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Con-Munications


David Bell, Church Farm, North Kelsey, Lincoln, LN7 6EQ.

Jonathan Cowie, [address redacted by request].

Martin Easterbrook, 43 Saddleback Rd, Shaw, Swindon, SN5 9ST

Rhodri James, 25 Wycliffe Road, Cambridge CBl 3JD

Ethel Lindsay, 69 Barry Rd, Carnoustie, DD7 7QQ

Bernie Peek, 129 Colegrave Road, Stratford, London, E15 lEA

Steve & Marion Pritchard, 4 Gleneagle AAve, Plymouth, PL3 5HL

Pat Silver, 83 Cavendish Road, Patchway, Bristol, BS12 5HH


Speculation

Pat Silver

Sorry but I thought that your (Ian) issue of the Speculation PR was the best. I disagree with your statement that a PR should be imaginative first and informative second. If you take that to its logical extreme you end up with a PR containing no actual information and a whole lot of imaginative writing. It might be very good imaginative writing, but doesn't help if what you want to know is how to book your hotel room. I don't want to have to wade through a story to find out who is coming the convention either. It was a great idea but not as the ONLY source of information as to the attendees of the con. Like almost everything else it is a matter of balance. Too little imagination and it is dull; too little attention to fact and it is a waste of paper.

I DO like a con to have a recognisable image. If nothing else it means that when I rummage through the file of con PR's I can pick out easily all those belonging to one individual convention. Novacon does it very well, and Illumination too has a recognisable style. If the style/theme carries through into the programme, so much the better.

Obviously I cannot comment about the running of the con nor of the hotel, but it sounds as though you had much the same sort of problems with the hotel as many conventions. It's very difficult to get a hotel to agree to anything in writing and they will often try to slide out of agreements if you don't actually stand over them with a big stick. Not all are like that of course, but it does seem to be remarkably common.

Ref the "impression of inaction and indifference" that you were accused of as a committee, I think the main thing was that at several major conventions there were not even fliers or posters available for Speculation, meaning that for quite some time it was almost impossible to find out how to contact the con committee. If you don't normally attend venues such as the Wellington then it is essential to keep people informed some other way. Indeed, since I too cannot attend the 'ton I appreciate having other channels of communication available to me. It's a bit worrying to have no communication at all. I have taken note of that one as it is all too easy to fall down on communications.

Ref the single room rates, I think what nobody on the committee anticipated was that the single people (and a good number of those who are not) perceived it as being highly offensive. I dislike having to pay a higher price for a single room but provided the difference is small I pay up, albeit with a grumble. Saying that "Single rooms were always available in the overflow" is really not good enough. Effectively you were saying "If you aren't filthy rich or prepared to share then you aren't wanted in the main hotel. You can go down a not very nice street to a not very posh hotel which is not at all convenient instead". I object very strongly to being treated as a second class fan just because I happen to be unattached. That was the main reason I declined to come to the convention. Having once made it plain that singles were considered to be a nuisance and to be discouraged, dropping the price to bloody expensive instead of laughable did not remove the insult.

I am informed by Chris Bell that at one stage BOTH lifts were not only not working, but had been taken to pieces by the engineer. Chris being one of the "worshippers of the Lift" I am inclined to believe her.

I gather it was demonstrated that SOME tech is necessary for a large convention. The regular tech crew have learned from experience that hotel PA systems are very rarely functional let alone adequate, and furthermore the hotel usually wants you to pay through the nose for the "privilege" of using it.

Bernie Peek

I have been hearing a lot about Speculation over the last few months. Most of it bad. I did hear that some attendees enjoyed it a lot. This is one of it's similarities with Conspiracy. If a con is run properly then it will be enjoyed by the attendees and the workers. Most conrunners hoped that the lessons of Conspiracy had been learnt. It seems not. Speculation contrived to combine the worst features of Eastcon, and Conspiracy. Like Eastcon it had a very poor image, which it steadfastly maintained. A low profile at conventions together with lousy PRs (certainly the worst Eastercon PRs of recent years) ensured low sign-up rates. The fiasco of the bidding session was a lot worse than Eastcon's. You might have done better if you got Graham James to handle it! Like Conspiracy, the Speculation committee didn't do nearly enough planning in advance or enough work on the day. It hasn't happened yet but one day a concom is going to push their luck too far. One day the gophers will just walk out. At Conspiracy they didn't have enough spare time to organise a strike. Speculation apparently came very close to one. The worst thing I've heard about Speculation was that the committee didn't seem to know, or care, about the problems and that they didn't do much work at the con. Shades of Conspiracy. Speculation's programme planning was running about a year behind a reasonable schedule, and logistics planning didn't appear to have been done at all. Essentially 'Conrunning Fandom' put the con together on the spot. Think carefully about the Speculation award. I suggest that you start by refunding the memberships for most of the gophers and the tech crews. I haven't heard any complaints about bar prices. Few people down here would complain about l.40 for a pint in a pub, let alone a hotel. Your hotel problems were entirely your own problem. You should have pinned the hotel down and got things in writing so that you could wave bits of paper under people's noses.

