Fandom and Profit
The Fannish Understanding
- some about fandom as a gift economy
Part of the Legalities
The majority of fanworks contain a disclaimer that seeks to shield the fan from legal liability while also signaling that their activities are non-profit. One example: "All rights reserved to the author, artist and this publication. This is solely a not-for-profit fan activity, and in no way intends to infringe on copyrights held by Paramount, Deslilu, Filmation or other professional Star Trek agencies." 
In addition to the cultural prohibitions against profit in fandom activities, there have been (and still are), some practical legal issues that have shaped fannish attitudes about profits.
All fan fiction runs the risk of being considered an infringing act in that is borrows and builds on copyrighted material. It is the fair use defense that can shield fannish activities as an authorized use of copyrighted material. In turn, the fair use defense depends on a number of factors, and profit (or the lack of it) is one of those factors. Increasingly, more courts are dismissing the 'profit' factor in order to find a whole host of previously 'fair use' activities to be acts of infringement.  The "don't sue me, I make no money!" disclaimer may no longer be worth the paper it is (or is not) printed on.
Making a Profit vs Covering Costs
Defining "profit" can be tricky.
- Is profit making enough money to cover the cost of the next zine one plans to publish?
- Is profit making money when you sell a fanwork for more than you paid for it?
- A fan in 1999 says: "It was selling a good portion of my collection in 1992 that gave me the down payment for my house (most of those zines were sold for a profit). I lucked out in the timing, because within a couple of years after that, zines quit increasing in value because everyone always kept them in print, since desktop publishing (and high quality xerox machines) had made the overall printing process much cheaper." 
- Is covering costs adequate by the simple repayment of the postage when a fan has lent and mailed an item to you?
- From S and H #16 (December 1980): "To anyone who needs xeroxing done: I would be willing to xerox whatever you need (providing the zine editors permit it) if you pay the postage and the cost of xeroxing. I have become quite adept at handling the machine and it takes very little time to do it. Just let me know what you need. (I hope I don't regret this offer!)"
- And what is "equitable compensation"?
- One fan tutors others: "There are a number of people... who have been very generous in sharing eps, songvids, blooper reels and other taped bits that feature our boys... The duping of tapes is time-consuming, wearing on the original tape, and considering the cost of tapes, zines, postage, and the wear and tear on VCRs, involves both money *and* effort. While most... are very generous in sharing tapes, it is also considerate of the receivers to offer an equitable compensation." 
Different Fandoms, Different NormsShowing the differing exceptions of different fandoms, in 1989 a fan comments:
A fan in 2011 comments:Very little of what you say about fans and what they write is new I found it surprising when I delved in to media fandom, being a long-time fan, that one must pay money for a media fanzine, and it's mostly fiction. In sf fandom, editors mostly trade fanzines for artwork, articles, letters of comment or money (collectively know as 'the usual'). While I can understand that it takes money for a fanzine, since I publish, I was surprised at the attitude that some media fanzine editors had that 'this zine costs money, you know,' as if this would be news. I go the impression that money was very important to media zine editors, while in sf fandom, it's very rarely talked about. 
A lot of newer fandoms and fandoms with younger fans (like Harry Potter or any show aimed at teenagers in the last 10 years) tend to have a lot of people who are coming out of anime fandom, where doujinshi (Japanese zines) are completely normal. The idea that one should never sell fanworks is *laughable* in those circles. (As is the term "net-fans", for that matter. A lot of anime fandom happens at the vast network of anime conventions.) English-language fic doujinshi aren't common, but fans do still make print things they call doujinshi, and selling original m/m novels through fan channels has been normal for at least the last decade. In Japan, comics doujinshi are more common, but there are plenty of doujinshi novels too. (Actually, I was just talking to someone who wrote a Pros novel in Japanese.) In lots of fandoms like Twilight, selling fic raises eyebrows, but filing off the serial numbers and marketing the same fics to the same fandom is so common there are whole vanity presses devoted to it. (Which, of course, creates its whole own set of hostilities to selling fic that have nothing to do with legality or The Man finding out.) And then you have Jane Austen fandom or parts of Sherlock Holmes fandom where plenty of fans hope to take their fic pro some day. 
