Could a publisher buy a Hugo Award? Maybe, if the cost of a non-attending WorldCon membership gets capped at around $40 a head. It could only cost a few thousand, or maybe $10,000, to buy enough memberships to "win" an award, worry some in the fan community. But the larger problem is that the Hugos are usually only voted on by a few hundred people, despite having their own category on Amazon.com. The controversy comes down to a question: is the best fix to have more people voting, or fewer?
This has been a hot topic on the email list of the Secret Masters of Fandom (SMOFs), a group of long-time convention attendees and organizers. Several influential SMOFs are opposed to making WorldCon memberships too cheap, worrying it'll allow publishers to buy tons of votes. In fact, there's a proposal among some SMOFs to restrict who can vote for the Hugos.
But as blogger Steve Davidson points out, putting complicated and draconian restrictions on Hugo voting is just one approach to preventing vote fraud. The other, more sensible approach, is to ake it as easy to vote as possible, so you have tens of thousands of actual voters and it's not possible to buy enough votes to outweigh them all.
Hugos are respected and utilized by publishers and such for marketing purposes: Hugo winning books have new editions rushed into print, proudly displaying the win on their covers.
So you can't say they are a meaningless award, despite the small amount of participation. But I believe that they would be MORE meaningful if, instead of winning on four or five hundred votes, a novel, story, artist, magazine or movie won with four or five THOUSAND votes.
I hadn't actually realized that most Hugo Awards are decided on the basis of a few hundred votes. I thought WorldCon was a bigger event (I haven't been yet) and more people bought supporting memberships. It's a bit scary to think that the awards process is that insular - let alone that it might get even more insular soon, if some of the Secret Masters have their way. [Crotchety Old Fan via SF Awards Watch]