Worldcon publications policy

Worldcons are moving away
from physical to only having digital publications.
The 2024 Glasgow Worldcon being a case in point.
Is this wise, or even right?
Peter Tyers examines the issues.



Traditionally a Worldcon produces three notable publications: Progress Reports (PRs), the Pocket Programme (the detailed schedule of programme items, designed to fit in your pocket), and a Souvenir Book, all of which were printed and either mailed to members or issued to them at the convention (con).  The Progress Reports were produced and mailed to members semi-regularly over the period running up to the con and the remaining two were collected at the event or, in the case of attending members that were unable to attend or supporting members, mailed to them afterwards. The cost of producing and mailing these publications has always been a significant expenditure item within a convention’s budget.

Due to technical advances this policy has changed over recent years; nearly everybody in SF fandom (which has a higher than average take-up of technology than the rest of the population) has email and access to the Internet, and most have smartphones. There is debate, especially within con-running circles, as to whether printed publications are still needed or even wanted by the majority of members (though, of course, going with such a majority view would result in a corresponding loss to those in the minority).  Here are some recent, salient developments:

  • For some time now PRs have been available to download (usually as PDFs), which is a 'Good Thing'.  It has, though, lead to mailed PRs disappearing from the majority of conventions (not just Worldcons) as this makes administration easier and yields cost savings.
  • For some years, the programme schedule of events at Worldcons (and some other conventions) has been available online, usually via the Grenadine app, and many have also found it useful to be able to carry the programme round on their smartphones.  However, as has often been pointed out, you need to own a smartphone for this to work!  Not everyone has a smartphone!
  • While the printed Pocket Programme again represents a significant cost to the convention, of recent times some members have pointed out the weaker points of the online-only version.  They comment that it is often more difficult to quickly access information on a screen than on a paper publication with its larger format, folded down corners to mark pages, etc., and, of course, you cannot add pencilled notes to a screen in the way that you can on printed paper.

  • Having used both the printed programme and the Grenadine app at the same convention, I found the Grenadine version to be good. However, I found the paper version to be definitely better, more flexible, and more usable. If I had to junk one in favour of the other, I would stick with paper any day. Admittedly, the Grenadine app has doubtless been further developed since then but I find it more than hard to believe that it has achieved the flexibility of paper. And, of course, with Grenadine you need to keep your device charged throughout the day.
  • As for the Souvenir Book, the WSFS (World SF Society under whose auspices the Worldcons are run) Constitution and Resolutions and Rulings of Continuing Effect make it absolutely clear that Supporting and Attending Members have the absolute right to receive a printed Souvenir Book, should they so choose. The rules also grant a Worldcon the right charge members for the cost of that mailing.
  • The Glasgow 2024 Worldcon have decided to go all-electronic for their publications, i.e. providing them only as email attachments and Internet downloads, with the exception that a printed Souvenir Book can be collected in person at the convention. When joining the convention, they do not ask for a member’s physical (i.e. postal mail) address and, when asked why not, they replied to us that they are not allowed to collect it due to Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). This is an incorrect interpretation of the regulations; what they are not allowed to do is to collect unnecessary information (a fact which many other organisations and of which companies should take note!). However, they are obliged to collect the information necessary to provide their services and it is their decision what services they offer (as it is their customers to decide which to accept). If they are to mail items (and fulfil their service obligations) they will need physical addresses (and to protect that information). The decision not to mail items is a business decision on their part, not a legal requirement due to Data Protection legislation.
  • The situation concerning recent Worldcon publications policies, and the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon's particular, is of concern for those who do not have devices such as smartphones (e.g. how does a member know what the programme schedule is if they do not have a smartphone - and since when has possession of a smartphone been a mandatory necessity to attend a convention?).

    The abandonment of physical paper publications is also of concern to those paid up members, either Attending or Supporting, who want their printed Souvenir Book but are unable to attend and collect it in person. When the Glasgow 2024 Worldcon was asked, these questions were only partly answered by a senior member of their Publications team, whose attitude was not overly helpful, though since then the Chair has clarified some of the points.