Fan Fiction and Profit
Generally, money has played little role in the creation and exchange of fan fiction. In fact, the buying and selling of fan fiction has been almost universally condemned across Western media fandom. The sole exception would be the contributor's copies that fan writers received of the fanzines in which they were published. On occasion, during the early years of print fanzines fanzine publishers would offer cash prizes to fan writers; however, many fans expressed worry that the practice might cause TPTB to come down hard in fan fiction. To most fans, the lack of profit - or in this case the exchange of funds for fan fiction - was seen as their fig leaf of protection against potential copyright claims.When the zined of the Star Trek fanzine Alien Brothers offered a cash prize for fanfic, other fanzine publishers took issue:
In order for fandom to remain "amateur publishing", and therefore to remain acceptable in the eyes of Paramount... monetary payment can not be paid for works of STAR TREK fiction. This creates an immediate infringement upon the copyrights... So long as we remain "amateurs", Paramount tends to look the other way. But if we set this dangerous precedent and open ourselves up as "professionals", sooner of later the consequences will be grave... Additionally, writers can become alienated if they aren't paid for a story, and later find out that their b e s t friend was paid. All in all, I don't think fandom needs that type of attitude. If writers want to write for "cash awards" on a steady basis... then perhaps they should seek more traditionally professional realms for their work. Let's keep fandom as fandom. 
The taboo against profit only strengthened when fan fiction shifted away from print fanzines as the main distribution method to online distribution. To fans who first encountered fan fiction being offered freely on the Internet, the idea of asking for money in the context of a gift economy was as socially transgressive as demanding money for sex.
The use of fan fiction, however, to raise funds for charity, chipped away at these social norms. Numerous examples of charity drives exist in the mid 2000s where fans would offer fan fic, fan art or fan vids to help raise money for victims of natural disasters (ex: Help Haiti) or other need based groups (ex: Sweet Charity). Not all fans felt comfortable with the practice. As Morgan Dawn explains:
"In 2007, I worked with a relatively new Supernatural fan writer to offer on demand hard copies of her fan fiction at cost plus $1 to go to RAINN, a charity for victims of sexual abuse. Within 3 hours of the zine being announced, the writer was reported to the on demand printer for copyright infringement by two fans who felt that asking for any money -even to pay for the cost of the printing and mailing and even with only a nominal amount going to charity - was heresy. Their actions killed the desire of some fan writers to participate in fan fiction charity drives. Luckily, media fandom is so huge and so transient, that fundraisers like Sweet Charity still thrived."
After charity fanfiction fundraising drives took hold, other fannish events began using fanworks to help raise funds. Starting 200x, Vividcon auctioned off custom made to order" fanvids to pay for the extra equipment needed to run the convention. In 2013, DashCon "fandom committees" (groups of tumblr fans arranged along fandom lines) auctioned off fanfiction and fanart to raise funds for the convention as well as to help fund their convention attendance.
In more recent years, fanfic commissions offers have emerged, usually by fans who are struggling with financial issues.
"My money situation is not so great at the moment and I miss writing things quite a lot, so I thought I would open up fanfic commissions! Some expenses I need to take care of (if you guys are curious) are: wisdom teeth removal that has to be done by an oral surgeon because they’re growing in all sorts of wrong (cost about $2000), two dog crates so I can begin crate training my dogs before I move next year (cost about $150), dog training classes (cost about $200), carpet cleaner rental (cost $45), work pants (cost about $30 for a couple pairs), gas money (cost $40 every 3 weeks), etc. This would just be something extra to contribute to that along with my minimum wage paychecks each week!
I’ve limited myself to 1500 words as of right now just so I don’t get overwhelmed."
- $3 - 100 to 500 words
- $5 - 500 to 999 words
- $10 - 1000 to 1500 words
And:"When did fandom go from the fine art of the disclaimer to ‘pay me and I’ll write that prompt for you’? Because ten years ago every heading had a standard line of about no profit being made, so please don’t sue and now people out and out advertise they are writing a fic on commission (and not for charity). waves cane and grumbles about kids on her lawn
The general approbation against offering fanfic for money still does not stop some fans for asking:"Honestly, I think the practice of writing fic for charity is what changed attitudes toward commissioning fic, which is kinda disturbing if you think about it. I mean, charity fic is explicitly in line with the non-profit, gift economy fandom has operated on since the dawn of time (and is the fig leaf keeping the lawsuits at bay). The jump to “aha! people will pay for writing” is logical, but not in keeping with fandom’s traditional ethos (or its fear of lawsuits)."
"Still trying to commission a fanfic writer to write me some private fanfiction? Is no one interested because I’m asking for private fanfiction? Doesn’t anyone want my money???"
Fan Art and Profit
See Selling Fanart.
Fan Publishing and Profit
Doing the math shows how close these editors came to financial disaster, and in other (much rarer) cases, made a tidy profit. Below are some examples.