Fair Shares

Pat Silver

Credit where it is due, I found D.West's article both interesting and thought provoking. I'm not sure that we need a formal set-up such as he suggests though. Several fan funds already exist, eg the Albacon fund and the Unicon fund, both of which will lend/give money to deserving fannish requests. There is also nothing to stop a convention spending some of its profits on equipment to aid fandom. Items that come to mind are a good photocopier for use at subsidised rates, a badge machine, some radio microphones or some wallyphones. I'm sure there are plenty more possibilities. Most conventions nominate a charity of some interest to fandom to which surplus funds or the produce of specific events will be given, and I don't think it is necessary to start complicating matters. As for refunding money, I do not feel in the least inclined to write 50 cheques for 2 or whatever trivial sum it happens to be.

Rhodri James

D. West turned in a thought-provoking article this time. "I shall cause this to be discussed," as the phrase goes, at the next Illumination committee meeting. I'll get back to you if anything happens. One comment I will make now, though, is that I think the "money back" option is unworkable, at least without occasional major rows and much bad feeling. It just feels wrong to be paying out to only a few miserable sods rather than the whole convention, except that paying out to everyone would mean just getting fiddling small change. Any convention which is sure that it's going to have a big surplus ahead of time can do what Connote8 did and stuff 50p tokens (redeemable in the bar, book room and a few local restaurants) into the membership packs.

Later: the rest of the committee squelched the idea on the grounds that we have neither the time nor the resources to pull it off right now. Some people also thought it unworkable on the whole, an opinion with which I beg to differ. Ah well, maybe next time.

Bernie Peek

D. West's proposals seem reasonable but too complex to apply in the absence of any demand from the con memberships. Until recently con surpluses have been ploughed back into conrunning; badge machines, PA equipment etc or into fan-funds. Since Contrivance there have been named con charities which receive a share of the profits. Where a charity has been named in advance it is possible, but pointless, to argue that the convention is being run for charity. Usually, for most conventions I have information on, the first call on the funds is for a meal for the con committee. For instance Beccon 81 bought the committee half a pizza each. The committee meal should be declared as such on the final accounts. After this comes money paid to other conventions. Eastercons should not make payments to any other conventions except the two current eastercons. Unicons should only finance other Unicons (I think this is part of their rules). Equipment purchased for use by unspecified future conventions is a legitimate convention expense, for instance buying badge machines or projectors which can be used by any future conventions. TAFF, DUFF etc are legitimate fannish causes. A voting system would probable exclude them. In general the fan-fund donations are monies paid by convention fans to pay for fanzine fans to travel abroad.

David Bell

In smaller doses, better focused on a topic, D West is a lot more readable. I am not sure that the system he proposes is really practical, but asking the members of a con is better than some of the methods I have experienced. Implicit in his scheme is the necessity of contacting the membership after the con, to tell them what happened. After three years, all I have heard of the forgotten promises of the Albacon '88 committee has been through you. I cannot see a cinema seat in Glasgow as an adequate replacement for what was promised and, despite the opportunity afforded by Speculation, nothing seems to have been done to consult the convention membership. Strictly, I suppose, the money left over from Albacon '88 was not a surplus. It could be argued that the committee had made a contract with the members, which they had not yet fulfilled. Legal phrases such as ultra vires come to mind.

At least the Speculation surplus is being spent to benefit fandom. The Award is a good thing, a balance to the historical domination of fandom by fanzine fans. Fans Across The World is something for all fans, everywhere, rather than an incidental benefit to a few film freaks in Glasgow. I'm angry, and bitter, and I feel cheated. Fandom isn't all sweetness and light, but I have never before had cause to think that fans could be so dishonest.

Ethel Lindsay

I agree with you that con surplus money should be used as startup funds for cons. I have certain charities I support and do not need anyone to fund any more on my behalf. I quite approve, however, of the Novacon's idea to have an auction in aid of the Talking Books, but this is different.

Steve Pritchard

I must agree with you on this one in that surplus funds ought to be used for another convention, in our case we used it straight away to secure next year's venue with a deposit.

