I spent the weekend before last (i.e., August 5-8) in Raleigh, NC at ReConStruction / NASFiC (aka the Tenth Occasional North American Science Fiction Convention). NASFiCs are held in the years, like this year, that Worldcon is outside North America.
Analog.) I saw a bit of downtown Raleigh, which seems quite nice. All good fun.
And yet ...
I began this blog almost exactly two years ago, upon returning from Denvention 3 / Worldcon 2008. I lamented in that inaugural post that every Worldcon seemed smaller than the last. Last year I was unable to attend Worldcon (in Montreal), and so was not in a position to comment whether the trend had continued. Nor will I be going to Worldcon this year -- it's in too far off (for me) Melbourne, Australia.
I can compare the recent NASFiC with the immediately preceding version -- in 2007, outside St. Louis. And intending no criticism to the friendly and tireless volunteers who organized and ran ReConStruction, I'm sad to say that attendance was way down from the last NASFiC. And the graying of fandom continues unabated.
I don't have official attendance numbers, but the word-of-mouth at the con was circa 800, and that seemed about right to me. My guess for the previous/2007 NASFiC is 2000. (FWIW, I came across this estimated attendance for many NASFiCs, by blogger James Nicoll.)
Of course, the economy wasn't conducive to a big turnout, but I still find the 2010 numbers discouraging. So did many fellow members of the con, both pros and fans.
Meanwhile, this year's Comic-Con drew 140,000 (yes, I counted the zeroes properly).
Can cons continue as we know and love them? How about the genre so intimately tied to cons and fandom? My heart says yes. My mind really wonders.
And without having concrete suggestions to offer, I believe that for the health of fandom and the genre we need to broaden the nature and appeal of cons.