More Hugo Graphs, Fanzine & Ramblings

Nicholas Whyte has an insightful look at the 2019 Hugo stats here:

The biggest issue raised is that final votes for Best Fanzine came perilously close to less than 25% of the total votes. [stats are now on the Hugo history pages here ] Whyte says:

“We were surprisingly close to not giving a Best Fanzine award in both 2019 Hugos and 1944 Retro Hugos this year. The total first preference votes for Best Fanzine finalists other than No Award in both cases was 26.9% of the total number of votes cast overall (833/3097 and 224/834).”

Eeek! Consider this year that we’ve had worries about the nature of Best Fanwriter, eligibility issues with Best Fan Artist and now Best Fanzine looks a bit endangered. Fan categories are part of the soul of the Hugo Awards!

There’s two different kinds of response to Hugo issues. One is to respond structurally: change, add or remove categories; play with eligibility rules; change voting methods etc. The other is to respond behaviourally; change how we make decisions as voters. In the second case, a good example is the range of sites that came into being to help people find things to nominate in the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo voting community is big enough that a structural response makes sense but it is also small enough that change can be effected by persuading people to think differently about how they vote. One of the most positive examples of the latter is the Lady Business Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom. <-2019 version.

I decided to have a bit of a look at figures I could derive from that sheet and compare them with the Hugo stats. To do that I just counted up numbers of nominations in each category and then added nomination & final vote stats for those categories from this year’s Hugo stats. I will confess to a bit of sloppy counting: sometimes there is one header row in a category and sometimes there’s two or three and so sometimes my counts are a out by 1 or 2.

What did I find? Well, on average the number of works listed per category on the Hugo Spreadsheet of Doom (HSD from now on) was about 20% of the total number of works nominated. I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison with the long list but I think the HSD is a good early indicator of the level of interest in a category. I’ll come back to this.

Firstly some general correlations. Nomination votes correlate with final vote totals.

Whether that works causally I don’t know i.e. if we all encouraged each other to nominate things in fanzine (anything – not a campaign for a fanzine) would that lead to an increase in final votes for fanzine? Maybe.

Now let’s look at nomination counts. The more things listed in the HSD the more nominees there are. That’s probably not causal — they’ll both be related to a hidden variable that we could call “category interest”.

There’s a one point doing a lot of work on that graph though. Short story gets huge numbers of suggestions, way more than other categories.

Let’s connect some dots. Do the number of nominees correlate with the size of the votes? That sounds plausible but let’s see:

Very roughly, yes but it isn’t a tight relationship. I decided to cut out the intervening figures and just look at HSD counts versus final votes.

Unfortunately Short Story is such an outlier that the relationship gets obscured. I decided to remove Short Story and Novel as categories as they are clearly special.

It’s not nothing and considering how many steps away a very broad list of suggestions is from vote totals on a small set of finalists, it’s a fair bit of something. There’s three categories which fall well below the line of best fit on the right hand side of the graph. Interestingly they are points for Lodestar, Fan writer and Art book. Two of those categories are new(ish) and I know I personally added a lot of names to Fan Writer as part of my project to gather lots of names for Fan Writer.

Cherry picking even further by removing Lodestar, Fanwriter and Art Book, the relationship looks tighter but take this with substantial amounts of salt.

So, here’s what I conclude. Obviously just adding names to an eligibility spreadsheet won’t increase final votes. However, encouraging early interest in nominations (which we can measure with how entries on an eligibility spreadsheet) may well have a positive impact on final votes.

Promoting interest in possible picks for Best Fanzine over the following months up to the close of 2020 Hugo nominations will, I strongly suspect, lead to an increase in final votes for Fanzine.

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26 responses to “More Hugo Graphs, Fanzine & Ramblings”

  1. The fan awards have always been deeply important to the Hugo Awards, yeah. They are awards for a convention of fans which have in the last seventy years been both tight knit as a community and made a determined effort to be international and welcome different host conventions and fans.

    But, the model on which fan awards was based back in the 1930’s into the 1980’s doesn’t really exist anymore. It was a model based on the magazines and their wholesale distribution which was disrupted and changed in the 1990’s, on the U.S. convention system in the early decades of the category markets and that convention system’s use of fan and commercial SFF art, and on mimeographs, typewriters and eventually copy machines without personal computers and the Internet. Fan art, fan writing and fanzines are now a diffuse and globally expanding concept. Fan participants in WorldCon and the Hugos, while still kept to a medium sized body of people, are different, wider ranged (which means WorldCon met one of its goals,) and searching out stuff in different corners than existed before, which they don’t necessarily share with each other.

