Asking permission from the pros
|Title:||Asking permission from the pros|
|Date(s):||August 20, 2006|
|External Links:||Asking permission from the pros; archive link|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Asking permission from the pros is a 2006 essay by liviapenn.
The post has 97 comments.
Some Topics Discussed
- Stargate Atlantis
- Violating the Fourth Wall
- the ethics of writing fanfic
- fanfiction as a communal process
- The Mission Report Challenge
- Robin Hobb, Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Laurell K. Hamilton, Lee Goldberg
- Tie-in books
- changing patterns in reading, consumerism, expectations
- fandom and profit
- Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy
So I keep seeing this argument that getting permission *from pro authors or creators* is somehow *morally* significant when it comes to writing fanfiction.I don't get it.
So then, would it matter what their disapproval was based on?
What if JJ Abrams was like, "Please don't write fanfiction based on my shows, because the only purpose of fanfiction is to fix what's flawed and broken, so I take it as a personal insult and it hurts my feelings."
Would you think to yourself, "But his objection is based on an untrue premise!" or would you obey his wishes?
What if Rob Thomas was like, "It's okay to write any type of fanfiction you want, but don't write porn, as it makes me sick and hurts my feelings to think about porn based on my characters."
Would you obey his wishes?
What if JK Rowling was like, "It's okay to write any kind of fanfiction you want-- just please don't make the characters gay, as that deeply hurts and wounds me, because being gay is wrong and none of my characters would ever be gay."Would you obey her wishes?
Statement: "Pro novels with a single author are different than tv shows or shared universes with many authors-- single authors should be respected because they love their characters more than writers or actors in shared universes."
There are a lot of weird implications here, but-- okay. Obviously fanfiction is "original" in the sense that it's *not plagiarized*-- but people seem to be arguing that their fanfiction is on the same ground as a singly-authored pro novel, in that-- because their *emotional* ties to their story are the same as a pro author's, somehow that makes the "originality" of the story the same as an author working alone (and even an author working alone draws from the great communal well of stories and characters that make up *art*, y'know. It's kind of how art works.) And my question is, I guess-- okay, here comes a new writer on the SGA creative team, and he works with a bunch of different writers and editors and the prop guys and SFX and actors, and tells a story. Communally.
And how is that different than me watching the show, and drawing on the work of all those people-- the writers, the editors, the actors-- and coming up with something that's based on *all their interpretations*, plus mine?
My story is just as much a communal work as any episode of SGA-- just as *original*, just as much mine, but also just as much the product of a *group*. Because unless I've never seen the show, Sheppard-in-my-story is *still* a communal work-- he's a little bit the writers, a little bit the actor, and anywhere from a little bit to mostly me, depending on how far from canon I choose to extrapolate-- a gen Pegasus adventure John is different than AU gay vampire cowboy John. *g*
But I couldn't write an SGA story all by myself, if the show didn't exist. Could I? So then how can fanfiction be anything but communal, in the same way that tv shows are communal, most comic books are communal, most *writing* is communal. It seems clear to me that I *am* working "with" the SGA writers to create my SGA fanfiction-- not *directly* with, but still depending on their work. Just one more person in the big communal storytelling group. So... again, where's the difference?(And I'm not even really going to get into the part where fanfiction writing-- like, people keep saying "it's a community, it's a community," but then "but what I produce is mine, mine, totally original" and not seeing where there might be a conflict between those two statements. If you've ever used fanon or common fannish tropes in your story-- Lorne/Parrish, Stackhouse/Markham, Zelenka's still, Zelenka's broken English, John running as a way to burn off stress, jealous!John, Team Movie night, sex pollen, sentient Atlantis, mpreg, h/c, Rodney makes Marines cry, Aliens Made Them Do It, and on and on and on-- then your fanfic is *a lot more communal than you think it is*.)
Implication: "It would be morally wrong to write pornographic or homoerotic fanfiction about a character who is played by an actor who was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of such fanfiction."
Well, it then seems like it would be your moral obligation to *ask*, wouldn't it? That seems to be the thrust of the current argument about fanfiction-of-fanfiction-- that, if you are at all a decent person, it is your obligation as a respectful person with integrity to *ask* before you might do something that would hurt someone's feelings.
This is, of course, where people bring up the idea of "community," and that it's okay to do hurtful things to people if they're not in your community. I do not accept this argument.
See, if your argument is, "*I personally* feel that this is a hurtful thing, and so I would like to be asked about it before it happens to me-- but I understand that my emotional reaction is *not* actually the universal standard of decency and integrity," then you *may* have a little ground to stand on when you make that community argument.
But if your argument is, "Any rational and decent human being with even a scrap of integrity understands that asking first is the only decent, kind, human thing to do," then no, sorry, you *don't* get to fucking qualify it with "--unless it would be inconvenient, or unless there's a chance they might say no, or unless I don't actually know the person I'm hurting."That's nothing but sheer hypocrisy.
I guess, in conclusion, my questions are:
Do you really think it's morally wrong to write fanfiction about something when the author's asked you not to? (Speaking only about pro authors or creators here.)Actually-- and this is an ETA here-- I guess the REAL question is: Do you feel that writing fanfiction is, *inherently*, a harmful act, and therefore morally wrong *unless you get permission*? Because that's the only reason I can see for the insistence on "But Michael Shanks said it was okay!" or "But Joss said it was okay!" If it ALREADY IS okay (and I of *course* believe that it *is*) then why must you get someone else's blessing to make it okay? It seems to me like the people who "defend" their fanfic writing with "But _____ approves!" are starting from the *premise*, "I am doing something wrong, sneaky, illegal, immoral, and I *need* to be able to say 'But _____ approves!' in order to justify my actions, which would otherwise be *wrong*." Which-- I can't even *tell* you how much I disagree with that basic premise. (/end eta.)
Some Fan Comments
Yeah, I didn't even put in, "What if it's Aaron Sorkin, who clearly has nothing but contempt for fans who do anything *except* plonk their butts down and watch with gaping mouths and uncritical eyes?"Do I have to ask Aaron Sorkin for permission to have *opinions* about his shows? Actually, I think we're past that stage already-- we're clearly to the point where it's obvious that fanfiction (although perhaps more accurately, I should say: it's obvious tat the types of fans who *write* fanfiction) do nothing but drive him absolutely up the wall; are we then morally bound to not even comment on his shows, since it obviously bothers him so much?
[slodwick]: I'm not trying to be a smartass here -- I'm just trying to sort out my thoughts about this business, and you always seem to have solid arguments. So... what's the overall point you're trying to make here? That it doesn't matter what the pro writer/creator/owner of the characters/show/book thinks? Or that all fanfiction is basically immoral, or at least morally questionable? Or that morals don't have anything to do with fan product? Or something else completely?
[liviapenn in response to slodwick]:
I certainly don't think that all fanfiction is basically immoral-- you might as well say that ALL WRITING is immoral. Because really, what else do people base their art on, except for (1) other people's art and (2) real people that they know or have heard of? No one is creating art or stories or music in a vacuum here. So I guess one of my main points is that all writing is more or less *communal*, and it's silly to pretend that it's not.
I guess my main overarching point is that emotional reactions are not a basis for making moral judgements.(Like, "Fanfic hurts my feelings, therefore fanfic is wrong.") So yeah, in *that* sense? No, it actually doesn't matter what the original creator *feels*. And I understand that that sounds callous, but then I would ask, what about the homophobic actors and creators who hate slash? Why do I have a moral duty to cater to the feelings of a homophobe? And if you say, "Well, it's okay to disregard the feelings of a homophobe, but you *must* cater to the feelings of a reasonable person," well, now who defines a reasonable person? There will always be *some* reason to dismiss objections, like "oh, but Michael Shanks likes it!" Either you always have to or you never have to.
So I guess one of my main points is that all writing is more or less communal, and it's silly to pretend that it's not.
On this specific point, I disagree.
Let me start by distinguishing between writing -- the physical act of recording words on paper or typing them onto a computer screen -- and storytelling. The physical act of writing (even in the computer age) is almost definitionally solitary; it's difficult to impossible for more than one person to write on the same sheet of paper at the same time, and even the advent of word processors hasn't fundamentally changed that paradigm.
Storytelling, OTOH, is almost definitionally interactive, because it assumes the existence of three distinct elements: the story, the teller, and the audience. The source or origin of the elements may overlap in many cases, but storytelling as a process inherently involves multiple viewpoints.
But let's backtrack from storytelling to story. You've argued often that even writers of "original" fiction draw on a host of pre-existing folklore, archetype, and story. There's a degree of truth to this; we see it in the assertion by various academics and fiction-writing teachers that there are only three/seven/nine basic story-plots, that dramatic tension in narrative derives from a limited number of things you can do to your characters, and so on.
Yet in practice, detail matters -- and it matters a lot. Thus Lois McMaster Bujold sells Vorkosigan novels by the trainload, while Kristine Smith sells copies of Jani Kilian novels in respectable but much smaller numbers. Doyle and Macdonald's "Mageworlds" space operas go back for half a dozen additional printings, but Smith & Trowbridge's "Exordium" space operas sink like the proverbial rock.
Or, to take a different tack, consider the legendary figure of Merlin from Arthurian lore. There is only one Merlin -- and yet Mary Stewart's Merlin isn't the same as T. H. White's. "Merriman Lyon" in Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising cycle is Merlin, too -- but he's not the same as the Merlin in Linda Haldeman's The Lastborn of Elvinwood. All these stories reflect the unique visions of their authors, and while all of them draw liberally on various strands of Arthurian lore and other folkloric and literary traditions, they do so in the service of creating unique characters and milieus. Are all of these somehow to be thought of as "Arthurian" fanfics?I don't think so. I don't think that gives enough credit to the capacity of the individual human imagination, and to a good storyteller's ability to mine ingredients from many different sources and traditions and transform them into something unique and distinctive. Storytelling is fundamentally interactive, but the creation of story is not. It can be, certainly, but it need not be, as evidenced by legendarily solitary writers such as "James Tiptree" and J.D. Salinger.
Are all of these somehow to be thought of as "Arthurian" fanfics?
Yes. They take a character from another source and reimagine him in the service of their own story.
I don't think so. I don't think that gives enough credit to the capacity of the individual human imagination, and to a good storyteller's ability to mine ingredients from many different sources and traditions and transform them into something unique and distinctive.
Your assumption here is that derivation and imagination are in fundamental conflict. They're not. Derivation is but a part of the creative process; it's more important for some than for others, but that has no impact on how imaginative, unique, or ultimately valuable the work is. I mean, whatever else you may think of him, I defy anyone to say that Neil Gaiman isn't an imaginative guy.
legendarily solitary writers such as "James Tiptree" and J. D. Salinger.You can call it "legend," or you can call it "bourgeois myth of the Romantic genius." ;) Both Alice Sheldon and Salinger were educated people who had read widely in their chosen fields. As outsider art goes, they ain't it.
I think it's one part moral problem and one part etiquette problem, with a possible ethical dimension. (For derivative works based on fan creations, I mean. For derivative works based on pro creations, there's both those parts, and also a legal dimension.)
And for the moral problem, in my opinion that's exactly what it always was, up to the individual. If you don't feel right about it, don't do it.
The ethical dimension comes in where as a society or subculture we need to make sure something's OK. And I don't think we can do better (at the moment) than wait and have people who particularly care agitate for reform as it comes up. But ethics, unlike morals, really need to be consistant and coherent. Much more than a queasy feeling. They're for the whole group, not between you and your conscience and your God if you have one.But I think this kerfuffle is mainly about the etiquette problem. Unlike the primary, pro, creators, the secondary, fan, creators are right there in your face saying they don't want their works remixed or critiqued or whatever without a by-their-leave, and if you want to do it anyway, you need to say so to their face if you dare. Like the moral problem, I think this is a personal problem; but for sgaflashfiction they might need to work it out somewhat less personally (moral is to ethical as etiquette is to... protocol?)
