Cons And Pros:
Why Comping Isn’t An Entitlement

by Dave Howell
February, 1998

A respected member of the SF professional community commented:

Any major con should offer two full memberships to a professional there doing paneling. It’s really a minimum wage issue. But for that, I expect to work.

As both a pro and a con (runner, pun intended), I disagree. “Comping” is a courtesy gesture, but not an entitlement, and it comes with some serious ramifications and baggage.

Just comping “pros?” Now some concom member has to verify “pro” status, and/or even find a definition of same that only offends some people, instead of most. This is especially hard for areas like costuming and music.

Comping all panelists? Now everybody’s banging on your door trying to get on programming, and somebody has to weed them out, and the con is writing off a significant percentage of a very limited budget. Either way, there are time and money expenses far beyond just the price of a membership.

Now, like a lot of people running cons, I’m firmly a member of the “gathering of like minds” school of SF Cons*. In the Olde Dayes, writers came to cons for the same reason everybody else did: they were fans who wanted to get together with other fans. So I agree with those who feel that panelists should be selected because they’re interesting and they want to be there, not because they’re a Good Audience Draw. And, of course, being on panels can be of measurable benefit to authors by getting them in front of a slice of their reading public.

So, it seems to me, if you’re thinking of a con as a business event for which you should receive a complimentary membership, then the SO or whoever that second membership is for should stay home. This is business, not a vacation. If you and the second person are at the con because you’re going to enjoy being there, why should you have a free membership at all, never mind two?

I used to help pay back convention committees by buying my membership and spending a couple hours helping out. Now I spend a few hours helping out, don’t usually pay for a membership, and get to use the convention as an opportunity for publicity and exposure.

And, if one feels that, say “one membership and a second at reduced rates” or even “no free membership” isn’t adequate or appropriate compensation for being a panelist, one can always decline to be on panels, buy one’s membership, and spend the weekend as one pleases.

In the real world, it’s usually authors as the ones at the short end of the stick, but for fan-run conventions, it’s the staff that, hands down, does the most work for the least reward. Even when they really screw up, I’ll cut them all the slack I can, because I know a warm fuzzy feeling is pretty much all they’ll get for the work they do.

—posted on the web April 24, 1999

*Gathering of Like Minds School of Thought: Congoers are “members” of the convention, with responsibilities as well as opportunities. Panel attendees are part of the programming, not an “audience” whose job is to shut up, sit down, and be entertained. Anybody and everybody at the con probably has something interesting to contribute; there is not a direct correlation between “value to the con” and wealth or fame.