    The concept of the fanzine in particular, built around the idea of magazines and newsletters, while still relevant today, is in many ways archaic, and for some voters possibly very confusing. So it does seem likely that those involving themselves in the business part of the Hugos may be doing some revamps in the fan categories. But I don’t see them tossing those awards, even if voting interest in them is low a year or two.


      • Has voting in fanzine declined, or is this the result of other categories expanding? There is a danger that if membership expands significantly, the headline categories will get more votes, and the little categories will be left behind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Agree with @Andrew. This might, perhaps, combine with the increase in number of categories (and possibly Five-and-Six): very few voters are going to vote on everything; more and more categories may be the ones people don’t vote on.

        I think it’s really important to figure out what we want voting experience to be — and we’re leaning more and more towards ballots with a lot of gaps in them. Which isn’t a *problem*, it’s just significant, and we need to pay attention to what choices we’re making and what they mean.

        Liked by 1 person

    • It makes sense procedurally as a kind of quorum for a decision to be valid. Like any kind of numerical cut off, it is more a statement of policy than a figure that can be derived from data.


    • Yeah, now that there are 20 categories (if a Worldcon adds a special Hugo) and six finalists each (which may become permanent), we might want to think about lowering it to 20%. This year 2019 fanzine had 833 votes out of 3097, cut off at 25% would have been 774, and 20% would be 619. 1944 fanzine had 224 out of 834, so 25% was 209 and 20% would be 167.

      That still seems like a decent amount while recognizing that many people aren’t going to be able to get to everything anymore. I nominate and vote for fanzine, but it’s still in my 2nd tier of categories as far as prioritizing what to look at.


  2. I think the 25% rule reflects the idea that the Hugos come from a community: given that, it makes sense to say that if there is not enough interest in something within the community, there should not be an award for it. Now if the Hugos seek to be all-inclusive, covering the whole range of science fiction and representing everyone interested in it – which some people certainly aspire to – perhaps we should give up that idea; people who like books can vote on books, and people who like short fiction can vote on short fiction, and people who like films can vote on films, and people who like comics can vote on comics, and people who like fanwork can vote on fanwork. But that would certainly have downsides; for one thing, it would make it much easier for people to sign up just to promote the one thing they like. (When the Jordanians signed up in 2014, they were briefed on the 25% rule and told that, having joined, they should actually participate fully in the process. Without the 25% rule it would be harder to object to drive-by nominations.)


    • Well you could chop up the Hugos as Written Story (Novel, Novelette, Novella, Short), Media (BRW, Editors, Semipro, Graphic, Pro-art, BDP) and Fan (Fancast, fan art, fanzine, fan writer) and apply the 25% rule that way.


  3. Solution: Move Archive of its Own into the fanzine category (where I think it belonged to begin with) and, not only will it win every year for the forseeable future, there will be no issues over number of voters, ever again.

    Bonus: There wil be tens of thousands of people running around claiming to be Hugo Award winners, which ought to be good for general publicity, and also dilution. (Downside Mark Committee expenses owing to tens of thousands of cease and desist notifications)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, that’s quite the quandary. So many years were spent protecting this category. Semiprozine was created and Fancast. There was resistance to blogs as fanzines. If they had been pushed out, we undoubtedly wouldn’t have the category anymore. Now blogs are going the way of actual fanzines.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I find this whole discussion kind of infuriating. All of the fanzine finalists (And the many other fanzines and sites that did not get nominated) work hard to create great content – without pay – and people can’t even be bothered to check it out for the Hugos, let alone at other times.

    Plus, you get calls to combine best fanzine and fancast and not so subtle calls of “Move over with your old-fashioned blogs; booktubers are where it’s at now.” Add to that that best fanwriter nominations are increasingly going to people who write mainly for pro and semipro venues and that best related work is rapidly losing its original purpose and becoming best Fannish Thing. We are losing Hugo categories and very few people seem to care.

    I may just be cranky because I’m sick, but I’m not feeling very valued right now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Combine fanzine and fancast?! What the heck?
      With the glacial pace of changes to categories, I feel like they were just split out.

      I have some BookTube channels that I enjoy. I was pleased to see a couple on the longlist for Fancast. That’s what I nominate there because I’ve never been able to get into Podcasts. I enjoy listening to the finalists, but can’t seem to bother seeking them out otherwise. (What’s with their resurgence lately? It’s like it’s the early 2000’s again when iPods were the hot new thing.)

      But give me blog posts any day over either. I prefer to read rather than listen or watch.

      Liked by 4 people

      • This idea that a lot of people seem to have that videoblogging, booktubing, and podcasting is going to make written fan blogs and sites extinct is just bizarre.

