This whole thing started in the summer of 2008, when Neil Clarke reported the results of that year's Locus award poll, as published in the July 2008 issue of the magazine, and noted with alarm a retroactive change to the award's vote counting system. "Non-subscribers outnumbered subscribers by so much," the magazine's writers explained, "that in an attempt to better reflect the Locus magazine readership, we decided to change the counting system, so now subscriber votes count double." The new weighting system (which was only disclosed in the print version of the magazine) changed the winners of at least two categories and unleashed a flurry of angry and resentful reactions, both for the system itself and for making the change only after the votes had been cast and the results tabulated.
The backlash was not long in coming. As reported, again, by Clarke, the 2009 Locus poll (which continued the vote-weighting system) saw a dramatic drop in participation, from just over a thousand votes in 2008 to 662 in 2009--a drop attributable directly to a 50% reduction in the number of non-subscribers voting in the poll. "We inadvertently alienated a lot of the online community last year when we decided to double subscriber points last year--particularly by doing it without notice," the Locus writers admitted. It also seems likely that the award controversy played a part in Locus's losing the 2009 best semiprozine Hugo to Weird Tales--an award it has failed to win only five times in the twenty six years that the category has existed (prior to 2009, the two most recent losses--to Ansible in 2005 and to Interzone in 1995--were both to UK-based magazines in UK-based conventions). In light of this reaction, and of their own recognition of it, I expected the Locus staff to quietly roll vote-weighting back in the 2010 poll. Instead, as the fine print in the recently posted poll page says, they have quietly continued it.
It should be said, in the strongest possible terms, that my problem with this choice has nothing to do with perceiving it as censorship, or with being angry that Locus isn't interested in the online community's input, or with the belief that they have somehow deprived online voters of their rights. The question here isn't whether Locus had the right to change the poll's vote-weighting system in favor of its subscribers, which of course it did, but whether in doing so it did the right thing. There's nothing wrong with wanting the Locus award to reflect the tastes of Locus subscribers. If the decision had been to close the poll off to non-subscribers entirely, I would have had no complaints. It would have been disappointing--as Niall Harrison says, "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."--but most popular vote awards, in and out of genre, limit their voter base in some way--the Nebula awards are voted on by members of SFWA, the Hugos and other convention-based awards by members of the convention--and it would have been entirely valid for the Locus award to follow suit.
That's not what the Locus staffers did. Instead of politely telling us that we are not welcome in an award that doesn't seek to reflect our tastes, they've made the far more insulting choice of giving us half a vote each--we're welcome, in other words, but not equal. A slightly cynical reading of this policy would be that Locus wants to hold on the perception that its award is the most open and representative in the field, and to the cachet that comes with that perception, without actually being open and representative, and that its staffers are hoping that by not drawing attention to the vote-weighting policy, it will be quietly forgotten, and eventually accepted as the new status quo.
I don't think that should happen. With apologies to the authors I would have voted for, and particularly the ones I would have given write-in votes to, I don't plan to vote in this year's Locus award, and if you're not a subscriber, I urge you not to vote either until its administrators agree to give every ballot its equal weight. I hope that the Locus staffers will take a long, hard look at what they're doing, and make one of two equally valid choices--open the award equally to all voters, or close it off to magazine subscribers only. But as it stands, I see no reason why we should invest our time and energy helping to legitimize an institution that considers our opinions to be less legitimate than others'.