Locus Pocus

Gazumped! Neil Clarke posts about the change to the Locus poll scoring system, as described alongside the results in the July 2008 issue:

However, the next thing I see really bothers me and completely invalidates any year-to-year analysis I had planned:

“Results were tabulated using the system put together by webmaster Mark Kelly, with Locus staffers entering votes from mail-in ballots. Results were available almost as soon as the voting closed, much sooner than back in the days of hand-counting. Non-subscribers outnumbered subscribers by so much that, in an attempt to better reflect the Locus magazine readership, we decided to change the counting system, so now subscriber votes count double. (Non-subscribers still managed to out-vote subscribers in most cases where there was disagreement.)”

They changed the vote counting system after the polls closed. If they were so concerned about the results reflecting reader opinion, why allow non-subscribers the chance to vote in the first place? Doing something like this makes it seem like they were unhappy with the results and put a fix in. Given their long-standing reputation, I’m sure that wasn’t their plan, but what were they thinking?

For obvious reasons, Neil is most interested in the effect this has on the “best magazine” category; he also notes the one that first caught my eye, which is the result of Best First Novel. As described by Locus:

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill won by a slim 10 points over The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is one place where the doubled subscriber votes made a difference; the Rothfuss had more votes and more first-place votes but subscribers put the Hill first, and their doubled points gave it the edge.

Similarly, in Best Collection:

Connie Willis’s The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories won with a lead of just over 70 points, followed by Jack Vance’s The Jack Vance Treasury in second. Cory Doctorow’s Overclocked came in third — despite having the most votes and the most first-place votes. The doubled subscriber votes made Willis, ever a favourite with Locus subscribers, the winner; without the extra points, she would have come in second behind Doctorow, who has a large online fan base.

I have to say I’m deeply disappointed by this. The big selling point of the Locus Awards is, or always has been to me at least, their representativeness, precisely the fact that anyone can vote and that they are thus the best barometer of community-wide opinion that we have. As the notes at the start of this year’s result somewhat smugly put it, “We get more votes than the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy nominations combined … Nominees need at least 20 votes to make the final list, even though it frequently takes less to make the Hugo or Nebula publishing ballots.” All of that is still true, but it seems wrong to imply (as I think it’s intended to imply) that this legitimizes the results when you’ve just changed the scoring system to make some voters more equal than others — particularly if you only make the change after voting has closed, particularly if you only mention it in the print version of the magazine.

22 thoughts on “Locus Pocus

  1. Come on, they’ve got to give people some reason to hold on to their subscriptions after the thrill of seeing your name in the paper wears off, don’t they?

  2. they’ve got to give people some reason to hold on to their subscriptions

    What, all those photos of old men with beards and hawaiian shirts aren’t enough?

  3. You can trumpet how you’re the biggest poll around, or you can be a Locus subscriber’s poll. I don’t think you can do both by arbitrarily deciding the opinion of a subscriber is worth twice that of a non-subscriber just because Doctorow has a popular blog and hoping no-one notices you changed the rules.

  4. Print dinosaur alert!

    Yeah, that is pretty lame – Overclocked is a great collection , regardless of how popular he is.

    Men in Hawaiian shirts only ok if they are all Bruce Campbell – otherwise add ‘American’ and that is probably who their subscribers are?

  5. >>Neil is most interested in the effect this has on the “best magazine” category;

    Actually, I’m most interested in the impact it had on the entire poll and how this impacts the credibility of Locus, the poll, and the awards. Yes, when it comes to my research, I have a special interest in the magazine, short story, novelette, and novella sections, but seeing how dramatically it has impacted best first novel, best collection, and other categories definitely takes precedence.

  6. I think it just proves how arbitrary all the awards really are. Overclocked was a great collection. Although personally I preferred The Dog Said Bow-Wow which came in fourth. But then I hadn’t read half the books in that category. I haven’t had a chance to read Bruce McAllister’s The Girl Who Loved Animals and from what I’ve read it might be the best of the bunch — and it came in 19th. When it comes right down to it, its all a popularity contest with people voting for the friends and favorites. Its not 1962 anymore, there’s not a soul alive who can keep up with everything being published, even just the good stuff.

  7. Changing the rules after the results are in is not cool. If they felt the need to make that change, they could have implemented it for next year. Although I still wouldn’t have agreed with it.

    There’s a bigger problem here, folks. Niall got his copy of Locus in ENGLAND before I’ve gotten mine in TEXAS?!? Last I checked, it’s only 1633 miles between Oakland and Houston vs. 5307 miles from Oakland to Oxford. WTF?

  8. Karen: If you get your copies by periodicals mail, the delay you’re seeing is pretty common. The international copies probably go by ISAL (that’s what we did for ConJose’s non-US progress reports), and that’s faster than domestic periodicals (what used to be called “second-class”) mail.

  9. Kevin – thanks for the insight. I think I was spoiled by years of living in Los Angeles. I got my Locus issues almost fresh off the presses, no noticeable delay. To think that just changing states means weeks of extra delay is a bit mind-boggling in this otherwise globalized world of ours.

  10. How could they tamper with the results that way? This is unbelievable.

    I was a Locus subscriber and will not be renewing my subscription. And I say this as someone whose vote was counted twice and still thinks it’s grossly unfair. Just plain wrong.

    From an ‘outsiders’ point of view, this kind of ‘voting controversy’ seems to be yet another example of America’s alleged ‘democracy’ in action. Yeah, right. A democracy where those in charge get to decide how the votes add up!

    I guess Locus can be proud of being an all-American SF magazine now. Double-strike on both counts.

  11. I like Hawaiian shirts, and i endorse any move which will increase the prominence of Hawaiian shirts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s