At Armadacon 1 in 1988 we opened the doors with our finances well into the red, so much so that we only had our GoH because I loaned the convention the fare for her flight from Eire. In the event the con made a profit of 50. For Armadacon 2 (1990) we were determined not to go through that again so we increased the registration fee slightly and concentrated our efforts into better advertising. Due to two of our major guests cancelling too late to remove them from the advertising we ended up with an embarrassingly large profit for a small convention and gave 200 to the charity, leaving us enough money to find a suitable hotel venue for the next one and to begin our advertising campaign more or less right away.

At Armadacon 3, in November 1991, we kept to our 1990 prices (and will again this year, with reductions in some cases), and our attendance fell from 157 to 109; as we did not have a major actor guest, and the recession did not help either. We still had a surplus due to cancellations and various incomes from dealers and merchandise etc., and over the two cons we have raised 1300 for Guide Dogs without topping up last year.

Finally I shall come to my point. All serial conventions need a small profit to fund the next one. This will not alter their non profit making status as nobody makes a personal profit nor do they realise any personal gain other than job satisfaction. The registration fees paid by the committee will not always be enough to cover initial advertising and progress reports, especially if it is a small committee or not all can afford to register early. I have never heard of anyone attending a con purely to support the charity, and enough events will occur for that anyway. Does a convention exist for its attendees or for its charity?

Safety at Cons

Pat Silver

Ref Andy Croft's piece on emergency procedures in the event of fire, that article should be widely disseminated. Perhaps then people won't be so quick to describe my ancestry in Anglo-Saxon when I ask them not to block the fire exits with chairs in the film room. I've SEEN what happens when a room full of people try to get out in a hurry through doors blocked by furniture. What happens is panic and injuries. Not at all funny and besides, I would like to get out too. I consider it to be my duty to clear the room in an emergency if I am running tech, so it's to my advantage to ensure clear egress.

David Bell

I think you might get comments on fire alarms from convention members with practical experience. I think it was a Trek con in Leeds, or maybe Bradford. There is already a song about it. Two things stick in my mind. The Hotel was cleared in record time, and the insurance premium was cut as a result. Also, one less obvious problem was that of parents attending programme items while children were "safely" in their hotel rooms. Like the deaf, it is something worth checking on.

As far as I have been able to find out, I can build my own computer without breaking the law. I may, and I haven't been able to get a definite answer, be breaking the Electricity At Work Regulations if I change a plug on the farm's electric drill. Past experience, when the farming press didn't seem able to look up what a Sievert is during the Chernobyl affair, suggests that Andy Croft could be nearer the reality than Farmer's Weekly. I hope he is. This may be behind what I have heard of a media con which is planned for a holiday camp. Apparently there are strict rules about who does what, especially such things as PA systems and projection TV. My informant suggested it was an agreement with the unions, but it could be a consequence of these regulations. Hopefully, the existing on-site equipment will be adequate. I would think that hotels are more used to organisations booking space and bringing such specialised equipment as cine projectors, but it could become another problem in making a deal.

Bernie Peek

At Confiction every gopher had to sign a waiver acknowledging that they were not employees of the convention. I have a similar form from the Ottawa 94 con. Can volunteers be considered employees?

Every convention should ask their site to confirm that their electrical installations comply with the relevant regulations. This should form part of the contract. If the site electrical system complies then plug-in RCD (Also called an ELCB.) devices, available from Woolworths, will protect portable equipment. These should be used, and tested before being used. If the con checks the equipment it borrows then that should be sufficient. The equipment required is called a Megger. It is used to check insulation resistance. An ordinary ohmmeter is not suitable. The ohmmeter usually tests at about 1 volt, a megger must use about 500 volts. If used it must be regularly calibrated, to make sure that it still works. All electrical equipment used by the convention should be given at least a visual check. Ideally this should include checking that it has the right fuse rating. Remember that equipment should always have the lowest possible fuse rating; up to 200 Watts, 1 Amp; up to 600W, 3A; up to lOOOW (1 KW), 5A; over lKw, 13A. lA and 5A fuses are non-standard, and hard to find. Any equipment with worn or damaged cables must not be used. If a hire company or the hotel provides it then tell them to fix it. If necessary show them the statement in your contract. Qualified electricians should note that they have additional responsibilities. The situation is similar to that of doctors at a convention. Doctors should only give first-aid if they have the relevant first-aid certificate, an MD is not sufficient on its own.

