’re all finding their magic moments, or they wouldn’t be volunteering to put themselves through the huge amount of work it’ll take to put it on. People like them are the future of the Worldcon; I’m just a bridge between the Worldcon’s past and their future.

                      The trend of attendance is that, about a quarter century ago, the Worldcon hit its current size — about 4000-6000 or so attendees — and it’s stayed about that size since then. There’s been a lot of variability on size from year to year — but it’s generally stayed in that range for most of that period. So the long-term future new people seem to be coming in at about the rate that the past regular membership has been leaving, with a large swing for how many of the locals decide to come, as well. But we’re getting enough new people coming, deciding it’s magic for their own reasons, and staying, so that the size hasn’t changed much.

                      And if it can make 4000+ people find magic for a weekend — that’s something I’m looking forward to seeing, and help make happen.

                    • Then I wish you good luck. You have confirmed my impressions and I suspect you’ll need all the luck you can get.

                    • jmellby

                      My wife and I don’t get to travel to a lot of conventions outside TX or OK, and MidAmericon II was only our second Worldcon. But we found it unequivocally full of wonder. Everyone we talked to (EVERYONE) was happy and eager to talk to us.
                      The joy of seeing two astronauts accept Hugos for the Martian made everyone in the Con Suite area cheer.Obviously there is still ill will towards the Rabids but this was otherwise the most happy and positive gathering I have seen in a very long time.

                    • Kate Paulk

                      That’s great! I’m glad that WorldCon does do that for someone, even if I don’t get that feeling from WorldCons any more.

                    • Hmmm…

                      I was at Balticon in ’98, my last WorldCon before GAFIATing. Compared to it Sasquan was small, dinky, tarnished and sad. And this despite the influx of “puppy” cash the organisers were so thrilled about (Because they said so. To me.) The art show went from world class to tricky-tacky.

                      I don’t say WorldCon is past saving, but until their motto changes: “Fandom is for Everyone (Except you. You stink.)” It’ll be a long shot.

                      https://tempestinateardrop.com/2015/08/26/sunday-t-shirt-shopping/

                  • Cat

                    Watching Stan Love accept for Andy Weir and stand straight and proud in his NASA uniform and *rock* that Campbell tiara was one of many highlights of that Hugo night. Watching Jeanette Epps accept the BDP Long Hugo in her NASA uniform, likewise. Worldcon has real astronauts. And Hao Jingfang was so cute accepting her Hugo for Folding Beijing.
                    Magic moments from that night.
                    Sitting by the “river” and talking with other con-goers, and reading the in-jokes written on post-its at the Mercy of Kalr park (and leaving one of my own)–another cool thing. Being introduced to Pokemon Go by a young friend, and discovering Kansas City is simply swarming with invisible monsters–another cool thing. Meeting gryphons and owl-women on the concourse–another cool thing. Discovering that Roberts Rules of Order is actually a technology for making large meetings move quickly and learning the first scraps of how that technology works–another cool thing. Watching two different new filkers give their first concerts–one with ASL interpretation for a Deaf fan (and getting to try out my rusty ASL with said fan afterwards)–Yet Another Cool Thing.
                    I am so glad I went. I am only sorry I can’t afford to go every year. Thank you, Ben, and I thank the other volunteers as well; you all put on a party that made me very happy.

              • Chris Nelson

                Worldcon has been dead for years. (You take the wallet, I take the phaser…)

                I stopped going around when Moorcock threw a hissy fit about John Norman back in the day. (Not that I care for Norman’s works, but this was a sign of the upcoming PC/SJW future.)

                As for cool geeky things being destroyed/converged by SJW, it’s happened in gaming and some of the programming communities. I’ve stop attending the more popular Python user groups and events due to the drama and “Grrrl Power” segregationists. Ironically some of my peers and I have fled to the more complex fields of programming, math and technical endeavor which increases the barrier of entry to chaotic influence of casual agitators. Hard work seems to deter most of the Evil Mundane.

  5. Likewise, C4c.
    I live in San Antonio, and could have gone to Worldcon but for lack of interest and the entry fee.

    • I kinda hope nobody minds my asking but, are convention attendance tickets usually so expensive? Worldcon’s struck me as being very high.

