Monday, January 26, 2004

There's a bit of a stink kicking up from a free festival in Edmonton, Alberta called Animethon. They're a festival more than a convention, in that they rely on donations and sponsors to cover their bills instead of registration fees. Looks like they have the usual secondary income sources, such as program-book advertising, dealers' fees, probably merchandising and the like. But these secondary income sources are generally not enough to cover much more than the immediate departments involved. Dealers' fees can be a profit center if structured properly, but it's been my experience that the advertising fees don't even cover the cost of the publishing department, let alone anyone else. Merchandising can be a profit center, but it's easy to overproduce. For the convention I work for, registration fees represent the overwhelming majority of income.

It sounds as if Animethon was using sponsor donations to cover the operating budget, probably from Grant MacEwan College, a school so obscure I've never heard of it before. I can't imagine how they've been making ends meet - probably by skimping on materials and relying on free meeting space from their college.

Nevertheless, they've got an "attendee" base of about three thousand. Keep in mind that these are "free ice cream" numbers - the "attendees" are the general public, and aren't technically paying to get in, although it sounds as if there's a "donation" requested for an associated charity. It's probably how the college is justifying free meeting space.

From the tone of open letter #1 and open letter #2, it sounds as if what we're looking at is a textbook case of conrunner burnout. The original staff core failed to put in place a mechanism for replacing themselves, and now find themselves chained to their positions with bonds forged equally of ego and despair.

Now, Canada is a different legal environment from that of the United States, and I don't know the particularities of the situation in which the Animethon people find themselves. It's possible that their association with a campus group, "BAKA", may prevent them from converting Animethon into a proper convention, with registration fees, etcetera. This is one of the reasons we didn't form our convention as an adjunct of the campus group in which it was originally conceived. Another reason was the bad prior experience this campus group had suffered as the result of a disastrous science fiction convention held by that group a number of years before I had become a member. In Animethon's case, it is the festival which is constrained by its ties to the parent campus group; in my campus group's case, it was the dangers the failure of yet another convention posed to a fragile campus club.

Any festival or convention the size and scale of Animethon [attendance
4,000?] taking place in the anime community or outside of it has a core of
paid staff that organize and operate it.

This excerpt caused a bit of excitement, in that it seems to make the false and malicious claim that all major conventions employ their core staff. (No, this is not true - not even for Project A-Kon, which is technically a for-profit company, unlike the rest of the pack, which are almost all non-profit corporations of one stripe or another.) However, if you read the rest of the paragraph:

I prefer to couch it in more psychological terms than financial though. When rewarded, even simply by a modest honorarium or free admission to what would otherwise be a paid event - staff have an incentive to put in an effort, and a penalty if they do not perform. An incentive to go the extra mile, to investigate, to pursue efforts they would not normally. A salary, honorarium or tangible fringe benefits from free food to preferred admission make a person accountable for their actions, and accountability is something sorely lacking in several incidents in even this past year.

As you can see, the author is using a definition of "paid staff" that is vague enough to include every category of worker from paid full-time employee to volunteer staff to gofers who get free crash space or a t-shirt in exchange for a number of hours worked. This type of vague definition would normally represent a masking attempt, usually in conjunction with some sort of slight-of-hand designed to move the goal-posts from "volunteer staff" to "full-time paid employee". I would not go that far in this case, as the author is clearly trying to exaggerate the steps necessary to convert the festival to a membership-fee convention.

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