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Compensation for Contributors at Conventions
Elliot Page

Author: Elliot Page

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Compensation for Contributors at Conventions

At the time of writing I am travelling home from Hibanacon, a convention in it’s virgin year and hosted in the land of roundabouts (and massive bizarre expanse): Milton Keynes.

I was invited to the convention as a guest panellist - something that I am deeply grateful for - and in return for putting on some panels for the event I was offered a free badge for the weekend. Again, I wish to express my gratitude to the Hibanacon committee for having me, and to all those who attended my panels!

I was honestly quite crestfallen when I got to the Con Feedback panel, and the idea of compensating panellists with a free badge was brought up. It was quickly shot down by a negative response from other attendees in the room. This article is partially written as a reaction to that event, but I want to make clear that it is not targeted at anyone present in that room, be they on the Hibanacon Committee or an attendee.

My expectation and desired baseline for a UK convention is that anyone presenting panels/events should receive a badge for that event, free of charge.

I strongly believe that panelists should be compensated for the time, labour, and stress that goes into preparing and presenting a panel at a convention. Creating a panel takes many hours of research, asset gathering, rehearsing, revising, and a great deal of mental fortitude. I have presented panels at multiple conventions and even with that experience it still takes an awful lot out of you.

Presenting a panel disrupts your own convention, as you often find yourself missing out on social meetups and panels you are personally interested in - because you have offered to provide entertainment for your fellow attendees. It also opens you up to possible blowback and negative reactions if your panel is perceived as challenging. While I am frankly privileged and somewhat protected in this arena (I’m a tall boring white dude) those who are more vulnerable can take on a great deal of risk when presenting a panel, so I believe that assisting and providing support to them is the right thing to do.

To put this in perspective, the panellist is still having to front the overwhelming majority of costs associated with the convention which include: Travel, accommodation, living expenses (food/drink), time spent preparing the panel and any holiday days taken or shifts at work missed to attend the event. A complimentary badge can make the difference between attending an event and the economics of these combined expenses pushing you away from attending at all.

I have heard a number of arguments against providing complimentary badges for panelists and, quite frankly, I have heard none (to date) which truly hold water. Some of the most common examples I have heard, and my direct rebuttal to these, are below:

  • "People will promise to do a panel to get a free badge, and then not show up to it."
    • I have never seen a concrete example of this happening. If you believe this is a risk, you can refund badges after the event itself once you have confirmed that the event actually ran;

  • "There is no money to provide free badges." OR "It is not sustainable."
    • The Convention committee controls the budget from start to finish, including the price of admission to the number of comped badges they provide. If a convention wants to encourage good programming, then money can be earmarked for it;

  • "It is not commonly done." OR "No other con does it." or "We don’t do it in the UK."
Compensating convention panellists is the right thing to do and it should be done, regardless of past precedent.  Perpetuating this negative attitude and standard is not an acceptable reason to prevent change. These are mere excuses, built on an unacceptable status quo;

  • "We will get a flood of panel requests."
This is a positive, not a negative! More panels means that it is likely that you will have a broader range of topics presented in your panels and so be attractive to a wider range of fans, including some who would otherwise not attend. Conventions already ask for a lot of information from prospective panellists, you can use this to filter down the panels you wish to put on and build a truly compelling programme;

  • "We will get a lot of bad panels."
    • Vet the panel requests using the information requested in the panel submission form. Ask for samples or examples of other work the prospective panellists have done;

  • "Panellists should present panels for the love of it"
No. People should be compensated for their time and effort, and for providing content for the convention. Full stop.

At the time of writing these there is a strong and accelerating expectation that creators should be compensated for their efforts, a humorous take on this being the "@forexposure_txt" twitter account that mocks people trying to push creatives into providing work for the ephemeral concept of “exposure”.

Conventions should also adopt this attitude, compensating their panellists accordingly for the efforts which they have expended producing this content and enriching their event.

Doing this will have many knock-on benefits and more people will be encouraged to submit panels, especially those who typically would not be interested or inclined to do so. This could provide a wider breadth of panels available for conventions to mould their programming from. Those who are invested enough to consider running a panel often have their own personal networks, and by attracting these people you also help to attract an extended network of people towards attending, further expanding the diversity of convention attendance.

Frankly, Conventions have a lot to gain from offering complimentary badges to panelists, and panelists should expect them. Anything less is insulting in my opinion. It is time for the UK convention scene to change.

My thanks go to Amelia Cook of Anime Feminist for encouraging discussions on this topic, which helped form this piece.

Please continue onto page two for more on this topic from Mr Seb.

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