      • Comic Con Hamilton,$20- $30, Fan Expo Toronto, $45-$60 CDN, depending what day. DragonCon 2017, $80US.

        Sasquan was what, $200US? $40US just to vote in the Hugos.

        I bought lots of nice art at ComicCon, an excellent gumiho and one of RWBY with her scythe now hang over Command Central at Chez Phantom.

        Net result of my participation in WorldCon has been a lot of screaming for two years, and they changed the rules to disenfranchise my vote. Definitely money well spent.

      • Anime convention I volunteer at in the state of Oklahoma is around $65 for the three day pass. (Or was last year.) So yeah, Worldcon is VERY pricey.

      • The Other Sean

        Worldcon is high. Most US conventions run in the $40-$70 range for a 2-4 day convention.

      • The entire cost of WorldCon is bourne by the attendees. A lot of the other conventions have some form of sponsorship (whether corporate or media.) So the price is actually related directly to the costs involved.

        It’s one reason why it is hard to get a youth presence. That is a hefty chunk of change for a teenager or even a young adult in their first post-college job.

        • Plus they’d be alone in a sea of ancient hippies…

        • Slither

          But costs aren’t shared among the attendees: Worldcon gets a ton of money from selling Hugo votes (“supporting memberships”). With the advent of the Sad Puppies, that was an enormous pile of dollars. Where did it all go?

          • New scooters for the directors, no doubt.

          • Ben Yalow

            Supporting memberships are a tiny amount of money, in general, compared to the total cost of Worldcon budget (Sasquan was an exception, but it got more supporting memberships than all the other Worldcons in the decade combined).

            But, if we look at even the smallest of the recent Worldcons in terms of attending memberships (LSC3, 2013), which also was part of the growing period of supporting memberships (due to the Hugo packet), we had just over 3000 full attending memberships, and 1400 supporting memberships. At $50 each (which was the final cost of a supporting that year) that’s about $70,000 in income. Which, out of a total budget of $925,000, represents about 7.5% of the total convention budget. For Chicon 7, a year earlier, it was roughly 1100 supportings at $40 each, so under $50,000 out of a total budget of just over a million — so we’re looking at less than 5% (the big difference was that Chicon had a lot more attending members than LSC3).

            Yes — for Sasquan it was a big number. But that’s one that’s never been seen before or since. Supportings are typically well under 10% of the total budget.

            • I have a suspicion that SasQuan’s high water mark was caused by Astroturfing by the Puppy Kickers to ensure they had enough NoAward votes to kick the puppies.

            • Slither

              If supporting memberships are an insignificant revenue stream, though, why do they do them? Just let only attendees of the past, current or next Worldcon vote. Selling Hugo-votes lets certain publishers rig the awards, cheapens the system, and lets things they hate like the Puppy campaigns happen. Why go through this if they don’t need the cash? Is enabling publisher-rigging so important to them?

              • Ben Yalow

                Worldcons have had supporting memberships since long before there were any issues about Hugos. They let people who couldn’t get to the Worldcon, but who wanted to show their support for it, buy a membership to help support the Worldcon financially. It let people who couldn’t afford to go to every Worldcon still continue to show their support.

                The used to be a much higher fraction of the cost of an attending membership — running around half the cost instead of a fifth. But, as the price of an attending membership kept climbing, the Business Meeting thought it unreasonable to make supportings get that high, so the multiplier in the Constitution for the upgrade price slowly changed from 1 to the current 4 — so that a supporting membership no longer is half the price of an attending one, which would make it too expensive for most people.

                I’m not claiming they’re an insignificant revenue stream in terms of what Worldcons can do for their members — for a business with mostly fixed costs, then small amounts of revenue can be used to add the little things that make the convention more interesting. But almost all of a Worldcon’s revenue comes from the attending members.

          • I went to Sasquan, and a nice chunk of change went to the convention suite. It was even acknowledged by the guy running it; when I was there, partaking of Real Food, somebody asked him why the food was so much better than a typical con. He replied, “Honestly? Thank Vox Day.” (Tone of voice was factual, as in, “to hell with the controversy, but the controversy did really nice things for our income stream.”)