Cost of Conventions

Rhodri James

James Grey's comments on the cost of getting to cons piqued my interest, what with him being a northerner and me not, so I phoned around to see what the travel prices were. The following figures are courtesy of Thomas Cook and British Rail (when they answered the phone):

Return train fare from Cambridge to Glasgow is 52, or 65 if you travel on a Friday. A return plane ticket from Stanstead to Jersey is 90, while taking the ferry from Poole is 70-78 depending on which day you pick, with reductions for (for example) spending five days on the island (I understand that the Helicon committee have been negotiating further package deal reductions on these prices, but I don't know what they are). The train fare from Cambridge to Poole I would estimate at another 40 or so (that was the time BR wouldn't answer the phone). This leaves Glasgow ahead, but not by very much. From Lincoln, the figures are biassed more in Glasgow's favour, but even so Jersey isn't that much more expensive to get to and is a darn sight cheaper to stay in.

Pat Silver

Steve Pritchard contemplated the cost of coming to convention's and mentioned the idea of a travel-share to reduce costs but asked how one would find such a companion. I actually offered a "find a lift/passenger" service for Follycon but had very little response. It is very simple for a convention membership secretary to match up people if the demand is there.

James Grey whined about the cost of travelling to conventions again, in particular the cost of getting to Jersey. Sorry, Jim, but for me it is more expensive to get to Glasgow than to Jersey and this is almost certainly the case for many fans who live in the south of England. Furthermore, if I fly from Bristol it is actually quicker to get to Jersey than to Glasgow. It's all relative and depends where you live. When you also take into account the remarkably low room rates on Jersey (due in part to the absence of VAT) and the cheaper drink (same reason) Jersey is actually a financially attractive option for many people. All the grumbles about "excluding the poorer fan" just sound like a bad case of personal sour grapes, or perhaps a morbid fear of leaving these hallowed shores for "foreign" parts.

As for griping about Tim Illingworth's ability to spend several thousand pounds of his own money on organising a convention, that sounds like plain, old-fashioned envy. I wouldn't mind having that sort of money either, but I don't begrudge Tim having the cash and he is, after all, spending it in an attempt to benefit fandom. That actually connects with my previous comments about hotel problems. My experience has been that frequent contact with the hotel allows you to minimise problems partly because misunderstandings and misinterpretations are likely to be caught before the event, and also because it allows you to build up a good relationship with the hotel. Of necessity that means that somebody is going to have to spend time and money visiting the hotel. If it's in your home town that's great, not to mention economical, but if it's on Jersey then somebody is going to have to cough up the cash. Perhaps James should contemplate how much extra it would cost him to join a convention if people like Tim were NOT prepared to put a fair amount of their own money into conrunning. (And for that matter, the tech crew for loaning equipment either free or much cheaper than you could hire it elsewhere).

Ethel Lindsay

The cost of cons.. I am always penalised as I want a single room and they are always more expensive. This supplement is common to all hotels in Britain and I think it is a pernicious habit. I certainly cannot afford to go to more than one con per year. What with travel expenses and food etc I reckon that Novacon cost me over 200. To me, places like Jersey are just out of sight. I sat astounded at some of the prices paid at Brum for artwork most of which I felt were overpriced. The same applied to the book auction - a lot of money paid out and some of it for what I thought of as rubbish. Still I enjoyed myself very much the only disagreeable part being the journey. Would you believe that I had two engine failures? As a result was an hour late at both ends.

Bernie Peek

The cost of getting from Lincolnshire to Jersey is probably less the cost of getting from Jersey to Glasgow. There were over 100 Channel Island fans at Contrivance. Choosing a mainland site always disadvantages them. Their opinions were never taken into account before Contrivance because they weren't at the conventions. If you don't like what the existing committees are doing with the Eastercon then you should get involved. The only way you are going to get exactly the con you want is if you run it yourself.

Computers and Cons

David Bell

Technical Response to Chuck Conner: The LHArc software he refers to is now available as version 2.13 and it is pretty good. Except for compression time, it is better than PKZIP, and it is free. PKZIP is apparently being upgraded, and a new version should be available by the time the next Conrunner appears. LHA.EXE went through several rapid changes, fixing bugs, and it may be wise to let other people discover the bugs in any new version of PKZIP, especially if it is being used to back-up files.

DISKCOPY will copy everything on a floppy disk, including any deleted files, and I think it is the best way of backing-up files which can be kept on a single floppy disk. COPY does have the advantage he describes, but on a single-floppy machine, like mine, there is more potential for making a bad mistake. I don't know what other operating systems might have, but MS-DOS XCOPY has some useful options.

Incidentally, for the ultimate in fannish data disasters, I know of one American media group which folded because the committee's home was destroyed in a forest fire. Whatever form a conventions records are kept in, not having a copy in a safe place is a big risk.

