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Hugo for podcasts?

I don't think there should be a Hugo award for "podcasts." But should there be an award for this kind of activity? What is a "podcast?"

A "podcast" is an audio periodical. With iPhones, iPads, Androids and other video-capable devices, there are now also video periodicals.

There are parallels here. Are there parallels that suggest splitting "podcasts" from fanzines? In the fiction categories, there's a big break between the written fiction categories (subdivided by length in words) and dramatic presentation (subdivided by length in time). There are clear differences between the experience of reading and the experience of watching/listening. There are significant differences between the skills required to publish text and produce video and audio presentations. It would be absurd to suggest that a movie based on a novelette be voted against novelettes instead of against other movies, long-form TV shows and plays.

So, yes, there's strong precedent to differentiate between text and a/v. But does that mean there's a reason to add a category for "podcasts?"

One of the loudest arguments from fanzine fans for splitting podcasts from fanzines is that podcasts have a much wider subscriber-base, are much more popular than fanzines, are going to steal the award from fanzines every time they're nominated. If that's true, then it's clear "podcasts" deserve to be considered for award even more than fanzines.

It's true. In many fan communities, podcasts are the leading tool for fan communication. Sure, go to a general SF convention, and there will be a few podcasters, maybe even a recording session or two. Go to a Doctor Who convention and you can't swing a cat without hitting a podcaster. There are recording sessions on the program, recording sessions in the consuite, recording sessions in the hotel lobby, recording sessions at the dead dog party.

It's a vital and active part of fandom.

So at this point, we've got strong arguments for separating text and a/v fanac, and a strong argument for having an award for a/v fanac. Let's look at what we've got for rules:

3.3.7: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.
3.3.8: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.
3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine.

So here's a hash:

Best Fancast. Any generally available non-professional audio or video periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has released four (4) or more episodes, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year.

Please note: Best Fancast. There are podcasts that have nothing to do with fandom. There are podcasts that are commercially produced. There are fannish audio and video periodicals that are not distributed through iTunes or other traditional "podcasting" services.

Which fits nicely with the fanzine category. There are, after all, non-professional 'zines that aren't fanzines.

The "Best Fanzine" category should be updated to exclude nominees that qualify for Best Fancast.

Does this all make sense?


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2011 12:20 am (UTC)
May. 17th, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Good idea. Not that it will fix the Best Fanzine Hugo, which is what it is (and always has been). But it recognizes a vital and growing area of fanac.
May. 17th, 2011 06:21 am (UTC)
I think you're on to something here. This might just work! It might even make more people happy than unhappy.
May. 17th, 2011 06:59 am (UTC)
I would extend it to allow non-periodicals -- for example, this would probably be a better category than "Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form" for "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury". Also, let's not rule out anyone who is sufficiently retro to use film instead of video. So we get Best Fancast: Any generally available non-professional audio, film or video work or periodical devoted to science fiction, fantasy or related subjects.
May. 17th, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
Although, thinking about it, we should also add "live performance" so as to include fannish plays, musicals, operas, etc.
May. 17th, 2011 02:29 pm (UTC)
I disagree; all of those things are "dramatic presentations" (even the Bradbury video) and belong in BDP Short Form. Alternatively, BDP Short needs to be re-split in some way if people really don't want short videos (<10 minutes, that being YouTube's upload limit) competing against other <90-minute dramatic works.
May. 17th, 2011 06:11 pm (UTC)
What I've proposed is intentionally very narrow to reduce the "Whut? Another Hugo? Blasphemy!" reactions.
May. 17th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I don't see "video" as excluding film any more than it excludes analog tape or digital recording media. It could read "audio or audiovisual periodical" but that might exclude a silent video periodical (and just wait for the steampunks to grab on to that).
May. 17th, 2011 07:38 am (UTC)
Reading it out as proposed - that looks damn brilliant!
May. 17th, 2011 08:51 am (UTC)
I suspect, should this come to exist, within 5 years there will be problem(s) with just what is meant by "non-professional". There are people who have, unexpectedly, ended up making a living from YouTube videos, some of which could be considered fannish in the several senses of the word. Note that they don't get directly paid to make the videos, but get the money from the (Google-added) ads. I don't know if this is the case for any audio-only 'casts.

Of course, this is now a general problem with the Fan categories; see Randall Munroe in this year's Fan Artist category (and, barring someone coming up with other, definitely paid for art, that Phil Foglio did a couple of years ago, it'd seem that Phil was in exactly the same position with respect to Girl Genius as Randall is for xkcd...save that Phil got a Pro Artist nomination). So, ideally, there needs to be some common wording for the Fan categories that gives a clearer definition of "non-professional".
May. 17th, 2011 02:34 pm (UTC)
This is a matter for leaving the definition of "professional" up to the voters, or else eliminating all of the "fan" categories entirely. I don't see that we can trust administrators to decide unilaterally what a "fan" is; what happens the first time an administrator eliminates a "fan" nominee for taking an excessively narrow view of what it means?