      • Ben Yalow

        Worldcon memberships are generally far more expensive than other conventions, because the cost of the convention center has to be amortized among all of the memberships.

        A convention like Dragoncon can (a) amortize it among a lot more people, and (b) give their facilities lots of money by letting them charge much higher rates for hotel rooms than Worldcons do, and then use lots of free space in the hotels.

        For example, the KC Marriott this year for the Worldcon had a room rate of $129/night. The comparable Marriott in Atlanta (and Marriott clasifies them both as category 5 hotels, so they’re pretty comparable) had a rate $100/night more for Dragoncon.

        • Thank you for the answer. So what happens if Worldcon can’t get enough people to pay? Some of the stats that Kate cited were rather low in numbers.

          • snowcrash

            Scarily, it looks like the relevant ConCom is liable for the loss as such. Only article I could easily Google was this, which talks about the substantial loss that Nippon 2007 ran, and how some of the other cons contributed their surplus to drive it down.

            In Nippon’s case, it looks like the debt belongs to the convention chair!

            If this is indeed the case, it may go some way towards explaining the price point that Worldcon is at – none of the bidders are willing to take the gamble that lowering cost will bring a greater (or even just equivalent) increase in membership

            • Hmmm. Hai, honto ni kowaii desu ne…*

              Thanks for answering; I asked the question because I don’t have convention experience outside of the Philippines, and Worldcon 2015 was the only time I’d participated in a con since moving to Australia; so I was curious if the cost was typical. After all, I have no properly equivalent experience to compare.

              From the answers, this is reassuringly, not a typical convention cost.

              *Yes, it really is scary —- (to gamble with the price of membership.)

            • Ben Yalow

              We’ve had two Worldcons with major deficits after the end of the convention — Japan in 2007, and Baltimore in 1983. Although the convention corporations running each of them did have the bankruptcy option, in both cases there were major fannish collections taken to support the conventions, and gather funds to pay off the debts. And part of the money was voluntarily donated by the convention committee members out of their personal funds (although they were under no legal obligation to do so — as corporations, the personal funds of the corporation members, directors, and officers were not under legal risk).

              It took years to get the donations to retire the debt (many years for Japan, and about a year for Baltimore), but, in the end, all the creditors were paid.

              But all of those donations were voluntary, and there was no guarantee that the money could be found. But fandom didn’t want to have a Worldcon go bankrupt, so the funds were donated.

              And, speaking as someone who has been involved with Worldcon budgets for many years, I agree completely that nobody wants to risk no being able to pay the bills. Even though each Worldcon is financially independent, and, as a corporation, there would be no personal legal liability, Worldcons try as hard as they can to break even, or show a small surplus. Losing money is really bad — but making lots of money is also bad, since there are very significant limits to the sorts of things you can spend a Worldcon’s surplus on (with, fortunately, passign it on to successor Worldcons is very permitted, which is the largest method of getting rid of funds), and you need to keep reporting on your finances, and what you’re spending money on, to the Business Meeting until you’ve spent all the money on legitimate things.

              Running a million dollar cashflow at breakeven is really hard.

        • snelson134

          Ben, I travel 200-250 nights a year. I’m a Marriott Platinum Lifetime member. Room rates in KC will ALWAYS be lower simply because more people travel to Atlanta and need hotel rooms on any given day. Atlanta hotels don’t have the ability to accommodate DragonCon without having to turn away their regular steady customers, so they will charge more.

          • Ben Yalow

            Condolences and congratulations on Lifetime Platinum. I’ve never had 200 nights/year in a hotel, and I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone spending that much time on the road. The Lifetime Platinums that I know among Worldcon attendees usually got that way by staying a lot fewer nights than that, but for a lot of years.

            So I went to Marriott’s web page just now, and tried to book a room for next weekend (in Fri, out Sun) at the Marriott advance purchase member rate (as a Lifetime Platinum, that’s likely to be about as good a rate as you can easily find). And the best rate at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis was $172, and the Kansas City Marriott Downtown was $170.

            So the Dragoncon rate was substantially higher than you’d pay for next weekend, and the Worldcon rate was substantially lower. And the rate you’d pay normally for next weekend was pretty comparable at the two properties.