Bernie Peek

Note: ButtonWare's PC-Write is a fine word-processor. PC-File is a dog. It's not robust (it has bugs which can destroy your data). This also goes for Dataease. I strongly recommend Paradox as the best general purpose database. I've just completed an evaluation of a dozen PC based databases, and Paradox is the best for any simple job like a membership list. Avoid Dbase (and all its clones, Clipper, Foxbase etc.) unless you have several good programmers available.

Definitely avoid DOS 4. If you got a copy with your PC then replace it with DOS 5, or even better DR-DOS 6.

What to do if your computer is stolen. Simple. Load your backup onto a different machine. You do have backups of course, don't you? If your backup disk is stolen then restore the backup you keep off-site.

Data Protection Act

Con committees do not have to register unless they incorporate. They are "Unincorporated Members' Societies." This does not remove the requirement that persons holding data should keep it secure and that the data should be accurate. The "Members" part of the definition would seem to require registration if the database holds names of non-members.

Another exemption under the act is where names and addresses are held purely for use in distributing materials. This exemption will fail if the system contains any information other than name and address. Note that the term system includes any associated paper or similar documentation.

Steve Pritchard

Computers, why use then at all when pen & paper is so much more efficient? Let us see what I can stir up with the following. How many systems by different manufacturers are totally compatible? This can mean the most popular one among the committee being used or whatever is preferred by the person in charge of publications, as the others available will invariably use the wrong size disc. Using a computer requires skills that are not in abundance amongst those of us who left school more than ten years ago, so most are likely to be self-taught on their own individual systems

Data retrieval: for most people it is far easier to look through a well set out lever file than to wonder which button to press next, and gives the opportunity to compare pages when needed It does not require much training to use

Data storage: if you are not writing it yourself into the computer, then chances are it has already been written by somebody else on paper. How many hours are wasted handraulically inputting all the information a con generates or receives, that may not ever be used again?

I must confess at this point that although I use a computer to write up committee meeting minutes and the occasional letter, I am a computer Luddite and see little reason to change this attitude as far as home computers are concerned. At Armadacon we use computers to produce PRs and advertising to a good quality but our "working copy" of registrations and treasury etc. will remain on paper.

Organising Cons

Steve & Marion Pritchard

And now, an appeal to the experienced out there: Has anyone known of, or been involved with, a UK convention that has had legal trouble over showing copyrighted videos, sought sponsorship from local businesses or considered turning the concom into a limited company (in order to avoid being personally liable for convention debts), and how would you go about the last one)? If you have, the pros/cons or solutions of such would be of great interest to us. Personally, I think the idea of a Concom Ltd. is very defeatist and may cause more problems than it would be worth - is this so?

Running the con; this year we intend to adopt a 'list of deadlines' as mentioned by Tina, which combined with accurate minutes should eliminate last minute changes to items because the wrong person forgot. Last year there were very few mishaps, can a con exist without at least one crisis? We have also learned from the past that a concom should be as small as possible to reduce hot air - we have reduced ours from the incredible number of 13 to 7 (i.e. posts with voting rights).

Pat Silver's suggestion that people write to their concoms is a great idea and we would welcome such letters To people who write "please send me details of Armadacon, signed *****" and do not even send an sae we will give out all the standard information and a registration form as we think a stamp is worth a possible attending member. To those who actually "write" and ask questions we will usually respond with a hand-written letter answering as best as possible.

After the convention, we have a "wash-up" meeting to discuss what went well, what went wrong and take suggestions for improving the next one before we elect the new committee. All and sundry club members are invited to this, though it is improbable that any living outside of Plymouth will attend. Therefore if any attendee writes to us afterward we will accept their suggestions and reply as appropriate; following last year's con we have had enquiries about membership of our club (DSFA) and contact addresses for suggested guests (Is the Dave Langford of Conrunner fame the same as the popular guest of many cons and contributor to White Dwarf and Imagine, as he has been recommended to us as a future guest for Armadacon?)

((Yes. He's also won more Hugos than Heinlein.))

Rhodri James

As regards Pat Silver's suggestion of writing to con committees, YES PLEASE! In our first PR, we asked for LoCs for Illumination, intending to run a lettercol. To date we have had not a sausage in reply, and have rather given up on the idea of overcoming fannish inertia. People will either nail me at the 'Tun (don't you, Tim?) or not say anything at all, rather than writing. Sigh. Helicon seem to be having better luck by using HdF as their discussion vehicle rather than their PRs, but even so they get precious few letters.

Bernie Peek

Chuck Connor DO NOT attempt a citizens arrest unless you, and an independent witness, have actually seen someone committing a criminal offence. You could end up in deep doo-doos, or hospital.