In 1980, a Starsky and Hutch letterzine had roughly 120 subscribers. Each issue was $1.25. When the editors explained they were going to have to cut the art or limit the letters, due to expenses, one writer said she'd prefer to have them raise the price, or "charge enough to at least make a little profit for yourselves, and may give the front cover artists a free issue... " The editors' reply: "We appreciate and understand this reasoning, however, our budget simply doesn't allow contributor's copies." (from the June 1980 issue of S and H)From The Halkan Council #20/21:
A zined responds to fans complain about the high price of zines:As far as I know, no fans overcharge substantially for a zine. I myself 'round out' [to the nearest 25 cents] the charges because making change at cons (I don't sell at a table, I sell 'out of arm') drives me up a wall. Now, I don't think it's unethical for a zine to make a SMALL profit -- for instance, to pay for a huskster table at cons, to cover the costs of free contributor's copies, and the dozens of miscellaneous items that go into producing a zine, but aren't part of the actual printing cost. Such things might include presstype-lettering, typewriter rental, typing and layout supplies, long-distance last-minute phone calls to distributors, etc...postage is a tricky thing, too. A lot of times, the editor hasn't finished doing the layout yet and isn't quite sure how much the zine and the envelope together will weigh, yet you folks want to know what the issue will cost. The editor must try to estimate... and it's safer to overestimate by an ounce or two. That may mean that the editor could end up making a slight 'profit' ... I suppose, in strict honestly, that the editor should return postage to the consumers. I think if if exceeded 15 cents or so, I myself would do that. 
Not all editors cut it so close. Universal Translator was one zine in which a number of fans debated copyright, profit, and the rights of editors and fans. A fan steps into the debate of whether or not fans had the moral right to copy out-of-print fanzines for their own use. She points out that an editor's copyright extends only to her or his material in zine, not the whole zine itself and brings up the snarl that is profit and supply and demand:Finances are a problem for a zine publisher, but socking all the extra costs onto them is one way to guarantee that fanzines go rapidly extinct. I produced the first issue of Kraith Collected for just over $350 in 1972. That figure included everything, cost of paper, typewriter, layout, non-photo-blue pencils, EVERYTHING. The cost of producing volume five of Kraith Collected is running over $800, including everything. If I had never done anything but pay myself back for the producing of one issue, where, of where, pray tell me, [name omitted], do you expect the extra $450 to come from? Trees? Surely not my pockets. I haven't even paid myself back fro the original $350 yet! Kraith can't afford it. Why shouldn't 450 readers each contribute a dollar to the continued running of a fanzine? (Actually, the figures are closer to 1500 readers each contributing about 30 cents, since I didn't' leap directly from volume one to volume five.) And I'm expected to keep all the back issues in print, too. The fact that Kraith still only costs $3.25 I consider a triumph of economy, since my costs have more than doubled in the past four years. 
Another zine ed asks:I doubt very much that a xerox copy of an out-of-print zine for one's own personal use is infringement. And... there is infringement ONLY if the editor's copyright is valid in the first place. I mention this because of the increasingly common practice of publishing zine as profit-making ventures, a practice that... takes fanzines out of the protection of fair use...In recent years, demand for Trekzines has created such a thriving auction market for out-of-print zines that some editors now anticipate and plan for sales at auction from the beginning. The editor of a popular zine may elect to charge much more for the than the zine's actual cost of production, knowing that readers will gladly pay the inflated price because they know they can double or triple their initial investment at auction later on. Then, the editor may announce that the zine is sold out, while holding back a number of copies for auction when the price goes up. She may even auction them off herself under a different name... I write this not from concern for Paramount's rights, but because of the effect of these practices on fans. Like the AMA, some editors have learned that limiting supply drives the price through the roof. But what about the authors and artists who produce the creative guts of a zine? They don't share the editor's profits from sale or auction. In many cases, they probably would prefer a wider distribution of the zine at an affordable price so their work would reach more readers. The plight of the the reader who cannot afford to pay $50 for a zine is obvious, especially for an 'out-of-print' zine that really isn't. In this situation, resourceful readers have turned to long-distance borrowing and xeroxing as the only practice ways to have access to the work of their fellow fans... Of course, I assume that the editors who have said they will enforce their copyrights against unauthorized xeroxers do not engage in any of the practices I've mentioned., and that they have valid and enforceable copyrights. But as for the editor who's elected to turn her fanzine into a lucrative commercial venture, well, she can't have it both ways. By choosing to publish in violation of the copyright, she has made her work fair game. 