            In case that was a one-time anomaly, I tried to go two months later — Nov 18-20. Atlanta was $155, and KC was $189.

            Feel free to try more dates — but those two hotels have rates that are generally in the same ballpark. Sometimes one is more expensive, sometimes it’s the other — it depends on what else is in town, I suspect, plus seasonal effects.

            But, for comparable hotels, Dragoncon room rates are $100/night higher than the Worldcons’.

            So there is certainly some cost shifting happening. And Worldcons try to work as hard as possible to get rates substantially cheaper than their hotel’s average rates, and the Dragoncon rates are typically not so.

            I’m not blaming Dragoncon for the high rates; I’m noting that it allows some cost shifting to take place. The Worldcon passes more of its costs directly to the members in the form of membership fees; Dragoncon is able to hold the rates down by using other sources of revenue.

            It’s also a supply-demand effect. The hotels know they’ll be sold out for Dragoncon. So they set the convention rates high, since they know they’ll still be able to fill the rooms at the higher rates, since Dragoncon fills every room in downtown Atlanta. For Worldcons, they often know that if they don’t keep rates attractive, people will book outside the block.

            But it means that the facilities costs for Worldcons are substantially higher than for Dragoncon — and the fixed costs are spread among fewer attendees.

        • Civilis

          Worldcon memberships are generally far more expensive than other conventions, because the cost of the convention center has to be amortized among all of the memberships.

          Why spring for a convention center then? Otakon, the big convention I attend yearly in Baltimore, does take the actual convention center (and needs to move next year because it’s grown too big), but most of the small anime and game conventions I’ve been to that have been Worldcon sized have been at hotels using rooms from their conference facilities, and they’ve been a lot less than $200.

          • Ben Yalow

            Right now, the sort-of minimum space that a Worldcon uses is about 100K sq ft of exhibit space (more would be nice, although the 200K in KC was really hard to fill), a large ballroom that seats 3000 or so with a large stage setup in it, a medium ballroom that holds 6-800 for the second stage, a mix of about 25 meeting rooms, holding between 50-400 for the program, and another dozen or so smaller rooms for offices.

            Baltimore doesn’t have a hotel that would hold it. DC does — the Marriott Wardman Park, with another way to fit it into the National Harbor at the Gaylord — but National Harbor is relatively inaccessible except by car.

            Finding hotels that fit a Worldcon without using a convention center is possible — but there are very few of them outside of Las Vegas.

            • Civilis

              Ok, that sort of makes sense, as the National Harbor seems to be the go-to location for DC anime conventions, which tend to be WorldCon sized. Thanks for the answer.

      • cogitationitis

        Worldcon is run by a different entity every year. It is basically a series of one-shot. That makes budgeting difficult and expenses high.

  6. BobtheRegisterredFool

    Which city won the bid for the 2018 Worldcon?

  7. Would someone care to translate C4C? Please?

  8. sabrinachase

    You want to know the *real* reason the Baltimore Worldcon had record attendance? Because they were the only Worldcon to have an official con molecule! C-60, aka buckyballs. Oh, and they had the good taste to have me give a talk on current scientific buckyball discoveries. 😀 (It was hilarious. The room was PACKED. People sitting in the aisles. And I got amazing questions, very knowledgeable…I love SF fans!)

    • Kate Paulk

      Ooh. That would have been awesome! Everyone drawn in by the power of the buckyball… (As an aside, the last time I saw a panel that packed was at the Baltimore Discworld Convention, where the (sadly departed) Dr Downey was holding forth on committing the perfect crime.

      Standing room only, and *so many* people who couldn’t get into the room they had to repeat it.

    • I blame the Recency dancing myself.

  9. “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).”

    Kate, I feel this is a very unfair criticism. There’s only so much a mobility scooter riding TrueFan can be expected to do, after driving around the whole facility policing for micro-aggressions and 5 gender bathrooms. [huffs impatiently, drives off with nose in the air, runs over garbage can]

    • Kate Paulk

      Oh gosh! I’m so sorry, I never meant any micro-aggression. Now just hold still and I’ll do this properly and macro-aggress the living daylights out of you.

