Furry founder Fred Patten saw more partying, less fandom in 2018 with the Ursa Major Awards.
by Patch O'Furr
Fred Patten started off with a message to Patch O’Furr:
This is a rant, as much as anything. I wrote, as Secretary of the ALAA (AKA the Ursa Major Awards) to the AnthrOhio Committee, to invite it to host next year’s award presentation ceremony. AnthrOhio is the new name of former Morphicon in Columbus, Ohio. They presented the Ursa Majors in 2008, 2011, and 2015.
I got a very nice reply from Danny Travis, this year’s Director of Programming for AnthrOhio. He thinks it’s a great idea and has agreed. But his reply implies that he’s never heard of the Ursa Major Awards, and that he was unaware that they have been presented at Morphicon/AnthrOhio in the past.
This makes me wonder how many of today’s furry conventions are being organized by people who are mainly interested in putting on a big party with fursuits, and little interest or knowledge in furry fandom beyond their own convention, including their own con’s history. Some like Anthrocon with Dr. Sam Conway and CaliFur with Rod O’Riley (and any con with staffers who have been around for a while) know what’s going on. But how many are being organized by young people who only use the trappings of furry fandom to have a good time?
You have been following not only the conventions but a lot of the smaller furry parties and raves. Do you get the impression that most attendees are more interested in partying then other active fandom?
Patch wrote back:
I think part of that may be the reach the Ursa Major Awards have. This award has been around for 17 years or so, before some new furries were born. The growing population of new, young members are less likely to know the founders. They might not be uninterested with everything else fans do – they might just be out of reach.
Kyell Gold’s books, for example, are really popular with young people. Kyell was so successful with the awards that he had to bow out. I’m not sure how many of his fans are even aware about that.
For more reach, keeping a more active presence for the awards year round would be much better than taking it out of hibernation once a year. It would take hard work, like updating a Twitter regularly. That’s why, a while back, I suggested doing a regular “where are they now” series about award winners (and maybe con guests) from the past. There could be an interesting feature about them once a month to sustain regular interest.
Fred answered with an update about recent Ursa Major Award voting:
The voting for the 2017 Ursa Major Awards is closed, and this year’s voting statistics are in. 1,247 people requested a ballot. 882 actually voted. 250 of those waited until the final day to vote.
That isn’t very good. It’s really bad! The ALAA has statistics back to 2009 for the 2008 awards, the first year that the ballot was completely by e-mail (rather than people requesting a paper ballot to be voted upon and physically mailed in). The number of people actually voting, rather than requesting a ballot, have been:
- 2008 = 273
- 2009 = 1,150
- 2010 = 1,372
- 2011 = 1,782
- 2012 = 1,112
- 2013 = 856
- 2014 = 2,851
- 2015 = 1,157
- 2016 = 1,446
- 2017 = 882
The nominees for 2014 included Guardians of the Galaxy for Best Anthropomorphic Motion Picture, and Furry Force for Best Anthropomorphic Dramatic Short Work or Series. Furry Force was broadcast on College Humor and was one of the few movie or TV productions to acknowledge its Ursa Major nomination. Maybe that was the reason for the unusually large number of votes that year.
Furry fandom supposedly has hundreds of thousands of members and is growing. Theoretically the number of people who know about the Ursa Major Award is also growing each year. But that isn’t reflected in the number of voters each year. It’s been stagnant at 1,200 to 1,300, and took a sharp nosedive this year for reasons unknown.
Some Internet creators ask their fans on their websites to vote for them in the UMAs. We may get a few votes for that reason, but the number of voters still doesn’t go up each year. This year, the Ursa Majors initiated a GoFundMe campaign, and while that has been successful financially, it has not brought any increase in the number of voters. It’s frustrating.
The votes vary from complete ballots – votes in all twelve categories – to votes in only a single category. Most ballots contain votes in about half of the twelve categories. The most popular are Motion Picture, Dramatic Short or Series, and Game – the three that would fall the most if the Ursa Majors were turned into an award for furry fandom creators only. Movies, TV, and games tend not to be created within furry fandom. I’m afraid that Best Anthropomorphic Magazine, where Dogpatch Press qualifies, is consistently one of the least voted-upon categories.