        At some point (hopefully a long way down the road), I may have vision difficulties which force me to do my consumption of fan nonfiction writing in this way — although I think it’s far more likely that I’ll just resort to text-to-speech on my preferred sites.

        A lot of the people who are big video and audio consumers don’t seem to grasp that there are just as many people who can’t, or won’t, switch to those formats for various reasons. For me, it’s partly that I can’t both drive or do other things and actually take in audio/video at the same time and do justice to both, but mostly that I can read 20 times faster than I can listen to audio and video — and why would I want to reduce my consumption of SFF fiction and non-fiction by 95%?

        Liked by 3 people

  6. I wonder how much the -zine part is holding the fanzine category back.

    The definition (at talks about a “publication […] minimum of 4 issues, at least one […] in the year of eligibility”, and – unlike the fan writer category – doesn’t mention “mailing lists, blogs, BBSs, and similar electronic fora”, so the impression is that fanzine should be a publication, collated by an editor into distinct issues. The list of finalists for fanzine also names the editor(s), reinforcing that it is actively produced by an editor who selects the content.

    Given that website-only fanzines are accepted by the award administrators, I assume individual posts count as an issue, in which case that requirement immediately becomes a lot less stringent. But you wouldn’t know this from reading the category definition.

    Would a Twitter account like @TheSFReader – a French lecturer of SF/F who retweets lots of SF/F news and commentary in both English and French – be eligible? Definitely collated by an editor, definitely more than one issue per year, but the vast majority of the entries are not written for @TheSFReader specifically.

    Must a fanzine have an editor? Would a moderated community like the r/sciencefiction/ subreddit qualify for fanzine?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not holding the fanzine category back so much as it is the fanzine category. The idea was magazines put together by fans for fans, because it was the magazine model. Some of the fanzines were essentially newsletters more than magazines, mimeographed sheaves of pages, and very scattered often, mailed off to fan subscribers or distributed at conventions. The “editor” was often the only writer, or the editor and some friends.

      Some of the fanzines morphed into for profit magazines with ads, etc., and so started blurring the lines and also dominating the award, as previously discussed, leading to the semiprozine category, etc. And then you had personal computers/word processors and then the Web and the Web offers print, audio and visual options, including having them altogether. You have podcasts (radio shows,) for profit and for free and for free but with ad/sponsors. You have videos (t.v. magazine shows,) for profit and for free and for free but with ad/sponsors. You have blogs, group blogs, web magazines, Tumblr communal publications, Instagram photoblogs, news websites that people just throw together or run with ad profit, discussion forums, micro-blogging on sites like Twitter, etc.

      So pointing at something and saying that’s a fan run magazine for fans as fan expression — that’s hard to do these days. Something like SF Signal, at least when it started, you can look at that and say, kind of fan run magazine website. But it’s blurry because we don’t live in the 1950’s anymore. The way that fans interact with fandom and generate content about their fandom has fractured into lots of different avenues and for wider and less centralized audiences. You can argue that fanzines no longer exist and that fanzines have morphed into twenty different forms at the same time.

      How do you deal with a fan writer who can reach a million people in a day? This is not an issue they had to grapple with in 1965. And there’s not going to be an easy answer for fan categories, even if they limit it to print. It’s going to come down with what those going to WorldCon and paying the money for voting rights decide in the majority they value from the fan community. And that’s going to change as the ways fans can communicate with each other changes. And it’s going to be harder when we have massive tech economies in which discussion of anything, including hobbies and interests, has market value, even when the fans who start doing it weren’t looking for it.

      Then again, more and more of the Web will be pay for play, as has been long predicted. So fan work and pro distinctions may once again become more distinct in the future.


    • I think a dedicated Twitter account counts (eg MicroSFF !). A fanzine certainly can be collation & news. The medium shouldn’t matter unless it is covered by another category (eg fancast)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I guess one way could be to instead of Fanzine having “Best News Source”, “Best Fan Platform” or whatever. And have a rule of not being eligible again in five years after a win.

      But the hard question is if we should separate paid work from volunteer work and if so – how. Patreon and other tools make things messy.


      • I’ve been thinking lately about up-front compensation vs. voluntary contributions. Article/art is purchased and then appears. Or article/art is shared and then appreciative audience can contribute. Still not always clear cut, but that might be a little better than all or nothing in terms of whether creators receive anything.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know. I’m just having a long sad sigh because this is my category. If I can get my act together, I produce old-skewl fanzines. Well, digital PDFs, but in the magazine style, and a few printed copies exist…

    Liked by 1 person

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