    My understanding (as of spring 2024) for Glasgow’s publications policy is that:

    • PRs are available only for download from the website - there are no printed copies for anyone. The PRs are not limited to members - anyone can download them. This is useful publicity as it might encourage non-members to join.
    • The programme schedule will be available online (as a PDF) before the event, allowing members to download it, print it, write their notes on it, etc.. It is unlikely to contain the very latest programme changes (but then, neither does a printed Pocket Programme). Presumably this will also be available to anyone.
  • For those attending, printed copies of the programme schedule (hopefully completely up-to-date, though not necessarily) will be available at the accessibility desk for anyone who wants one - just turn up and ask. You do not have to have accessibility issues, just a need for a printed copy. It will be in some form of a grid and a list with text descriptions, though not a fully-formed Pocket Programme book as of old.
  • The Souvenir Book will be available online for download. One presumes this will be limited to Members only (both Attending and Supporting). If it is available to non-members as well then that is one less reason to take out a Supporting Membership.
  • A printed copy of the Souvenir Book will be available for personal collection by Attending Members who are at the convention.
  • Attending Members who are unable to attend can ask someone to pick up their copy of the Souvenir Book on their behalf.
  • It is uncertain whether a Supporting Member can also ask somebody to pick up a copy of the Souvenir Book for them. As explained above, under the rules they are entitled to one. If there is just a big, help-yourself pile of them then getting a friend to pick one up should not be a problem (provided enough have been printed).
  • The question of whether the Souvenir Book could be mailed to an Attending Member who could not attend, or to a Supporting Member, was not answered (though it may -- spring 2024 -- be under consideration). As noted above, the convention has the right to charge postage for those requesting a mailed copy (and postage these days is not cheap).
  • The convention's Newsletter generally appears a couple of times a day (though sometimes with extra 'special' editions). As well as short articles and snippets of convention news, it also includes notice of programme changes. The Newsletters will be online only though, for those requiring them, the programme changes will also be available on paper from the accessibility desk.

    The move to all-electronic communication, publication, etc., is not an entirely good thing; whilst it will undeniably save the convention money (printing, postage) and effort (administration takes time), it is not the answer-all that some of its exponents would have you believe. It is very true that most SF fans have access to the Internet, communicate a great deal by email, etc., and that the great majority own smartphones, but it must never be forgotten that not everyone has, can get or use, or even wants, such things.  The cost of simply owning and running the technology should not be underestimated, especially in the current world where costs are so often rising faster than incomes and hard economic decisions have to be made.  We should never forget that, for whatever reason, there are those who do not crave the very latest, or cannot afford the very latest, or could even use the very latest technology, and we must continue to give full access to everyone.

    Fandom surely should not become a technocracy which ignores those who are not “up to date” for whatever reason; it must remain as open as possible to everyone - not just those than can afford the gadgets.

    All this means that publications must remain available on paper as well as electronically.

    Perhaps one day it will be like Star Trek and everyone will communicate electronically and printed paper will be completely a thing of the past and never used. Rather like vinyl has disappeared from the recorded music scene - except, oh, er, wait a minute, that analogy does not hold!  Er, perhaps like trams have disappeared from our streets - oh, er, that analogy does not work either, what with tram routes being extended in some cities and reintroduced in others…

    Whilst technology moves inexorably onwards, fandom must never forget that not everybody is at, or even near, the cutting edge, and that until the newer technologies are truly universal there will still be a need for printed publications for at least a few - and the few must not be overlooked.  Glasgow 2024 describes itself as ‘A Worldcon for Our Futures’ and I trust that will be a future where everyone still gets their publications in a format that suits them.  A better Worldcon catch-line might be ‘A Worldcon for All Our Futures’!

    Peter Tyers


    © The copyright of Worldcon publication covers belongs to the respective Worldcons. Their depiction here is under fair use in the context of a review, and is, of course, non-commercial.


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