Patch thought about it:
This could involve saturation. It’s math – while audience grows, their attention span stays the same. If a group goes from 1,000 to 10,000, but each spend the same hour a day on media, and many of those 10,000 people are also creating media themselves – you see the problem of falling attention span to watch everything.
Creating costs time and money and those who grow a fanbase invest extra effort beyond just enjoying a hobby. If a pool of creators shares revenue among individuals, when they grow, a more-or-less basic share to everyone gets more expensive. Value per person falls and entry cost gets more prohibitive. I think that’s why Youtube creators had ad revenue they depended on cut this year. Only larger producers with more views get it now.
Mainstream book publishing is like that with a few high-traffic bestsellers pulling weight for thousands of “wallpaper” titles. There also used to be the midlist thing with authors who were productive and reliable, even if rarely bestsellers, but I suspect there’s been a lot of polarization with Amazon killing competitors and gaining a monopoly. Furry authors may know the challenge.
Saturation goes with electronic media that can repeat infinitely compared to printing paper. It can go out of control and test the human brain and learning. Black Mirror is a great TV show telling dark futuristic stories about society changing that way. On a down-to-earth level, that saturation can just make a slippery business with a race to the bottom nature.
This is why I think conventions and parties, and the popularity of fursuiting are important community glue. It’s valuable to have real, tangible experiences you can’t download. That’s why this fandom is great compared to others. In fandom there can be advantages for media that’s tethered to a real foundation (like book sales at cons). Engagement can also benefit from the timing of getting it from each other independently of corporate media production schedules.
I think the Ursas could harness that energy from face to face groups and events. How about more focused con panels, workshops, parties, contests, regional awards, or even book clubs? It takes team work, but I hope that helps for ideas about how to keep the awards active. Instead of parties competing against fandom creativity, putting them together could improve both things.
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One factor could be a growing apathy to awards and award shows.
Outside of the fandom I never really cared much about any award show it Oscar, Peoples Kids Choice or whatever. I might glance at a video of something news worthy at the Oscars after the fact but overall I just couldn’t get excited about this stuff.
For some disclosure, I have lived for years with somebody who was on staff at the ALAA and even with that kinda of regular prodding I still had a low level apathy. I’m probably not alone with this.
We could be looking at a mix of apathy, bandwidth we have as individuals to care about specific shit and a lack of marketing.
As more and more people join the fandom it’s going to become more about everything else that makes it up and not just the books or art or music alone. It’s all of those things. It’s not that people are focusing less on ‘fandom’ it’s that what many older furs define as ‘fandom’ is different than what younger furs see it as and that’s OK. No one person is the final arbiter of what it means to be a furry. Nothing’s stopping people from being writers, musicians or artists-there are still many of those within it (granted more artists than musicians or writers but still). That’s what happens when something goes mainstream and mainstream culture begins to appropriate elements of it within itself. Yes it means much of what used to be considered furry is fading but answer me this-which would you rather see? The fandom stagnate and fade or more people embrace it even if it means less poetry and less parties? Speaking as a poet myself I’d much rather get less hate for being a furry than be stuck in a tiny dying fandom while having to deal with trolls calling me ‘furfag’ all the time like when I first got into the fandom back in the mid 2k’s.
Times change. As long as people are having fun, not breaking laws and making it a welcoming place is it really that bad? There are people out there preserving the fandom’s history. It’s not like the important people or things about it are going to be lost. It’s like any other facet of culture-eventually if there’s something good about it that stuff will make its way into the broader culture (which in and of itself CAN be a bad thing-see indigenous culture and its appropriation but since furry itself appropriates from numerous cultures itself I think it’s only fair).
I don’t see this as anything all that detrimental. While there should be some concern in regards to over consumption of alcohol and making sure people don’t disrespect each other or hotel rules/local/federal laws for the most part I think folks need to lighten up. The fandom is mostly made of younger folks in their 20’s now and I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say most of us greymuzzles have done our own fair share of partying in the past. Sometimes it’s good to try and remember what it was like to be young (while doing one’s best to stay young at heart-and after all isn’t that part of what furry has been all about all along?).
I don’t think much has been lost; it’s just that some aspects are, perhaps, not as dominant as they once were because others have been introduced and gained a following.