Example: "Your web site has Amazon links on it. You get paid a few cents if someone clicks through them to buy the book you mentioned. That means you've been paid any amount of money for your so-called 'fan' work, and I'm going to disqualify it because you're obviously a professional." That's less absurd than you may think; it's a specific example I recall of people desperately trying to find a way to disqualify Emerald City from fanzine.
May. 17th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
One definition of "professional" is _trying_ to earn money from it, so even if those amazon links never worked it could be deemed pro.

And yeah, as Kevin suggests is possible, I don't want an administrator who thought I cut them off once in a buffet line deciding my 'zine is a pro one on that basis.
May. 17th, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
And this cuts to the heart of the matter: we give the Hugo Administrator nearly-absolute authority, but because in our hearts we don't really trust anyone but ourselves, we try to keep those areas very narrowly defined and make it clear that administrators will face the Wrath of Fandom if they step outside of those areas.
May. 17th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Your analogy is invalid.

Girl Genius is explicitly professional. it started as a small-press comic book only available for sale. Free web distribution was an intentional change of business model, and a successful business model at that.
May. 17th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Nope. Girl Genius and xkcd are currently in exactly the same position with regards to professionalism; both are freely readable online but both provide the creators with the majority/whole of their livelihood. They came at it from different directions; the first year or two of xkcd would've counted as fan art, while GG, as you note, started as professional (and Phil, as his Fan Artist Hugos indicate, started off as a Fan Artist himself many years ago). But for 2010, barring someone pointing to non-xkcd fan art that Munroe did, the man was a professional artist for xkcd and shouldn't be a Fan Artist nominee.

As noted, there are a lot of fine lines with respect to work on the Web and payment/revenue sources. What I'm currently kicking around would put the onus on the prospective nominee; something like "in order to be a nominee in [the Fan categories], you must have done relevant work in the nomination year not done for direct significant pay or which, via direct or indirect means, provided you with a significant part of your livelihood. Prospective nominees should make the final decision whether they consider themselves ineligible under that criteria".
May. 17th, 2011 09:38 pm (UTC)
Well, that's certainly your opinion, but the jurors (the nominating electorate) disagree with your opinion. Your stated solution of voting No Award in any position and not ranking Munroe at all is the best way the reviewing jury (the voting electorate) can express its displeasure at the first result. If Munroe places below No Award or loses outright after a preliminary win, it would seem to be a clear sign that the broader electorate doesn't consider him a proper candidate for Best Fan Artist.

It's all well and good to advocate for 'strong administrators' when you want them to do the things you are convinced are right, but what happens when such an administrator DQ's something you think "obviously" belongs in a category?
May. 18th, 2011 12:41 am (UTC)
This is what happens when I don't go and read the rules over. This whole thread is an irrelevant distraction.

There is no issue with the definition of "professional" in the fan artist rule, because "professional" does not even appear in the fan artist rule.

Have there been issues in the past with rules that did include "professional?"

Well, there was controversy over Electric Velocipede's win for Best Fanzine in Montreal, but we'll have to nitpick rules to sort it out.

"Professional" is not defined in the fanzine rule.

The semi-prozine rule defines conditions that, while seemingly professional, don't preclude a publication being considered non-professional, but do exclude their consideration for fanzine.

The only condition that Electric Velocipede met was paying contributors. The voters believed it was non-professional, the rules didn't even push it into semi-prozine. If it's not semi-professional, how can it be "professional?"

Let's be honest here. The semi-prozine rule is a great example of definition failing and borking other rules in the process. It was carefully written to be the "Get Locus out of Best Fanzine" rule, and was harmed in the end by turning into the "Best Locus" Hugo for decades. It's taken an attempt to delete the category and subsequent backlash to get people to understand a definition of "semi-prozine" that isn't just "Locus."
May. 18th, 2011 12:37 am (UTC)
Makes perfect sense to me. Now you need to submit this to the WSFS Business Meeting. (And of course, wait for the fireworks to begin.)
May. 18th, 2011 12:48 am (UTC)
Well, first I have to draft it into a real motion and publish it so I can get people on my side to stomp out fireworks.
May. 18th, 2011 01:05 am (UTC)
Part of that is why you have a semi-tame parliamentarian in your circle of friends.
May. 18th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
I'll support it.
May. 18th, 2011 04:42 am (UTC)
Sounds interesting.
As a Doctor Who fan - we had how many podcasts working the Thursday and Sunday LobbyCons? - I know of several nominees. :D All of excellent quality.
May. 18th, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC)
Why don't you get the UK committee to try it out for their Worldcon? As I recall, everybody thought "Best Filk" and "Best Game" were awesome--until they didn't get any nominations.
May. 18th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
It's not a bad idea, but would it not be creating a special category that overlaps an existing one? After all, such fancasts are obviously eligible in Best Fanzine right now (since one won one), and it's not considered a good idea to create a category that includes works already eligible in a different category. (Except, presumably, Best Related Work since it appears that just about anything might fit there.)
May. 18th, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
Kevin has a solid point. Defining a special category that conflicts with a defined category is problematic. If it wasn't, I would already be asking Chicago to trial it.

