Nominating podcasts for the Hugo Awards

Recently, I read a tweet that moved me to respond to the author.

The reason Jason tweeted to say that his podcast (The Incomparable) wasn’t eligible in the Fancast category was that he takes sponsorship. Both he and I thought that rendered him ineligible for any fannish category, due to the fact it represents a revenue stream.

A photograph showing previous Hugo Awards on display at a convention

I tweeted at Jason, and we discussed podcasts and their place in the list of Hugo Award categories. There are two categories in the last couple of years that have seen podcasts nominated. The first and most obvious is Best Fancast, in which a range of fannish podcasts have been nominated but which is specifically for non-professional ventures. The other is Best Related Work, in which Writing Excuses was nominated in both 2012 and 2013.

In which category would The Incomparable belong? Upon reading the WSFS Constitution1 we find:

A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria: (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

The definition of the Best Fancast category as expressed in the same document is — to pre├žis — any podcast that is “non-professional”, i.e. any podcast that does not meet either of the above criteria. I have been told that the reason that Writing Excuses is not eligible as Best Fancast is because it is published by Brandon Sanderson’s company, which qualifies it as a professional work.

What this does mean, however, is that any podcast with sponsorship and adverts can be nominated for Best Fancast, as long as that sponsorship does not make enough money to qualify the podcast as professional.

Podcast collectives

Where this becomes somewhat less clear is in the case of podcast collectives. The Incomparable is a part of the 5by5 network, which employs Dan Benjamin on a full-time basis, so anything published by or owned by 5by5 counts as a professional work. A podcast collective does not own the podcasts that belong to it, but I don’t know how a Hugo Awards administrator would rule on whether a collective counts as publishing the podcasts that belong to it. Jason argued that it wouldn’t in an email to me, writing:

I own my show (5by5 hosts it and sells some of the advertising, but I have all creative control as well as our separate site at so 5by5’s business status probably doesn’t connect.

I agree with Jason — it seems clear to me that podcast collectives are not publishers. Despite my opinion, however, the word ‘publish’ is not explicitly defined in the WSFS Constitution and so I can’t be sure of how an administrator would rule on the issue. I would argue that the fact that 5by5 has no editorial control over the podcast means that they don’t publish it, but I suspect there are arguments one could put forward to argue the reverse. I hope that future administrators would agree with me, but without a test case there’s no way to know.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion is to nominate The Incomparable as Best Fancast and watch what the administrators do! Go nominate it now, and I’ll write a follow-up blog post when it’s announced as a nominee at Satellite 4.

Thanks to Andrew Trembley and Warren Buff for discussing this subject with me!

  1. I apologise for linking to such a completely awful website, but unfortunately it’s the best way to link readers to the constitution. Hopefully one day it’ll get a fresh coat of paint. 
  • Ha ha ha! Thank you, John, for all your investigations on this issue. I appreciate your suggestion to nominate us as a psychological experiment. ;-)

  • Well, I nominated it the last two Hugo Awards, so I figured I’d try to convert other people to the cause!

  • Bless you!