Professional security people do not care about drugs at a con if it is possible to ignore them. They don't want trouble with their employers. The reasons for not using them are the expense and the problems that uniforms cause. Even the bandolier of lollipops used by the 'Dorsai Irregulars' at a US con caused a lot of hassle.

Tina's list of deadlines is part-way towards a project management technique called CPA or PERT (Critical Path Analysis or Programme Evaluation Review Technique). To use it you would extend your list of tasks by estimating how long each will take and whether it requires another task to have been completed first. Even Worldcons don't require that much planning, but having a list of outstanding tasks is vital. For Beccon 87 we had one committee member (Pete Tyers) who was isolated from the rest of the committee and so didn't get to many committee meetings. His job was to note all of the action points on every committee member and nag people until they got done. This is a very useful function for any large committee. I thoroughly recommend it.

The information desk is vital at large cons but less so at smaller ones, unless the committee has screwed up. It's like the ops manager and DCM, if they have a lot to do then something is wrong. In that situation, the information they have is quite possibly wrong anyway. What is very important is that any questions that get asked repeatedly should be noted and dealt with by posters or the con newsletter, if it has one. NOTE: The information desk job is not the one I associate with the title 'Information Gopher'. It is part of the ops crew and is concerned solely with communications between ops staff members. Wilf's calculations on the cost of soft drinks are ludicrous. He attempts to prove that the selling price of Coke is too high because he can buy blackcurrant drink cheaper. I hate to disillusion you Wilf, but Coke isn't made from Sainsbury's blackcurrant drink. Even if it were, his calculations would be very incomplete. They don't include any of the following costs: manufacturers marketing, wastage, refrigeration costs, heating bills, glass washing, broken glasses and finally the barman's wages. I could go on. Look at the problem from a different angle. A lot of hotels are going bust, therefore bar profits are too low. QED.

The idea of running a con on a professional basis has been suggested. To run a 1000 person Eastercon with professional management and the type of programme we currently have would put the membership at about 1000. (This is not an exaggeration.) To run a professional SF event is certainly possible. In London I would expect to be able to run a 4 day SF exhibition at somewhere like the Wembley Exhibition Centre. Say 15,000 people per day at 20 each per day. Add in the additional money from franchising and the total turnover for the organisers should comfortably clear 5M. I don't want to do it though. Campus cons are a possibility, but their accomodation costs can be comparable with four star hotels, given the discount we get from the hotels. In a hotel you also have the opportunity of going for cheap B&B, at half the cost of student accommodation.

David Bell wants conrunners to produce a clear statement of their 'philosophy'. Every con does that. It's usually in the flyer and repeated in each PR. It's usually the same and so everyone skips over it. Whether the cons actually succeed in following the philosophy is a different matter. He also wants to know why there are so few cons around London. In one word, cost. Even in the depressed state of the hotel industry I think that it would be difficult to get a large hotel to quote less than 60pppn in the Greatest London area. (Bounded approximately by Milton Keynes, Brighton, Swindon and Colchester.) Even that might not be possible and for the really large hotels a figure of 150pppn is not unreasonable. These are of course after the application of the discount (if any) for booking the whole hotel. It would have to be a large hotel. Unless fans were forbidden to mention the con to anyone else, and the con didn't advertise, then 5-10,000 walk-ins in central London is not unlikely. Setting day-memberships at 50 might discourage most of them. Might.

Programme

Jonathan Cowie

I strongly disagree with Wilf James that it would be "a further nice touch" to treat the Info gopher in the same way "as a programme participant." What, I wonder, has Wilf got against Info gophers...? I'm sure they fulfil a useful role so why give them grief? Programme participants it would appear are treated worse than the publicity officer on a con committee. At the recent New Worlds launch, a group of us were talking about which conventions we were, or were not, planning on attending. Those in the group consisted of: two authors, one film critic, one SF fan (who also gives fact talks), a fan on the trading side of the business, a book critic, a fellow member of the Concatenation team, and myself. I wont bore you with the conversation's details but general points touched on included conventions who: - advertise their guests/principal speakers before asking the guest/speaker. - advertise their programme participants before asking the participant. - do not reply to letters. - do not plan their programmes properly (ie,similar items clash). - ask participants to perform outside their area of experience. - do not notify change of plans. - do not liaise (or arrange to liaise) in advance between panel participants. - do not provide the right equipment on time for the programme item - do not ask far enough in advance for participants to adequately prepare.

I exagerate not. Everyone present each had experience of all of the above! Conrunners are treading heavily on goodwill, and the crying shame is that I honestly think you guys (and gals) are oblivious of this. One intersting fact did emerge. The pros present had something to sell, a reputation to keep, and so felt they had to appear free and easy about the whole thing lest their reputation suffer. The fans present either felt they continued out of a "love" for their specialist interest or decided that they would be very choosey about where to perform. (Actually I did slightly exagerate, mea culpa. One of the authors present was so well known that he did not feel it necessary to attend conventions and so does not.)

