As many of you have no doubt heard by now, World Fantasy Con has announced a five-pound fee for participating in kaffeeklatsches. Now, I would like to say for the record that this is really stupid. Kaffeeklatsches aren’t a premium experience. They are a regular part of conventions, that should be honored and respected. Not charged for.
However, I’d like to give the convention the benefit of the doubt. It is just as possible that WFC is being screwed over by their hotel as it is that WFC is just screwing members and authors.
It is possible, and I have seen this happen multiple times, that even though the convention told the venue exactly what it planned to do in regards to the kaffeeklatsches (I’ve also seen this happen with parties any number of times, and you probably have too), the venue decided later on, “Nope, sorry. We want more money and we’re going to force you to pay us.” (Not to mention, British corkage waiver issues are substantially more complicated than the US.) These situations are really frustrating, because even though the convention may have everything written down in a contract, the only people who can really enforce the contract are the convention and the site. Sure, if the venue screws you over, you can say “breach of contract,” but then:
1. You have to spend a lot of money suing for something you may or may not win on because the venue has better lawyers than you can afford, and,
2. Even if you do win, you no longer have a place to hold the convention.
Usually, cons are forced to roll with the punches that their venue throws at them, and aren’t allowed to say publicly that they’re dealing with a tricky situation. If they do, a hotel can refuse to work with them for “harming their public image.” For example, a convention that I know of recently lost their contract with their hotel after convention members started commenting on third party sites that rank hotels that the hotel had mold issues. These were documented issues, and the con got screwed for it. Thankfully, in the end, it’s better for the convention because they no longer have to deal with a hotel that has mold, but they do have to deal with upset fans who are complaining (maybe rightfully so) about the con bouncing around from hotel to hotel.
So conventions are often faced with situations where, even though they haven’t done anything wrong–and have in fact done everything right–they can’t tell anybody, because it might hurt them and other conventions. This is especially important for conventions like WFC or Worldcon, because what happens at one convention might affect others. Chicon’s dealings with Ustream certainly affected LoneStarCon’s dealings with Ustream, and LoneStarCon’s dealings with Ustream will probably change how Loncon deals with Ustream.
Additionally, recently a Worldcon that will remain unnamed (because I’m not sure of all of the possible legal issues) did throw around the idea of suing for breach of contract. However, when they considered that this would mean six months out they would no longer have a contract for a Worldcon, they decided against. This was frustrating: even though the convention had a written contract with the hotel, the hotel simply chose not to honor it, and there was nothing the convention could do.
Now, it could be that WFC has just screwed the pooch on this. However, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, because I’ve seen cons screwed over one too many times for things that they can’t help.
I grew up in fandom. I’ve known most of the conrunners my entire life. Many of them have babysat me or changed my diapers. Those others see as legends or giants, I remember for their magnificent bedtime stories and their kindness in not telling my mother what silly things I’d just done. I trust these people. I know they’re not perfect, and I know their faults better than most other people in the world, because I’ve seen them firsthand. And I see them make decisions, and I know they know what they’re doing. Uncle Sal won’t be in charge of the consuite bar, because he’s a recovering alcoholic. Cousin Alice doesn’t communicate well, so she doesn’t put herself in charge of programming. (These names are all made up.)
When problems happen at conventions, conrunners get called out. And sometimes, that’s a good thing. Mistakes should be addressed. What they shouldn’t be is attacked. Conrunners are trying their best, and they’re privy to information not released to the public, even years after the fact. Decisions conventions make, even ones that upset people, usually aren’t because somebody didn’t think something through. Most of the time they’re just the least bad choice from a set of really shitty options.
I’m not saying that all conrunners are good. Some of them are assholes. Some of them are misogynistic. Discriminatory. And just plain stupid. But those people are the minority.
So yes, I think charging for kaffeeklatsches is a bad idea. But I don’t think World Fantasy Con made a decision without carefully considering it, and I think it’s possible there’s more going on there than they’re willing to say. I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt.