It seems that this year’s World Fantasy Convention has come upon the idea of charging for Kaffeeklatches, the small “round table” discussions between authors and fans. They are charging five pounds a head (about $8 US).
This is new. Kaffeeklatches, in my experience as an author, have been run as conventions as part of regular programming (not as premium events) and have not charged for them — or at the very least, in the several years I have done kaffeeklatches, I have never once done one where people were charged over and above the cost of a convention membership/ticket for them.
Some thoughts on this:
1. WFC says the charge is to “cover the cost of coffee and biscuits (and to help prevent people from dropping out at the last minute, thereby taking away a place that somebody else could have had).” Inasmuch as kaffeklatches already have waiting lists at no charge, this seems a dubious charge to me. Likewise, kaffeeklatches I have attended either don’t usually have snacks or had them covered under the cost of the general membership.
If WFC didn’t budget responsibly at an early stage, it seems poor form now to pass an additional charge on to the people attending; I’d just cut the cookies. In any event, the maximum number of attendees for a kaffeeklatch at WFC is 20; is WFC indeed planning to lay out a spread of nibbles worth 100 pounds ($160) per table. Because that’s some impressive spread for a kaffeeklatch.
The only “reasonable” explanation of this cost is that the hotel will not allow WFC to bring biscuits from Tesco and has enjoined the convention to use its own catering for cookies and coffee. Speaking from experience, hotels will be delighted to charge a ridiculous amount for this stuff. If this is the case, however, once again, they should have already dealt with this as part of the overall cost of running the convention. The solution is not pass on the cost to attendees who are already paying a considerable sum to be there.
2. Unless WFC is splitting the take with the author, or otherwise compensating the author for his or her time, the author is now being commercially exploited without consent. It’s one thing for a convention to generally run on the “volunteer to be on panels” model — this year’s WFC has made a great show of letting authors, etc know that just because they want to be on a panel doesn’t mean they will be on a panel, i.e., it’s a privilege, not a right — but it’s another thing to plump for that model and then turn around and start tacking on “premium” fees, and then not share those revenues with the people who are solely responsible for you having those revenues in the first place.
Let me put it another way. I have friends who go to media conventions who charge for their events, like autographing and one-man shows. The conventions they go to offer them a minimum fee for attending (which is covered in the cost of the attendee ticket and other revenue sources) and then anything else my friends make they keep. SF/F literary conventions don’t really do that — authors and others who attend as pros understand that they are going to be compensated by book sales (or art sales, etc), so typically they don’t charge for their time.
If WFC is going to charge for Kaffeeklatches, then they are either intentionally or otherwise moving their programming model closer to the media convention model. In which case the author should be asking: Where’s my money, dude? This would especially be the case for a convention at which I paid out of my own pocket to attend.
3. For that matter, did the convention inform the authors who they are using for kaffeeklatches of this switch to premium pricing at all? Because were I an author who had a kaffeeklatch at the convention, I can tell you with certainty what my response would be: If you charge fans for a kaffeeklatch without my knowledge or consent, I can guarantee you the one person who won’t be at the kaffeeklatch is me. As far as I can see it’s a wholesale revision of how kaffeeklatches are done and from the outside looks rather more like an attempt to soak attendees for a little extra scratch than it does anything else. The convention would be putting me in the position of being complicit with this additional soaking. And I would not like that. At all.
4. Likewise, if I were an attendee, and a convention sprung a set of additional charges on me this late in the game, I would be more than a little bit pissed off. Attending WFC this year already will cost hundreds of pounds/dollars in memberships, travel, lodging and food — and now plinking me an extra five pounds for an event that is free at every other convention? The words that spring to mind in response to that are not charitable. The very best is “penny ante bullshit.” It makes this particular WFC look disorganized and greedy. Who knows what other previously unannounced charges they’re going to offer up between now and the convention itself? It’s a guessing game, it is — and it’s not going to make people attending very happy.
WFC is of course able to do what it wants — and what it wants is to charge for kaffeeklatches. But I don’t think it’s a very wise or nice thing to do.