I don't think your comparison with "'Best Filk" and "Best Game" are apples and apples.

Fanzine fans think that "Best Fanzine" is broken (for various reasons, as Tom mentions) but one of the bigest complaints right now is that unlike the paper/digital divide in magazines (which is dead and buried as a controversy) a/v periodicals are substantially different enough from text 'zines that they don't belong in the category.

So my first goal here is an attempt to fix (one of many) problems with the fanzine category. I agree with johnnyeponymous and shsilver that the skills to produce a 'zine are substantially different than the skills to produce a podcast. I also agree with many who have said the experience of reading a 'zine is different than the experience of listening to a podcast or watching a vidcast.

I could propose a motion that just excludes podcasts from the fanzine category, but that gets into messy emerging technology territory, and it's punitive.

Looking at the complaint, it's clear there's interest among Hugo nominators in podcasts. Last year Starship Sofa was nominated and won with strong numbers in both ballots. Not runaway numbers, but strong. We've got podcasts nominated this year in Best Fanzine and Best Related Work.

I think linking awarding podcasts with fixing one of the recognized flaws in the fanzine category is a positive, win-win situation. But it may be worth considering a re-ratification clause to allay concerns about lack of interest.
May. 18th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
Now, what can be done to assuage the fears that you're creating a category with no interest is to add a "sunset" clause. Postulating a change adopted this year and ratified next year, so that the first Best Fancast Hugo would be awarded at the 2013 Worldcon, you could add the following to the proposal:
Provided that unless this amendment is re-ratified by the 2016 Business Meeting, the wording affected by this amendment shall revert to its wording immediately prior to its ratification, and

Provided that the question of re-ratification shall be automatically be placed on the agenda of the 2016 Business Meeting with any constitutional amendments awaiting ratification.

This could be fiddled with; for instance, one might prefer explicitly giving the wording changes to revert back, as was done with Best Editor, and one might prefer to not automatically order the 2016 BM to consider re-ratification. (The Best Graphic Story Hugo doesn't have an auto-consideration clause, so someone is going to need to bring up re-ratification in 2012 or the category will automatically vanish.) But those are minor details; the key issue is to create a four-year trial, albeit that we'll only know the nominees for the fourth year. Based on past experience with Best Original Artwork, four years should be sufficient to determine whether the category has legs.

Besides, if the category is a complete loser, the Administrator can rule unilaterally in any year that there were insufficient nominations to justify the category for that year. There's no defined threshold; it's one of the places where the Administrator has a huge hammer to hold over a category.
May. 19th, 2011 06:05 am (UTC)
Interesting. I'm not yet convinced either way, but I think this is a reasonable suggestion - and as mentioned there's been grumblings about the Fanzine category for quite a while. Decades ago fanzines, photocopied or mimeographed, were a vital part of fannish communication; these days, technology has moved on. We no longer need APAs to send nerdy messages to each other now that we have LiveJournal...

Podcasts fill an ecological niche much like the old fanzines, and it strikes me as reasonable to view the medium of a "fanzine" as being of secondary importance. Do we really care if a presentation is made on dead tree pulp, in text on a website, as MP3 audio, or in video? The message is important, the medium negotiable.

My only cautionary thought is that if you tie a Hugo category too closely to the medium, by 2031 we'll have people wondering why anyone ever had a 'podcast' category and besides, cybertelepathy made it obsolete years ago.

But if Best Fan[thingy] gets called Best Fancast, sure.
May. 19th, 2011 06:11 am (UTC)
That of course is the reason for using a portmanteau word "fancast" and defining it broadly by content rather than specific distribution medium. This is analogous to how the Dramatic Presentation categories don't tightly tie their contents to only theatrical motion pictures or television shows, but only give such media as non-restrictive examples.

Admittedly, such non-specific wording is rather likely to confuse those people who must have all relative references filled in with absolute ones. I don't have a good solution for people who are so literal-minded. It's up to everyone else to help out the narrow-focused fans, point to such a category, and list examples of things eligible in it.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )