Andrei in the office


Andrei's Universe

One man's journey from infinity to nothingness

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Andrei in the office

Catching up... NorWesCon

So... last weekend (Et al Croce: Seems like such a long time ago...) we went to NorWesCon.

On the one hand, internally I was giddy like a little kid. jnanacandra gave me several hours free time on my own at the con. This was exciting in theory.

Unfortunately, my con experience wasn't like the ones I had as a 15 year old. NWC seems to be far more based in the social clumping. Seeing friends you don't get to see except at NWC. Hanging with friends at sessions. Going with friends to gatherings.

I'm still new to the area so my social experience consists of
    seeing about 10 people in the weekend that I kinda know...
    Admiring their outfit if they are wearing it...
    Asking how they are enjoying the con...
    waving as they head off to (sdkfuwef)

This is an odd feeling.

When I went to Dragon*Con in Atlanta about 4-5 years ago; I actually knew nobody there. There was the friend from online who invited me to crash on the floor of her shared hotel room. There was the 'daughter of a psychiatrist' (a common bond) that I'd bonded with in IM that I'd met thru LJ. That was it.

However, at D*C I met a tonne of people. People knew of me from the net which really kinda freaked me out. And the scary part was; I got invited on the spot to be on several panels. The funny thing is I actually met s00j at this con and chatted briefly with her... but never really filed it away beyond, "Really hot and talented drummer from the circle"

So back to NorWesCon. It's a larger con, but a large area con. It's obvious that this is 'da sh*#' when it comes to Seattle area SciFi. I don't want to hazard a guess on the size. Now... it's not a WorldCon/Dragon*con... But the good news is... it's not a ComicCon either. Comic Con is a trade show...not a con.

So... Art show.. nice. I'm saddened by how much the scifi fan is economically not in a place to buy art. Yes.. I'm biased. Went to a couple of sessions. I found myself pining to be on panels because sometimes the crowd would pull the panel waaay of topic. And like many cons. I leave with about 5-15 panel ideas.

One panel was about good and bad characters. It was observed that the most interesting good characters tend to behave at times like a**holes. The further observation is that everyone at one time has been an a**hole. So the question was posed to the room, "Has anyone in this room never actually been an a**hole". So I lifted Aiden above my head and raised his hand. Okay... so maybe I got to be an a**hole myself.. but it's worth it for the sake of a good joke.

At one point we got on an elevator with two women dressed in the style of Eliza in My Fair Lady. Swooping huge hats with flowers. I mean huuuuuge hats. I got on the elevator and joked, "Dear diary. Wife brutally killed today on an elevator. Really can't go into the details...they are just too... hard to explain." Good laughter on the elevator. Then someone added, "I'm really sorry I sent flowers to the funeral, he looked devastated."

There was also a poker tournament. There were ongoing satellites to win a seat at the final main tournament. I inadvertently won a seat. It was a massively short stacked tournament. (200 in chips, initial blinds 10/20).. but the fun was going to the final table with 1 1/2 blinds... Quinting up, then tripling up and finishing third. No.. I'm not going to explain what that all means here.

But I never really felt connected to anyone at the con. Maybe over time. Maybe I'm too old. Maybe I've out grown the 16 year old who wants to take over a panel with hir fanish experiences and then demonstrate the worst british accent ever (Standard Fan Type X13)

A good con. I just want to know if I'm outgrowing cons or just not close enough to this one yet.

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According to the newsletter, there were somewhat over 3000 people at Norwescon, making it about 60% the size of a typical North American Worldcon of recent years. I was there hosting the Match Game SF game show on Friday and was particularly interested in attending Girl Genius Radio Theatre on Saturday morning, but couldn't find a whole lot more to interest me during the convention.

Norwescon is obviously too big for its facilities, but I reckon that the only alternative would be to move downtown, like the Seattle Worldcon bid and SakuraCon, and that would, I suspect, put off a bunch of people who currently attend from attending; besides, the costs would skyrocket. There seems to be a big difference between suburban sites like SeaTac and downtown ones.

A few years ago, when I was promoting Calgary's Westercon there, I was surprised at the number of people with whom I spoke who said variations of "I don't go to science fiction conventions. I go to Norwescon." Aside from NWC, they had no connection or interest in what I think of as the larger SF fandom communities. Sort of sad, really. The organizers are interested in the big picture and work very hard at trying to make things work (they bent over backwards to help me stage Match Game SF), but they seem to have a lot of attendees who aren't particularly interested in SF/F.

I've never actually done a WorldCon... So I really shouldn't compare. However, I do know that the last Dragon*Con had over 30,000 attendees and the 2006 Comic Con had 9,000 exhibitors and a rough count of 114,000 attendees.

I think the main problem is that NorWesCon as an entity thinks it's bigger than it really is. To move to a bigger venue and still defray the costs realistically, there needs to be far more vending. I've been to smaller cons with more vending. I realize the vending area is limited, but it's one of the biggest con income generators outside the actual attendance.

Unfortunately, this tends to be a trend in local mentality. We do things our way and it's the only way. I'd prefer to see the con grow and have higher quality guests and panels.

But then again... I tend to ask a lot :)

To move to a bigger venue and still defray the costs realistically, there needs to be far more vending.
I presume you mean dealers room tables and art show sales.
I've been to smaller cons with more vending. I realize the vending area is limited, but it's one of the biggest con income generators outside the actual attendance.
Yes, but OTOH it's probably less than you think. I can't speak for Norwescon, whose finances I do not know, but I can talk about a relatively recent Worldcon with some authority. I co-chaired the 2002 Worldcon in San Jose, with about 5,900 total members (5,162 bodies on site) and gross revenue of $850,000 (not including gross art show sales, since 90% of the sales go straight back to the artists and the convention only counts the commission as revenue). As you can see from this graph, while dealer table fees are important, they were only 7% of gross revenue -- about $58,000. Considering that it cost about $250,000 to rent and decorate the convention center, dealer fees mostly just paid for the cost of the exhibit hall in which they were located. Memberships cover the lion's share of the costs.

Again, I can't speak for Norwescon, but they're in the same bind that other conventions that grow large are in. Right now they're too big for their facilities. If they go to the next-largest available facility, they will see a really large increase in fixed costs, and they might well see membership decrease as a bunch of the "regulars" decide they don't want to go downtown and put up with the conditions there for their parties. It's a terribly risky situation for a conrunner to be in, actually.

We know for certain that Worldcons are at one of the worst points on the financial curve they can be. They're large enough that they have to use large, expensive convention centers (there are almost no hotels big enough to host them on their own), but they're not quite large enough to bring the cost per member back down to what it is at events like NWC. This is one of a number of reasons why the at-the-door price for a Worldcon is in excess of $200.

I'm sympathetic to NWC's situation, and I don't have a good answer for it. They know their facility is the wrong size, but there's not much they can do to fix it without funamentally changing the convention itself.

(Deleted comment)

Formatted for clarity

Budgeted Actual
Chair 6,015.00 6,812.45
Vice Chair 16,392.00 14,961.17
Business 16,630.00 16,362.15
Publications 40,100.00 21,854.71
Programming 9,925.00 5,844.31
Member Services 3,890.00 3,211.09
Convention Services 18,870.00 17,617.41
Personnel 9,565.00 7,973.45
Special Events 2,485.00 2,053.64
Capital Expense 9,780.00 10,559.03
Total In 137,083.73
Total Out 107,249.32

An interesting observation

Many of us are against that change. Bigger is not always better.

I've seen this throughout so many groups. Growth is inevitable. Change is inevivtable...

But we as a culture do not like severe change. I especially love this irony when seen in reference to the world of science fiction/fantasy which seems to grow from the concept of being open to change.

I find that the hardest change is made more easy when it grows of necessity in an evolutionary manner.

Granted none of this comment actually offers any concrete solutions. Just observations.

(Deleted comment)

Re: An interesting observation

If I'm reading this right.