      • Robin Munn

        You just reminded me of one of my favorite lines from a webcomic author and artist. (Not in the webcomic itself; this was in the below-the-comic banter that they posted on each page). One of them (the author, I think) had been gone for a couple weeks, so his banter said, “I’m back! Did you miss me?” And the other one’s banter box read, “Yes, I did. But hold still, I’m reloading as fast as I can.” 🙂

        Now I can’t remember if the webcomic in question was Megatokyo or A Miracle of Science. I feel like it was Megatokyo, but I can’t be sure.

        While I’m on the subject: Miracle of Science was great. REAL orbital mechanics (as far as I can tell without actually doing the math), which actually drove the plot! The whole story takes place inside our solar system — no FTL here, but several planets have been terraformed to be livable. And someone needs to get from one of the moons of Jupiter to Earth. Someone else wants to intercept their ship, so he plots their course and figures out that they’ll have to do a grav-boost flyby of Phobos. Since he has an ally whose ship is currently in orbit around Mars, he gets in touch with that ally and arranges for his ally to move his ship to a Phobos orbit, then go dark so he’ll be hard to pick up.

        Or something along those lines. It might have been Mars, not Phobos, that the gravity slingshot was around. At any rate, I loved the story, and the hard sci-fi* didn’t hurt either. If anyone reading this HASN’T read A Miracle of Science, it gets a strong thumbs-up from me! (Also, the story has been completed, so you won’t have to worry about being left hanging).

        * The space travel is hard sci-fi. There are some parts of the story that are more handwavy, but even they “feel” realistic. As in, if you can do this thing that we currently don’t know how to do, it would then enable you to do X easily, but not necessarily Y. And so getting Y done is quite a challenge for the main characters. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling. The point is that the story is a lot of fun, so go check it out!

  10. I live 30 miles outside of London. I might well have gone to LonCon, but then that ridiculous Jonathan Ross thing happened. Gave the impression it wasn’t something I wanted to be part of.

  11. Andrew

    Kansas City was my first WorldCon, and I was looking forward to it.

    I spent most of Saturday in the business meeting, and then at a few panels. Caught more than a few snippets of conversation I had to walk away from because it was the smart thing to do.

    I spent the afternoon in the Puppy suite, and stayed there.

    I suspect this will be the last world con I attend, unless some changes happen, which given the average age and health of the people I saw motoring about, could be sooner rather than later.

    Luckily, my family lives in Atlanta, so DragonCon could be a more than adequate replacement.

    Dav

    • The only scooters I see at ComicCons (3 this year so far) are driven by kids who have actual physical afflictions. Usually they cosplay. It’s fun. I generally see no grotesquely obese, bitter-faced old Commies tooling around looking for something to be outraged at.

      The Hordes of Easily Offended Idiots are invited to take as much umbrage at this observation as they would like. A hotel full of fat SJW a-holes looking for Puppies to kick is not a fun place to be. Unless you’re a Puppy looking to rumble and have two good legs. Then it’s a target-rich environment.

      I only have one good leg and one so-so leg these days. I go to ComicCon where there are lots of fun things to do and zero Puppy Kickers. I will be at the Hamilton Ontario Comic Con in October, would-be Phantom hunters and Puppy Kickers are invited to try and figure out which limping old bastard is me.

    • DragonCon is brilliant in so many ways, eclipsing everything that I have heard about WC. A much broader population of fans, a much wider selection of media, amazing cosplay, a much much broader spread of ages among the participants and a greater tolerance for diversity of though. Its two principal downside are crowding and cost.

      Ooh, ooh – and they limit kicking attendants from the con for real offenses.

  12. Kate, you may be planning this, but an exceedingly interesting graph would be the growth of DragonCon and/or ComiCon during that same time period, above the Worldcon graph. As I said on Contra the other day, compared to ComiCon San Diego (167,000 people in 2015) Worldcon has become a rounding error.

    • Kate Paulk

      I actually looked for DragonCon numbers, and didn’t see any hard data. The best I can offer is the year they cohabited with NASFiC (1995) the attendance was around 14,000. It’s currently in the 70k range. So… big difference.

