Monday, August 10, 2009

Steampunk Events: SteamCon Booksellers Controversy

A photo of individuals in Steampunk attire, by a Miss Cindy P (via Flickr)

The Seattle SteamCon, which will be taking place in late October 2009, looks to be quite an interesting event, but it appears that issues are beginning to emerge pertaining to the dogmatic adherence of Steampunk marketing. As first reported in IO9, registration for vendors has closed for the event, and it has been reported that no booksellers will be making an appearance at a convention for a genre, which started on the printed page.

From what at least one book seller, Book Universe, has stated, is the convention organizers insist that according to the contract provided by the convention, only Steampunk materials are allowed to be sold, with no exceptions, including books. The logic of the organizers, which does follow some conceptual adherence, is they "didn't want people with fairy wings and Star Trek jerseys" at a Steampunk convention. The "Steampunk Only" concept extended to merchants, including booksellers, who understood the rule extended to any books (e.g. only "Steampunk" books could be sold at SteamCon).

As such, there will be no booksellers (at this writing) at SteamCon. A bit ironic, as the majority of visitors to the SteamCon will not be in costume, and mostly likely be speaking in an American accent (vice, say, an English accent {a real one, not a "faux" accent}). Insisting on a strict Steampunk attire does make sense, as most attendees to said convention would not wish to view individuals engaging in Cosplay anime costumes or wearing attire appropriate to other genres, but to insist that only Steampunk books be sold seems to be a bit much. Though there is a base of literature for the genre, I would be hard pressed to argue the literary niche of Steampunk (as the only type of publications allowed to be sold) would provide the monies necessary for a bookseller to turn a profit at SteamCon.

To insist that individuals in costume reflect the theme of the convention does make sense, but to impose regulations on organizations who would not only help one perpetuate the potential success of the SteamCon and help pay its bills, seems to be an exercise in adventurous judgement regarding the attendance (and potential profit generated) from SteamCon. Every story has two sides, so it will be interesting to hear the SteamCon's managerial team take on this issue.

To read the IO9 article, please turn to:

To visit the SteamCon website, specifically the vendor's page, please visit:


Sophia said...

You know, while I can't attend SteamCon this year, I was seriously considering going next year. While this tidbit doesn't exactly change my mind, it does provide some food for thought. It also reminds one that any fandom, no matter how generally nice and cool, has its share of zealots.

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

Dear Miss Sophia,
I'm hoping this is simply an oversight on the organizer's part, but though they have a large selection of events and a fair number of vendors, pushing some away for no discernible reason seems to be a questionable business choice. Perhaps if the sellers were to emphasize Steampunk literature, but still allow some books to be sold, that might be a reasonalbe medium. Time will tell.

Rhianon Jameson said...

It's also not clear what constitutes a Steampunk book. Some are clearly part of the Canon. But what to make of, say, The Diamond Age, which is not set in the Victorian era?

Keeping to the theme is all well and good, but at some point it starts to become a chore. The the lovely Davenport Sisters, in promoting the Clockwork Balls, encourage Steampunk costumes, but emphasize that they are not necessary. Similarly, a convention could request that vendors emphasize Steampunk items - at which point no one has to decide what is "in" and "out."

Diana Vick said...

Many conventions and events ask people to stick to the theme or time period. Why shouldn’t this same rule apply to all vendors? Why does everyone seem to think that book sellers should be the exception to this rule? There will be panels about steampunk literature. There will be readings and book signings. Paul Guinan, the artist guest of honor will be selling his books in the vendor’s room. Phil and Kaja Foglio will be selling their books in the vendor’s room. The fact that no vendors selling only books applied to be in the vendor’s room is the reason we have no vendors selling only books. It certainly doesn’t mean that Steamcon was pushing them away, or trying to exclude them.

“A bit ironic, as the majority of visitors to the SteamCon will not be in costume…” I beg to differ. As I have been giving talks and classes about steampunk for the past few years, steampunk enthusiasts are much more prone to dress up than your average science fiction fan. We are certainly not insisting that everyone wear steampunk attire. We can’t control what people wear, nor would we. We can however control what goes in our vendor’s room, artshow, fashion show, panels and other programming. We are having a steampunk convention. We are striving for an overall steampunk aesthetic. If you don’t like steampunk, then this isn’t the convention for you. If you do however, we hope that you find the most unique and interesting things that steampunk has to offer.

Vice chair of Steamcon

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

@ Miss Jameson
Maintaining a variety within the genre, seems to be a bit of an uphill battle at times, be it in producing literary works, choosing musical selections, or even blogging. The focus of my contention is the inclusion or exclusion of selling non-Steampunk books at SteamCon. I believe that a strict limit on what is sold (regarding books) is counter-intuitive; their management believes it is a positive practice that lends itself to the promotion of Steampunk (if I interpret her response correctly).
In fact, the boards associated with this are quite vivid – some agree with the premise of the article, while the management of SteamCon disagree. I do not personally believe, as the overall tone of the article seems to advocate, that SteamCon wishes to attempt to define the genre, but Miss Vick's insights on the thought process on their policy is enlightening.

@ Miss Vick,
First off, thank you for responding to this dusty corner of the internet. I will be the first to admit that I am not accustomed to strict genre-specific conventions, as most of my previous experiences tend to be colored by more, diverse, shall we say, gatherings. With the varying limitations regarding the growth of Steampunk as a genre, a strict aegis regarding SteamCon's Steampunk rules is an intriguing deviation from typical gatherings, and perhaps as many new concepts (new to myself, anyways), I have a tentative perception of how it will affect the success of your endeavor, and the perception of Steampunk in a larger sense.
This being noted, I am quite sure that the managerial team of SteamCon have already considered this, and believe a strict fidelity to the aesthetic is the best path to success. I certainly hope so, as a successful SteamCon may provide the tipping point for future conventions, perhaps eventually spawning an east coast version.
Be that as it may, I do hope for the best of success for SteamCon, and look forward to many more in the future!

Karl said...

I totally understand the point of view. My one concern is that some one Cos Playing as characters from Steam Boy or Howl's Moving Castle are as Steampunk as anything in the genre. Would they be looked down upon because of color palette or materials? Also would a book seller eb able to sell Steampink themed manga. I assume so being Phil Foglio's work is also of a graphic nature and color.