While NWC is outgrowing it's current location. To hit the level of growth needed to make the next sized venue affordable there is the perception that the changes to NWC to get that level of growth would be changes that would pull NWC from its core purpose and character.


Re: An interesting observation

Growth is inevitable. Change is inevivtable...
As others said, the two are not the same. Change is inevitable. Growth is not unless the organizers want it and the members come to provide it. Remember that Norwescon is not a business whose goal is to generate growth and profits. It's a non-profit organization run by people for a particular cultural and educational purpose, those people making it happen are all volunteers, and they may decide that they can't support an event larger than a certain size. (Particularly as it appears that percentage of vounteers, particularly the hard-core, work-all-year-long type, goes down as the size of the event goes up.)

There have been some notable examples in other parts of the USA where general SF conventions have grown beyond the point where their organizers can support them. Both Boskone (Boston area) and MiniCon (Minneapolis) grew to unstaintable sizes, and in both cases the organizers actually took deliberat steps to cut functions from the convention. This led (deliberately) to the conventions having fewer people. People interested in the functions that were cut were encouraged to go set up other conventions focused on those areas, and they did.

Similarly, BayCon (San Jose) grew larger than its facilities could easily handle during the early phases of the anime boom, as there was a substantial anime "sub-convention" going on within BayCon. BayCon's organizers told the folks doing the anime, "You're strong enough to stand on your own, and you probably do so." They did so, and (while not directly connected) there is now a huge anime convention in San Jose, while BayCon remained at a sustainable size while retaining a small anime program.

It may well be that around 3000 people is the inflection point where you have to decide between "is this all we can manage?" and "do we 'go pro' and try to ramp the organization up to Dragon*Con size (40K), where we could afford some paid staff organizers to supplement all of the volunteer labor?" Note that "some paid staff" and "non-profit" aren't incompatible, but it is rare. Comiccon (125K) is a California non-profit corporation, has some full-time people, and when I read their IRS non-profit disclosures, I reckon the top managers are underpaid for the amount of work they have to do.

I could give more examples. This is not a case of "not being open to change," because in all of these cases the events changed rather radically, but much more a case of "what are we capable of doing with the resources we have available?" and "would we rather try to organize and Easter Worldcon-like event every year that would leave us burnt out and exhausted or a slightly more focused and smaller event that is sustainable with what we have?"

Re: An interesting observation

I suppose that what I was getting with concerning my comment is that growth will happen... and change will have to occur as a result.

Even if that change is to throttle the growth.

I guess, for me being new to the area and to NorWesCon... I don't really get a clear picture of what NorWesCon's core ideals are.

As someone in the Software Engineering field... I acknowledge the answer to that is probably RTFM. As like many attendees rushing thru the weekend, I gauge it by what I see, what I experience and what I glean out of the schedule book. (Which I'll go on record as probably being one of the all time best ones I've seen in anycon)

NorWesCon seems to be at a delicate tipping point from everything I'm reading. "outgrowing the venue"... "Being true to core ideals"... etc.

So... what are these core ideals? Should the con pull back registration? How do you throttle the attendance growth without throttling the con?

Questions in my head... Not suggesting they all have answers.

Found your post via Google.

The problem with growing is the lack of good sites in the Seattle area which would allow us to grow and not change the "feel" of Norwescon. Most of the sites which are bigger would not allow us to do some of the things we currently do, and would charge us a lot more money for function space (room rates and parking would also go up).

The other problem is the amount of volunteers/staff that we have, we barely have enough as it is and to grow we would need to find new way to get more people interested in volunteering (which we try every year).

When it comes to Guests, some years we have had lineups which a Worldcon would be envious of. The one thing we have going against us is we are on Easter Weekend, and some potential GoHs will not attend on Easter. We could possibly move off of Easter but then our costs would dramatically go up.

If you want to make a lot of friends fast at norwescon (or any con for that matter) I would suggest volunteering or joining the concom. Over the years the concom has become like a second family to most of us.

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