  13. Also of note… the number of WorldCon bids for future conventions is clearly on the decline.

    This year had two bids for WorldCon 2018 (w=winner): San Jose CA (w) and New Orleans LA. It also had two bids for NASFIC 2017: San Juan PR (w) & Valley Forge VA. But as of this moment there is only one bid apiece for the years 2019 & 2020 (respectively, Dublin Ireland & New Zealand), and the next US bid anyone knows about is Chicago in 2022. That’s it. At this point its unlikely any bid will be able to successfully challenge Dublin 2019, and unless something comes together real, real soon New Zealand will probably have an unopposed lock on 2020. To the best of my knowledge, no one has even tentatively stepped forward for 2021 (tho I’m guessing someone will).

    It used to be that many groups would vie for the opportunity of a WorldCon; I remember when bids would start 5-6 years ahead of the vote in order to drum up support (usually through convention room parties, flyers, etc). And even with multi-year head starts, there would be multiple bids for the same years. These days its crickets;

    And the choices for conventions also seem to be getting smaller. NASFIC’s are suppose to be WorldCon level conventions in North America for when the WorldCon is overseas. They used to be held in places like Atlanta, Seattle, Anaheim. Now the bids are for places like… Valley Forge VA? And the one that actually won this year, San Juan PR? The big question I heard at MidAmericaCon this year was whether or not they’ll break four digits in attendance. with most doubting it will happen.

    The lines to enter DragonCon or SDCC have more people than there are total attendees at these conventions.

    *sigh* I weep for what WorldCon has become.

    On the plus side, I do think there is a lot of enthusiasm for the IDEA of WorldCon, but much of that energy seems to be coming primarily from outside the US. LonCon was very successful, Helsinki looks like it will be as well, and the people running the Dublin and New Zealand bids are very well organized. So perhaps the future of WorldCon isn’t here in the US, but elsewhere.

    And for the record, I am planning on attending the next (Helsinki, Finland) WorldCon, but mostly because its more an excuse to see Finland than because its WorldCon.

    • If you do, meet? I live two hours from Helsinki so I probably will attend, at least on one day.

    • Ben Yalow

      The number of bids has varied extensively from year to year. Last year, we had 4 bids running (Helsinki, DC, Japan, and Montreal). This year there were two.

      Part of that is a second-order effect from a change that went into the Constitution a dozen years ago. Worldcons used to rotate throughout the North American region (there were three rotation zones, divided West / Central / East), with non-NA bids allowed in any year. What that mean was that you could only bid a North American city once every three years. Since no-zone went into effect, it means that a potential bid can look for an empty year, and look strong enough to discourage others from running against them, since they can always slide to a different year, instead of needing to wait three years.

      Since losing a Worldcon bid costs the bid committee a lot of time, money, and energy, people have tended to look for available years, and start signalling early that they’re prepared to make a fight for it.

      It doesn’t always work — since last year, we had the four bids. But there were some special circumstances — Helsinki had a built in number of members who had voted for them two years ago, and were therefore already Sasquan members; DC had a *very* favorable hotel contract that was there only because the hotel had a late hole in their bookings which the Worldcon would fit into; it was an anniversary year for Montreal; Japan had finally retired the debt from the losses at the last Japanese Worldcon. But it usually works — people are more likely to slide a year if it looks like it’ll improve their chances of winning.

      I hope you enjoy the Helsinki Worldcon. I’m certainly planning on being there.

      • I’m just stunned by the fact that, for the next four years of site votes, there are only 3 bids between them. I can understand one year being unopposed, but two consecutive years? Much less, two consecutive years with unopposed international bids? Yet, that’s what it increasingly looks like will be happening for the next two votes.

        As I said above, someone will eventually come forward with a 2021 bid, probably more than one. And for all I know, Chicago will have a fight on its hands to secure 2022. But its still a far cry from my formative years as a fan.

        I

        • Ben Yalow

          There were two 2021 bids announced within the last year. However, at this laat Worldcon, the DFW bid announced that, due to real world job issues, it was currently being withdrawn.

          And, in general, international bids usually run unopposed. Because the voters are largely from North America, people have generally felt that, if the Worldcon really was going to rotate internationally (and people viewed that as a good thing), then strong NA bids tended to avoid years that solid international bids announced they were running in.