Steve Pritchard

In response to myself and your comments on con formulae I must clarify a little more. I accept that fans will tire of seeing the same non-participatory events every year and this was shown with our "Who's con" event. Although it was enjoyable again last year it had lost some of its sparkle, and will be retired for a few years while we devise some other improvisational event. On the other hand the "Turkey Reading" improved with the telling as we have had some people check that we were having one again before they registered. Despite being split into two sessions we had a large attendance and afterwards we worked out that an average of 1 per minute was being raised for the charity. Unfortunately we may not be able to repeat the single combat in future as a number of weapons were damaged last time and the organisers would not accept compensation, nor will they accept our offer to cover the cost out of con funds this year.

Selling the Convention

Jonathan Cowie

Nice gesture from Albacon for the seat in the Glasgow Film Theatre, and a pleasure to hear one of the ways Albacon succesfully attracts membership. Was interested to see a couple of interesting points emerge from the floundering on convention publicity. Convention sweat shirts and mugs -- merchandising -- a part of publicity. Really? Some conventions do make a fair go of publicity and notably on a regular basis the Scot cons are well above average: I admire one of their's whose gall at the post office in using varying post codes as a promotional campaign response identifier did at least work though was cheeky (and not to be recommended). In the main the publicity committee member ranks lower than the lowest of the low cf: Martin Easterbrook's Eastcon post-con analysis on how that convention turned around its registration problem.

Of course 80% plus did not fill in the Armadacon question "how did you find out about this convention?" What did you expect? TANSTAFL - If you want to get a handle on how those who registered heard about you then you have to do it yourself. (Life's a bitch ain't it). Have, yawn, coded (number/letter/colour) registering forms as part of your fliers (and don't whine about print costs - if someone on your team does not know how to print farm this at no extra cost then change your committee or hobby).

The other way to ensure high membership is the way you, the convention committee as a whole, relates to fandom. For example if letters are ignored by the committee then this will discourage positive news spreading by word and mouth and instead encourage bad news. By the time this comes out (editorial whim permitting) the 1992 Eastercon will be underway and so will not suffer from my mentioning this now... The reason why nobody from the Dartford SF group and associates is attending that event is because we had some concerns and wrote in... No response, we no attend. (Of course we still have con money to burn and half a dozen of us have made alternative arrangements.) It may be a pain but if 1 in 10 prospective registrants write in to an Eastercon with a query then you will have 100 queries to deal with. This may seem a hassle but -- a) it is not, and b) replies are necessary. Many replies will only require a copy of the latest PR with a comlpliments slip, one line and the appropriate part of the PR circled (unless you're Speculation that is... (that was a joke, Ian (and remember the proverb))). Most other queries only require a one paragraph response. If you can't manage that then change your goddamn hobby. (Christ, Ian I can't believe I'm having to write this....)

An aside, but believe it or not it is true. I've just written to the chairman of one (major) convention requesting fliers for distribution. It is interesting to note that I have asked this of this individual verbally on at least four separate occasions (each time he was not in a rush to go any where and pen and paper (if not his own diary) were available for him to make a note of the request.) Never mind it is his choice and perhaps he feels that in passing on his convention's literature that I would damage its image. Who knows, let's be generous.... This, I am afraid to say, typically illustrates the level at which I see the majority of conrunners currently operating.

Bernie Peek

There are several reasons why cons distribute Prs at conventions. Firstly it's cheaper. Postage is a substantial cost to conventions. The only PR which must never be handed out at a con is the one with the hotel booking form in. Secondly handing a PR to a presupporter is an opportunity to ask for full membership. Thirdly it raises the cons profile and so fulfils a very important publicity role. There are several reasons why committees should work on their bid presentation. The main one is that a credible bit presentation implies (but doesn't prove) that the convention itsel wll be run competently. Secondly it provides an opportunity to ask questions about the prospective convention, which may provide useful feed back to the committee. Thirdly it provides the host convention with a cheap and hopefully entertaining program item. Note that spoof bids are also getting slicker. Fourthly the bidding committees have fun doing it, this itself is an adequate reason.

Steve & Marion Pritchard

Publicity: although "word of mouth" is by far the most effective type of publicity, we will not give up on the flyers. So, if any of you reading this are interested in reciprocal advertising with Armadacon, be it flyers in con-packs or ads in PRs then write to me and I will pass it on to our advertising entity.

