As a follow up to my last post I thought I'd discuss the argument in question (or at least part of it). From what I can tell the entire thing began because there was some offense take to the combining of different products into a single entry. The particular example used was the Battletech PDF entry, which was a series of free PDFs based on the newest iteration of the Battletech rules. I'm at work right now, so I don't have the actual entries with me at the moment, but I'd be glad to list them when I get a chance if there is interest.
So, here's my perspective on the matter. Please keep in mind that, though I was a judge for this year's awards, I am currently not affiliated with the ENies beyond my status as a volunteer and perhaps a few final duties during GenCon itself (I am, for instance, working the booth for four hours). With any luck, and a little support, I'll be a judge again in the future, but for now all I have is opinion, and the reasoning behind the choices I personally made.
The crux of the issue is this: Several products were allowed to be combined into a single entry, usually at the request of the publisher who entered them. I haven't done any work in previous years, so I might be wrong, but as far as I know it was first brought up in relation to the Dungeon and Dragon magazines. Paizo wanted to know if they would be considered separately, or as a group. This was brought to the judges, and as a group we decided that it would be best to enter the issues together as a single entry. This later became a non-issue because Paizo decided not to enter the entire line, but it did set the stage for what came after.
Next came the Battletech PDFs. I saw the Battletech Quickstart rules and fell in love. I became a huge fan of the newest itteration of the rules, and so I thought it was a shoe-in for Best Free Product. I said as much, and was then told that Fanpro wanted to enter the PDF versions (which included several additional free books, character sheets, and the like) as a single product. The precedent had been set by the Paizo entries, and the rules already had a somewhat related clause (a publisher's website could be considered as a single entry under Free Product), so to me at least it seemed acceptable.
Warlords of the Accordlands is another example. Here we awarded the entire four book line a nomination under Best d20/OGL. Clearly they are separate products, but they fit together so seamlessly that I could easily see them as a single mega-product like Ptolus.
Now here's why I think that's alright:
The Battletech Quickstart was going to get my vote under Best Free Product, no doubt. It's possible that some of the other books in the line may have as well. The Warlords of the Accordlands World Atlas was going to get my vote under Best d20. The Master Codex may have as well. What would be better, to fill up the lists with similar products, or to combine related products into a single line.
How fair is that?
To put it another way, let's say D&D 3.5 (PHB, MM, & DMG) was up for nomination this year. Each book wouldn't even qualify under Best Game. That category requires a complete system, it's why d20 books don't qualify for that award and have their own. What they would do, however, is dominate the Best Supplement category, possibly garnering as many as three out of the five available nominations. By combining the books into a single line, it qualifies them to run under Best Game (where it really belongs), and frees up two slots for other products.
What publisher really wants their own line competing against itself? What voter wants to look at a category full of the same books? Personally I think that combining the line (unless the publisher specifically chooses not to) is the only reasonable choice, so long as enough of the line is represented.
If there was any oversight, I think it's that more lines weren't combined. I wouldn't want that in categories like Best Supplement or Product of the Year, which exist to give props to a single product, but I could certainly see it for things like Best Game, Best d20, or Best Electronic Product. Maybe even Best Setting.
Of course, it's not ideal in every situation. Certainly there will be times when a line will be stronger than a single product that it is competing against, but for the most part I think it would serve to make more room for individual products, not less. In my opinion comparing multiple books against a single book isn't a whole lot different than comparing a 700 page mega-product against a 96 page indie soft cover. You have to weigh the product's individual strengths to see how good it is, not compare it against something else.
If a product was going to win just because it was more complete, had better diversity, or presented more information, you'd be seeing a whole lot more Ptolus on those lists. The awards are about how good a product is, not how well it compares against something else.