          That tradition is changing, with Helsinki having beaten a set of strong NA bids — but it’s still somewhat there.

          It also helps that the last two UK Worldcons were very well liked, and many of the people who are senior members of the Dublin bid were senior staff on Loncon (and some on Glasgow). So people expect them to do a good job, and are looking forward to going there.

    • cogitationitis

      Boston has announced interest in 2021. Foreign bids are often unopposed.

  14. Ben Yalow

    I think you’re misreading the Long List (the chart of the size of the Worldcons). It’s online, at http://www.smofinfo.com/LL/TheLongList.html

    In general, prior to Sasquan, the number of supporting memberships was small for US (and Canadian) Worldcons. For decades, it was in the low to mid hundreds range. But, as the Hugo packet became better known, we saw a steady growth in the number of supporting members, many of whom joined in the last few days before the packet went away (it became unavailable when Hugo voting closed, since it was being provided by publishers to make it easier for people to read/see the nominated works, and cast a more informed vote). It was sometimes somewhat higher for non-NA Worldcons, since a lot of North American members joined as supportings, since they knew they couldn’t get there.

    I don’t have the supporting numbers immediately to hand (although I can probably dig them out) before 2004 — but, since then the number of supportings has been 1029 (2004), 394 (2005), 490 (2006), unknown (2007 — we never did get the full analysis data there), 629 (2008), 574 (2009), 964 (2010), 991 (2011), 1112 (2012), 1417 (2013), 2872 (2014), and 5857 (2015).

    The two numbers in the Long List are the onsite count and the total membership (including supportings, and attendings who didn’t actually pick up their memberships).

    Loncon 3 (10,718) is still the second largest Worldcon in terms of total membership, behind Sasquan’s 11,742. And, in the 20 year window you’re looking at, it’s 6946 on-site attendance was the largest (over all time, it was only beaten by the 8365 at LACon II, in 1984).

    Also note that these are member counts, not turnstile counts. A number of conventions give a turnstile count number for their attendance — how many times the virtual turnstile at the entrance turns over. So, if someone buys a five day membership to the Worldcon, and is there all five days, it counts as one person. If the convention is using a turnstile count, it counts as five people. Either method is a completely valid way of measuring membership; it’s just important to know which method is being used.

    I’ll come back with more numbers later.

    • Kate Paulk

      Ugh. I used the listing in the Midamericon II program book, which neglected to include the all-important note on the smofcon site that indicates attendance is attending/total. Of course 5000/8500 looks like “5000 attending, 8500 supporting” – the perils of not labeling your data clearly, my friends.

      The reason I used the program book is pretty simple: I don’t have a dual monitor setup at home, and it’s a whole lot easier to transfer data to a spreadsheet when I don’t have to constantly flip between screens.

      I’ll update the post over the weekend (when I have time) to show the correct numbers.

      • Ben Yalow

        The Long List committee really wants people to include the notes, but can’t require it. There’s a lot of history (and explanations) in the notes.

  15. Thanks to several people fora heroic amount of numerical work.

  16. On a completely different note, I regularly read MadGeniusClub, camestrosfelapton, File 770, The Rev 3.0 (little material, and some of it bad, but interesting Hugo articles), and VoxDay when he is talking about SF and not his other hobby horses, of which there are many indeed. I suspect there are many more interesting Blogs out there if they could be found. Someone might give the mad geniuses a list; there would be much more to be mad about.

    On a different note, the N3F is about to launch/relaunch two zines. Tightbeam will again be a letter and review zine, published bimonthly in electronic form only. I am reviving my old Eldritch Science, as our electronic only art and fiction zine.

  17. WorldCon is fast becoming the VHS player of conventions.

  18. 2014 was also the year of the Wheel of Time Hugo Packet – which probably added to supporting membership numbers as well as SP2.

    • Kate Paulk

      Undoubtedly. It’s still a remarkable jump – particularly in light of how anemic the numbers would be if the last 3 years weren’t included.

  19. Thanks for the data! It’s interesting to track it over time, and even without drama, London would’ve been a huge Con.

    • Kate Paulk

      It is interesting, and I can’t help taking a bit of time to do some math geekery. I’m hoping to do a similar kind of votes vs time for some of the categories next week.