Where merchandising is concerned, so far this has consisted of shirts with our striking logo and a video of Armadacon 2. This is controlled by our treasurer as she has to find the money to invest in it, with production left to those best suited. We are thinking of expanding this to include mugs and pens/pencils, each with our logo or at least our name.

 

Mixing Cultures

Rhodri James

Joseph Nicholas' letter finally demonstrated to me why D. West enjoys demolishing the man so much. He takes such pains to set himself up as a target it seems a shame not to oblige. For example, he manages to inflate Tim Illingworth's comment that "the KTF school of fanzine reviewing did not help" into an "attempt to blame everything on KTF fanzine reviewers", cheerfully scoring a point that was not being contested. To paraphrase Joseph, anyone who wishes to argue that KTF fanzine reviews had nothing to do with the precipitate decline of fanzine fandom in the eighties must answer one key question: what the hell was KTF, then?

Further on, he claims that that different fan group do not interact with each other. So "filkers don't mix with fanzine fans" eh? I must have imagined the zines that David Bell and Steve Glover have sent me. "Gamers don't mix with fanzine fans"; I'll tell John Dallman he's safe right away. "Costumers don't mix with techies"; Gytha and Teddy will be confused. And Ian and I must be at least three separate people each! Joseph, are you sure we go to the same Eastercons? These overlaps do exist, and are not just the isolated people I've named here off the top of my head. Different people have different interests, true, but most have more than one area that tickles their fancy, and being able to meet all of your friends under one roof and introduce them to each other is part of the draw of the Eastercon for me. After all, if you only went to (say) costume conventions, you might never find out about fanzines or filk.

What I think that this means is that the Eastercon, as a national convention, still has a role to fulfil. The rise of the Mexicon and the (dis)appearance of Elydore only show that fandom can support whole conventions for such diverse groups, not that there is no place for less specialist cons. Don't mistake diversification for splintering!

David Bell

Joseph Nicholas does not appear to know what he is talking about, but at least he writes in a clear style. I think he tends towards the common mistake of confusing the terms "fanzine" and "fannish fanzine", but it is an error found wherever there are fanzines, each enthusiast defining "fanzine" on the basis of their own enthusiasm.

"Of course not..." he says, "...filkers don't mix with fanzine fans. Just as gamers don't mix with fanzine fans, and costumers don't mix with techies, and so on." He is so very definite about this, so much so that his argument would collapse when faced with a single counter-example. Whatever his own experience, the most that he can claim is that some filkers don't mix with some fanzine fans, and so on.

So here is the counter evidence. I am a filker. So is Pat Silver. Yet here we are, with letters printed in what Joseph Nicholas himself calls a fanzine. More than that, to my own certain knowledge, at least fifteen fanzine issues have been edited, or co-edited, by filkers in 1991. He ignores the evidence of several fanzines which I know he has received, because he sent me LoCs on them. Note that I am not including filk-specific fanzines. It is harder to refute his claim about gamers, but I can provide evidence of fanzines produced by gamers, and of my own long-term interest in gaming. I have even seen one well-known techie appearing in a Worldcon Masquerade.

There is still room for debate about how many fans are interested in this sort of poly-fannish contact, and whether or not there are enough to support an Eastercon-sized event, but don't let Joseph Nicholas, or anybody else, tell you that there isn't anyone.

By the way, Elydore has been running for several years; it didn't appear, as he implies, only last Easter. As I recall, Terry Pratchett was one GoH, back in '89. I happened to see a report of the 1988 Elydore in a fanzine I found while looking for something else, and it was described as a successor, with many of the same committee, to another Easter media-con, Galacticon. That, in turn, was held at Easter from 1986, after the postponement of the 1985 event from its customary October date.

My sources run out in around 1982, but it looks as if Galacticon/Elydore, along with the annual Fanderson convention, beat everything but Novacon and the Eastercon for longevity. There are other events, such as the Tolkien Society's Oxonmoots, which have some of the characteristics of a convention and have been taking place for as long, or longer. Maybe the expectations of the people involved are different, but a fanzine devoted to conrunning might look a bit silly if it ignored that accumulation of experience outside the limits some people set for fandom.

Even if Joseph Nicholas were right about the lack of interaction between different sorts of fan, it would be folly to isolate Conrunner from that wider pool of experience.

Bernie Peek

Wrong again Joseph. There is, and always has been, a significant mixing between different groups at conventions. The subsets of fans are not mutually exclusive. Fandoms are not political parties. There are fans who belong to several different identifiable groups. Some people don't mix and it's true that they needn't bother to come to conventions. In fact the convention, and possibly fandom in general, is better off without them.


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This page updated on 09 July 1999