Friday, 17 May 2013

Budget bunching for BUCKaneers

The Silent, Pink Artist by Archive-Alicorn
The Silent, Pink Artist by Archive-Alicorn, Dec 2012. CC by-nc-sa 3.0
As we all know, there was some initial disquiet when the price list for this year's BUCK convention was published, showing large hikes over 2012's charges. This has now largely died down, thanks in no small part to good communications by the con's PR team, but some people did still have questions. After Germany's GalaCon published this post on transparency, including a pie chart showing where the con's budget went, it was suggested that BUCK might do something similar.

And now it has! Saturn, the con's chairman, has published what I think is an excellent open letter explaining the financial situation. It's pointed out, for example, that a substantial element of GalaCon's funding (a little under one fifth) comes from crowdfunding and other donations. This is not the case for BUCK, where something like 99% of the budget comes from ticket sales. (Which, I have to concede, is an excellent reason for only selling pre-booked tickets.) There are other differences: for example, BUCK is a company limited by guarantee, whereas GalaCon is a voluntary association.

But for the purposes of this post, I'll concentrate on the figures shown in the pie chart. If you want to see the pie itself (and I don't mean Pinkie) then you'll have to go and read the post I linked to on the BUCK website: yes, I'm doing this to encourage you to do just that, as it's extremely impressive. However, I'll concentrate here on the numbers themselves. There are four categories which take up more than 10% of BUCK's budget, and they are:
  • Venue (34%) — this covers the hire of two venues, the Bridgewater Hall and wherever it is the Summer Sun Celebration will be held. Remember that both venues need a day either side for preparation and clearing up.
  • Equipment (19%) — this covers audiovisual stuff, PA systems and so on.
  • Guests (16%) — this covers getting VIPs (John de Lancie!) to the UK, putting them up somewhere suitably comfortable and of course their appearance fees.
  • Fees and insurance (12%) — this covers the costs for things like ticket processing and also insurance in case anything to do with the event goes horribly wrong.
All the other categories shown in the chart — decor, admin & sundries, food and security — account for 5% or less of the budget each.

So, what can we deduce from this? Well, the fact that venue costs come top is no surprise, given the need to pay for two major venues. I'd also guess that the Bridgewater Hall does not have the cheapest hire fees in the world; it's not as if BUCK is being held in a rundown leisure centre on an industrial estate somewhere. (We don't yet know where the Summer Sun Celebration will be.) I'm not sure why the equipment costs are so high, but I'd guess that it's got something to do with the large size of the main auditorium, and the consequent need to use highly capable equipment.

The "Guests" budget is much lower, proportionately, than at GalaCon; in fact, it's barely a third the size (16% v 47%) — but then the German con has five show guests, counting those from non-English versions. BUCK (currently, anyway) has one personal appearance and two cyber-appearances. This is not in any way a complaint; it's just interesting, as it's by far the largest disparity in the two cons' budget breakdowns. (Obviously I have no idea how the cons' total budgets compare, but they're presumably of the same order of magnitude.)

And finally, there's "Fees and insurance", of which the first component is, I suspect, a relatively small proportion of the whole. The second bit, though, is an extremely important one for those who feel the need to be reassured. BUCK has taken out event insurance, so if something terrible happens, there isn't going to be a financial catastrophe. (And yes, we'd get our ticket money back.) This is the sort of thing that you want to see if you're looking for an organising team who are behaving responsibly and professionally. I really don't have any qualms at all in that respect.

Now, go and read Saturn's open letter, rather than just relying on my amateurish second-hand babblings. Then, if you haven't already got a ticket, wait for the second wave to become available in a few weeks' time and buy one. At least. That's an order.

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