The value of ‘name’
Now once upon a time (your cue that this is merely a made up tale. No real coffee machines or companies were involved), there was a clever young man who made a new kind of coffee machine. It, simply, made better coffee than anyone else’s machine. It was reliable too. He could have sold his patent, but he was proud of his coffee-machine, and wanted the quality to stay the same. So he got his funds together, started a little factory, and made great coffee machines all his working life. He named them after his father, Frederico. They were expensive (because it was small scale, and used only the very finest materials, with craftsmen doing the artisans’ work with love and care), but the best.
Over time, of course, other coffee-machine makers had improved: but a Fredrico was every coffee-connoisseurs desire.
Eventually the inventor grew old and sick, and decided he would have to sell up and retire.
The Gigantic coffee machine company – who made many brands of machine, mass-produced, and in whatever country they could do it cheapest… bought the business.
Now, they had no interest in his little factory, his team of craftsmen, or even his way of making coffee-machines.
What they wanted was…. The NAME.
They made a million ‘Frederico’ brand coffee machines in a factory with the cheapest possible producer, and on the back of the reputation the Frederico enjoyed… sold them at huge profit. They were of course nothing like the original, but Gigantic had made a short-term profit, and that was all the CEO cared about.
Now… as a result, you can’t find a buyer for Frederico. Not even the handful of originals, which are still excellent machines.
It’s a tale you’ll find repeated endlessly in reality, and not just in business. Names have value. That value is the reputation carried by that name. It is usually a long hard slog to build up… and it can be trashed very easily. BUT, of course, while trashing it, it is possible to abuse the trust people had in that name, to make a short-term profit. It always ends the same sad way as the Frederico. For authors… your name IS your career. It’s your most precious property. It’s your reputation, which gets you commendations and come-back readers (if you’re popular). If your book tanks, or is strongly associated with another genre, well, your publisher may want a pseudonym. Maybe you do too. But if your name has a following of readers… you stick with that name. Unless of course… you trash that.
It’s equally true of awards. They have names. Those names have value: A reputation based on the popularity among readers of the books (and authors) who have won them in the past. If that name happens to be the Thursday Award – and having it on cover will take you from selling 10 000 copies to 50 000 copies… it is worth 40 000 sales. If you come from a country or culture Thursday means ‘butt-face’… or you think commemoration of that vile white male sexist homophobe misogynist warmongering conqueror Thor (all of those are pretty much applicable by today’s standards for Thor, the Norse god from which Thursday takes its name. Of course no one remembers that, or cares. It’s just one day before Friday)… you have two choices. Either ‘suck it up, cupcake’, and take the 40 000 sales that go with the reputation of that name. Or refuse it.
Well. That’s what any logical person would conclude, right?
I was amused and delighted to read of the John W Campbell Award winner’s gracious and incredibly wise (for certain values of ‘wise’) little snit acceptance speech. Graceless wokeness is now very fashionable in certain circles. I’m sure it goes down very well there, if rather like a cup of cold vomit with us of the ordinary readers. I quote Jeannette Ng. “John W. Campbell … was a fascist. Through his editorial control of [the magazine] Amazing Science Fiction, [Campbell] is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists,” said the 33-year-old in her acceptance speech.
Aside from the fact that she got the name of the magazine wrong, and, um, doesn’t actually know what a fascist is or was (clue: ‘fascio’ is derived from the Latin for a bundle of sticks. A single stick can be broken. Their strength lies in a bundle. They were keen on nationalizing industry and having a totalitarian state.), it is… wryly funny that Ng, who plainly believes that all members of any group are alike as two peas in a pod and merely express the character defined by their skin color, sex or ethnicity, rather than being individuals… is Chinese. Her viewpoint therefore defines the Chinese as a group, all guilty of the sins of any other Chinese. Hmm. Think about it: Are the Chinese known for ‘Imperialism and colonizing, being settlers and industrialists, ever. Heaven forfend such a thought… Tibet? The Paracels? Shenzen industries, etc. Or having a vast male bias reflected in the numbers of girl children aborted in favor of boys – leading to a sex imbalance of millions. No pot calling a kettle names here…
However the Woke have spoken, Dell Magazines folded immediately to oblige her, and the John W Campbell Awards are no more. They’ve been renamed.
And like any new name: it has no reputation yet. Who knows, one day it may be valuable, selling extra copies of the book. But Ng has given sf a gift. Future winners will have to make their own reputation, create their own value, instead of trading on the achievements of the past. Past winners will no longer no longer have to worry that the new winners will be like the Gigantic coffee-machine company.
And now they’ll have to earn their own reputation instead of riding on the coat-tails of others they despise and denigrate. It is possible: the DRAGON AWARDS have gone from a brand new award to having considerable value – simply because a substantial number of the winners sell a lot of books. They enjoy genuine popularity. They don’t need patreon accounts. It has become a name with a reputation and a value… and nobody gives a shit that the original dragon ate maidens for tea.
And this year, we here at MGC have a massive celebration: these are the winners of the 2019 Dragon Awards, by popular accord:
The readers have spoken… or at least voted for one of our own, of whom we’re very proud.
Science Fiction novel: _A Star-Wheeled Sky_, Brad Torgersen
Fantasy novel: _House of Assassins_, Larry Correia
YA/Middle Grade: _Bloodwitch_, Susan Dennard
Military Sci-Fi or Fantasy novel: _Uncompromising Honor_, David Weber
Alternate History novel: _Black Chamber_, S.M. Stirling
Media Tie-In novel: _Thrawn: Alliances_, Timothy Zahn
Horror Novel: _Little Darlings_, Melanie Golding