      • Minor thing, but could you reverse your time axis? Early on the left, later on the right? I think that’s what most charts do, and I keep having to mentally flip the chart… Minor thing, but I know I had to read the label a couple of times to figure out which way time ran.

        • Robin Munn

          Yes, please. Add another vote from me for a time line that progresses from left to right; having 2016 on the left is just plain confusing, and flipping the data in the spreadsheet shouldn’t be too hard.

  20. ahd

    What do you think would happen if DragonCon bid for WorldCon every year and NASFiC every year there is one?

    • Kate Paulk

      It would quickly get blacklisted, either overtly or covertly, at least in part in the spirit of keeping things rotating rather than parking everything in one location.

      Most likely, many of the people who vote every year would roll their eyes and vote something else to make sure someone else got a turn – it pays to never underestimate the power of a lot of people who think enough alike all coming to the same decision at more or less the same time.

      • snowcrash

        No need for anything new, nor for anything covert – IIRC, there are existing rules requiring that WorldCon take place outside North America every X years, and also that no 3(?) consecutive WorldCons can be within 500 miles of each other.

        • Ben Yalow

          There is no requirement for non-NA Worldcons, although we typically see about 2-3 decade for the last few decades. And, after two consecutive Worldcons in the same site, you need to have at least two years when it’s at least 500 miles away.

        • Kate Paulk

          I wasn’t aware of that, since I’m not that deep into the rules.

    • Ben Yalow

      Not legal — a bid must be for a site at least 500 miles from the site where it’s being selected. So, after two Worldcons in the same site in consecutive years, it becomes impossible to file for a third.

      I also suspect that Dragoncon might not feel comfortable having to give complete reports on its finances, and answering questions about them at the Business Meeting (and continuing to do so for every year so long as there are any profits unspent). And, of course, uses of profits from the Worldcon are restricted by the Worldcon Constitution to be for the benefit of WSFS as a whole.

  21. Uncle Lar

    Short history of DragonCon along with a chart of attendance numbers from 1987 through 2014,
    http://dragon-con.pbworks.com/w/page/39624764/History%20of%20Dragon*Con

    • 2009 drew in a star-studded guest list. Star Trek legends William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Patrick Stewart made their Dragon*Con debuts. Star Trek Voyager actor Garrett Wang took over Trek Track around this time.

      *sob* I would have given my right kidney to have been there, but… I only heard about it after the fact.

  22. Basara549

    I can’t speak for Worldcon, but I can make a comparison to ANOTHER Chicago convention of the same era – the anime convention Anime Central.

    Anime Central started in 1998, with the first year’s attendance being ~1200+.
    1999 had an attendance of 1600+.
    2000 had an attendance of 2200+
    2001 had an attendance of 3200+
    2002 had an attendance of somewhere around 4000-4200..
    By the last year I worked as convention staff in 2007, ACen attendance was over 7000. BTW, I was REGISTRATION staff for those 10 years, so my numbers are what our own tallies were telling us, in-department.
    Last I heard from the convention, its attendance was in the 12-15 thousand range – and may have been even higher this year.
    EVERY year I worked showed an increase – and for its first 5-6 years, it was increasing 25-50%, and slowed down to 10-20% afterward. I don’t think they’ve had a year worse than roughly maintaining the last year’s total.

    Given the size of Chicago’s population increase, and the greater ease in travel, it looks pretty bad for Chicago’s Worldcon hosts to LOSE 20% over a period that a media con with a very limited focus (and a lot of fan turnover, where people stop going as they get older) increased about 300%.

    Hell, the 2015 Midwest Fur Fest ( a FURRY con), had 5600 attendees in 2015!

    The flat numbers (if not worse) should be telling the whole Worldcon staff that there’s something seriously wrong. but the emperors there are too busy admiring their new outfits in the mirror.

    • Civilis

      Or it should tell people something about the relative popularity of literary science fiction compared to other media, which should also send up warning flags among the same people for different reasons. DragonCon seems to have partially recognized this by adding out four categories for games, both tabletop and computer. Now if the Dragon Award would only add a web / new media award and break the TV/movie awards into traditional and animated categories…