Costuming and fursuiting in particular was already a thing when I started going to convention in 2005, but it’s surely grown since those days. I don’t know if it’s something that ALAA’s committee were ever particularly involved with; judging costumes has historically had its own competitions, in part because of the need to see the costume in action, and that pattern was replicated with Further Confusion’s Masquerade. When it became clear that there was demand for a year-round contest, based in online media, the Fandom’s Favorite Fursuit Fracas stepped up.
Publishing is still a big market – perhaps bigger than ever – but the proportion of business going via traditional publishing and compensation methods has probably declined – as has the concept of linking compensation to specific published works. [For that matter, work traditionally sold at conventions is less of the pie, not even considering the exclusion of Bad Dragon from some of them. Which might be part of it – conventions aren’t so necessary to the business of selling now; they’re more of a furry holiday camp.]
Actually that’s true of art in general – there are more sponsoring individual artists on Patreon than there are voters at the Ursas. Furries are voting with their dollars; and it might be interesting to see an analysis of that, since it’s supporting a lot of our best artists. But I doubt we’ll see an UMA category for “best Patreon-sponsored comic or Picarto stream” anytime soon.
By the way: “I think conventions and parties, and the popularity of fursuiting are important community glue. ”
Porn. Porn is the furry fandoms glue. People can deny it all they like but ever since the first zine mature-themed art has been a big part of it. Most of its main progenitors drew porn on the side or in secret if not right out in the open. That’s always going to be part of what helps keep it going and has been a big part of what’s helped it grow. Since sex is always going to sell and since young people tend to be into that sort of thing that will always be one of its main draws.
My only issue with that of course isn’t the fact that porn is popular but more the fact that as the community gets bigger the sex side has been getting a bit more hate-especially the fetishy stuff. If anything’s going to push people away from the fandom it’s by stigmatizing that stuff. The last thing anyone needs is people turning furry into some kind of quasi-religion which is probably my biggest reason for disliking the idea of elevating any one part of it (even a storied and praise-worthy award as the Ursa Major) as being more important than another.
Everyone (save for those intending harm and/or breaking laws-not counting laws pertaining to weed/THC as those are dumb though people shouldn’t be indulging in it at a con) should have a place at the furry table.
I just got reminded to look at this article, since I’m going to quote your other comments for a new one 🙂
So if we agree porn is important like that, we could also say cons and events are where people meet to fuck. Don’t kill the messenger, humans are animals and there’s nothing wrong with it!
Part of the issue is that the UMA never emails those who voted in previous years to ask them to nominate and vote this year – or even to tell those who voted who were the winners. They seem to rely on people seeing news announcements or notices from those nominated. Well… that doesn’t always happen. The people most likely to vote are those who’ve voted in the past, but you have to reach out to them. 😸
I don’t think the nominees are even informed, which is surprising if you’re relying on them to do part of the promotion. Maybe there’s an expectation that they’ll know, and care; but the fandom is a big place now and the people doing things worthy of recognition often have a lot on their plates already.
We get new things recommended to us every day, so I’m not surprised if some feel burnt out there. You can run into new and interesting things at the awards, particularly in the short film section. But most things you’ll have heard about already if you were paying attention – possibly over a year ago by the time it comes to vote. I’m not sure there’s a way around that for an award; you need time to reflect. But it’s hard to get behind supporting X when X+1 is in the news already.
Fursuiting means it is possible to be involved with furry community without ever having read a furry book or comic, let alone a ‘zine, so some of the categories may not be particularly relevant to some younger members. And yes, it is possible that some are just at furry conventions to have a good party rather than celebrate the furry medium. In fairness I think there have been furries of that kind for a while now, and some fursuiters are also very active elsewhere – but there is a clear fursuiter-only crowd for whom the awards may have little relevance. (Fursuiter-Artists, too, because most make their money via commissions and Patreon, not published works or art for them.)
The rise in convention attendance is also related to the availability of conventions. Many could already vote online for the Awards, they just couldn’t go so easily to a local con. So the growth in furry may not be as huge as was thought.
Nevertheless, I think there are a lot of new furs and they may be interested in parts of the Awards, but there is a need to market it to them, in the places where they are – Twitter, Discord, Telegram, maybe even Furry Amino. Could suggest to some YouTube celebrities that they might want to talk about the award announcement. And don’t forget those emails!