A fan discusses profit and fair use:My first zine had a pretty steep price, and I've heard a bit of grumbling (mostly by people un-involved with zines,) although one correspondent gave me a three-page essay on how fanzines were "supposed" to be funded...); I personally wonder how some of the less expensive zines in fandom afford to stay in print! I don't work (I go to school) and don't have an income to fall back on, so the principle of PTOA governed my price structure on Twin Suns #l. As it turned out, I had a small profit which immediately was channeled into *2, turning its price down by about $1.00 a copy under what I would have had to charge otherwise. I'm hoping that the small "cushion" I've included in the price for #2 will give me enough of a nest egg to print a third issue, but it makes me personally nervous to have promised to print stories and artwork and have the prospect of going broke hanging over my head. Maybe I need to send the zine out of town to be printed—I hear of absolutely unbelievable price guidelines elsewhere—but I just plain don't trust a printer I can't stand over and check the work with. And local printers don't carry accounts, so the $1000-$1200 printing cost for each issue must be paid on delivery. Is is unethical for me to "cushion" the price of each zine to fund the interim expenses for the next one? (I'm talking about a 12-15% per issue margin.) As it stands now, as I have to wait longer and longer to print my second issue, prices are climbing even as I write and I may take a trouncing on the already-set price of #2. 
What about fanzines that do make money for their editors? Well, Syn is certainly right that fanzines are a tradition of ancient vintage, but it's worth remembering that fanzines were once a "gentleman's hobby" for those who could afford the financial loss they inevitably entailed. Mass media science fiction and offset printing have changed all that. The relation of demand to costs now means that the editor of a popular media zine can make a profit from it, if she wants to. I know personally of a zine editor who boasts that she took in, from her zine, twice what it cost her to produce it. I know another who prices her zine by doubling the printing cost and then adding on the non-printing costs to that. By her own calculations, her own "take" is about 40% of the cover price of the zine. Fortunately, neither of these editors is a STAR TREK fan. But if the copyright owner is adding it up, the message surely must be clear. And from the copyright owner's point of view, if there's money to be made in zines, why shouldn't he demand a cut? Wouldn't you, if someone were marketing a product based on your copyrighted material for money? 
The WSA Program
The WSA Program was a fannish organization created to protecting fans from fraud.From Warped Space #18:
A recent Halkan Council issue contains a mention about fanzine editors making money; overpricing their zines by enough per copy to ensure having enough money to print the next issue. Frankly, I don't know of any zine editors who employ this practice. Mandi Schultz has been publicizing the National Central Bureau WSA Program. which is a non-profit coordinating agency dedicated to combatting fraudulent activities in fandom. Fan publishers, dealers, and any other fen are free to apply for membership to the WSA. Anyone interested in finding out more about the WSA should write to Ron J. Frantz... [address redacted] enclose a SASE and be specific about what aspect(s) of the WSA you are interested in.
- other similar fan organizations/guilds?
- What Price Fandom?; reference link by Arduinna, written in May 2000
- "Netfic is free, so stop complaining" by Arduinna, written May 2000; reference link.
- The Merryish and Mysti thread: profit in fandom; reference link, posted September 3, 2003
Academic and Extra-fandom Commentary
- Karen Hellekson. "A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture." Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 113-118.
- Abigail De Kosnik. "Should Fan Fiction Be Free?" Cinema Journal 48.4 (2009): 118-124.
- Noppe, Nele. 2011. "Why We Should Talk about Commodifying Fan Work." In "Textual Echoes," edited by Cyber Echoes, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 8. doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0369.
- Scott, Suzanne. 2009. Repackaging fan culture: The regifting economy of ancillary content models. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2009.0150.
- Disclaimer found at the beginning of the zine In a Different_Reality.
- See Tushnet's User-Generated Discontent: Transformation in Practice, 2008 in which she argues that the non-profit aspect needs to play a more central role when courts analyze transformative works.
- VenicePlace, accessed 12.15.2010
- VenicePlace, accessed 12.15.2010
- from Comlink #42
- Franzeska in “Re: Sharing and Preserving Printed FanFic” from Zine List, quoted by permission, 6.1.2011
- from On the Double #6
- Morgan Dawn's personal accessed November 21, 2013.
- FanFic Comissions] post on tumblr dated September 1, 2013; reference link. Additional examples can be found under the tumblr tags fanficton commissions, fanfic commissions] and writing commissions.
- When Did Fandom... post on tumblr dated Nov 10, 2013; reference link.
- I have mixed feelings... post on tumblr dated dated Nov 10, 2013; reference link.
- Still trying to commission... post on tumblr dated August 30, 2013; reference link.
- a letter by Connie Faddis from The Halkan Council #20/21
- from The Halkan Council #20/21, commenting on two earlier letters in issue #19
- from Judith Gran in Universal Translator #18 (1983)
- from Alderaan #12
- from Judith G in Interstat #61 (1982)