I think the issue with voting is not necessarily that furry is not growing as quickly as you think, It is that outspoken furs tend to attend more than one convention, this could account in a bump of some numbers as people like to hang with friends.
The main issue with URSA might be lack of knowledge. I have never actually seen an ad for the awards on FA. Requiring registration to vote may also be a turnoff. Also when googling “Ursa major” the awards are at the bottom of the page, however this could just be a case of having googled the awards first and the constellation itself being far more relevant.
Most of the donations should indeed go to web hosting, However, SEO and advertising are just as important, if not more so.
The voting numbers show that no one knows about the awards with an exception of a very small group. There is only en mass voting when something comes up that triggers landslides such as furry force or zootopia and even then it is not to the same degree. while it is good that the awards are not a popularity contest, on the other hand it is so tiny that any extra vote is good.
If nominees aren’t told they were nominated, like you’ve said, that could be a huge part of the problem. that needs to be rectified. There should be a push to tell fandom creators when their works have been nominated for the award so they can tell their fans to go vote or so they can check out some other good stuff.
But the awards have other problems, the categories are far too broad. It has gotten way better, just look at 2001!
I suggest that URSA take a very good look at what category is far more popular the nominations and adjust accordingly. I would first suggest a broad category and individual categories under that.
I would suggest an updated list. categories in brackets are preexisting.
[split short fiction up even more]
[flash fiction(may not even be needed) under 3000
short story 3,000-1700+
Best of Fiction
Best History Work
Best Reference Work
Best Biography or Autobiography
[Best Multiple issue Magazine] for multiple issues running
Best single issue Magazine] —– new this year or only one issue planned
[Best of Nonfiction]
[Best Published Illustration]
Best Full Suit
Best Partial suit
Best Published comic(allows both published and webcomics to shine)
[Best Comic Strip]
Best of Visual
[Best Motion Picture]
[Best Dramatic Series]
[Best Short work] — these honestly needed to be divided
[Best Computer game]
Best tabletop Game — board games, rpgs, etc.
Best of Multimedia
A “best of show” for the work that receives the most votes and a numerical list of the runners up would be a nice option and quite thematically. it might see a bit more competition among various categories and make it more interesting. This would also show what would happen if a big corporation makes a showing and sweeps. Zootopia 2 anyone?
TDRL: URSA needs better advertising and more categories to prevent broad sweeps and allow for more types of content.
So I think the thing people miss is that 20 years ago (when I entered the fandom), conventions were the way our culture was monetized. Someone like Kyell Gold or Rikoshi or Tempe O’Kun couldn’t exist and make a large amount of money without traveling to cons and selling his self-printed (at $10 a copy or so) works. There were not very many if any furry publishers, then, unless you count APAs or Zines. The alternative was you post it on line in txt format on a newsgroup or similar, and then you got nothing but exposure.
Now we have multiple publishers, with multiple imprints who will rep your book and artwork. We have websites and a system that can process money. We have amazon literally allowing us to sell our books there through their imprint (or otherwise.) The old method of convention sales floor hawking of your book is not needed anymore.
Conventions are in this weird spot. Furry is mainstream. Furry books are available through mainstream outlets. The need for the cultural exchange and market has shifted away from words and drawings to more physical and tangible items. It’s why custom artwork is still sold at cons (but delivered later), why access to artists that we love is a commodity (see this person at that booth! Meet the artist behind xyz, etc!), and why leather collars and dildos and other such naughty things are getting boothspace and foot traffic.
So what do we do now? We turn the focus from cultural marketplace into social gathering. And in everry culture, social gathering means partying in one form or another.
Furry isn’t what it used to be. I don’t have to download some good writer’s smut and print it out on the green and white printer at the lab anymore. I can order it from a furry publisher in ebook form, or from amazon, or from either in print form. It gets delivered to me by a real person in a professional looking dust jacket, instead of stapled photocopies handed out by a guy who is living out of his car at the con because he can’t afford a room.
That said, there is something charming about zines, and APAs, and I hope for the more niche stuff they make a comeback. They seem to be. But much of what Fred misses is the fact that we needed this marketplace because we had no other way, and now we definitely do.