But ethics, unlike morals, really need to be consistant and coherent. Much more than a queasy feeling. They're for the whole group, not between you and your conscience and your God if you have one.
Yes, exactly. Like, it would probably hurt my feelings if someone criticized one of my stories very harshly in public, BUT, I don't think that's a wrong thing to do. I understand that when I post my stories, people may react positively or negatively, and I *may* even get my feelings hurt by some of those reactions (including even a *lack* of reaction, like if my story gets *ignored*) but that doesn't mean that I can make moral judgements *based on my emotions*. Just because something hurts my feelings doesn't make it wrong; you have to back up *why* it's wrong with logic.
And like I said in my previous post (linked above) I would never write-- well, I might write it, but I would never *post* fic of someone's fic unless I knew that they were okay with it, and if I didn't know, I would probably ask, because I am actually *not* completely indifferent to other people's feelings. But that's an *etiquette* thing, not a moral thing.
But I think this kerfuffle is mainly about the etiquette problem. Unlike the primary, pro, creators, the secondary, fan, creators are right there in your face saying they don't want their works remixed or critiqued or whatever without a by-their-leave, and if you want to do it anyway, you need to say so to their face if you dare.Well, *some* people are. over in her journal, amireal asked "Who'd be flattered and thrilled by fic of their fic?" and many people said yes (even some people who opted out of the sga_flashfic challenge because they were a little leery of that specific form of remixing or whatever.) So it's not even a universal thing that *everyone* hates, like being flamed by a homophobic slash-hater or something. (And some people don't even care about being flamed.)
Wonderful close reading of a lot of the arguments that have been flying around! As i said in my recent post, it gets even *more* complicated, when we realize that it's not necessarily an us vs them thing either (glancing over the reports from WorldCon on my flist, for example...)My favorite part, however, was how can fanfiction be anything but communal, in the same way that tv shows are communal, most comic books are communal, most *writing* is communal. Because, yes! Fanfiction to me is an exemplary use of the communal storytelling that profic is (without often acknowledging it). So I wonder if it makes people less amateurish to claim originality and authenticity or what the implications and underlying motivations are to reject the communality of creation...
Do you really think it's morally wrong to write fanfiction about something when the author's asked you not to? (Speaking only about pro authors or creators here.)
Short answer: sometimes, yes -- but I'd like to rephrase and amplify in order to provide appropriate context.
First, I think that the moral issues surrounding collective creations differ from those surrounding personal creations. In the case of collective creations, it's understood from the first that the meta-story is a group effort. The question is not "Can there be more than one storyteller?"; it's "Can this person be a storyteller?" or "How do the individual storytellers' works interact with the larger story?"
In the case of personal/singular creations, the author has built his or her own sandbox, at least to the extent that the work created is specifically copyrightable. The question is whether that author has the right to restrict access to that particular sandbox, usually in order to protect the economic investment made in its development.
I think professional authors of personal creations -- specifically of prose fiction -- do have the legal and moral right to keep those sandboxes private, and to ask that fanfic derived from their creations not be openly circulated. And I think that fan writers should respect those legal and moral rights, again limiting the scope of the discussion to non-collective works and to the open circulation of fanfic based on those works.
I emphatically do NOT believe that it's immoral to write fanfic based on copyrighted singular creations; that gets too close to freedom-of-thought issues for my taste. What you do in the privacy of your own computer-lair is your business.OTOH, I think that making those fanfics openly available via the Web, in today's world, is morally inappropriate when the original author's stated wishes are otherwise. We've already seen the lines of what constitutes "publication" start to blur, as evidenced by the debates engendered earlier this year when a fanfic work made the long-list of stories being contemplated for the Tiptree Award. By strict readings of the rules, it would be permissible -- if extremely implausible -- for Web-posted fanfic to find its way onto SFWA's Nebula ballot. The Web is just too much of a playing-field-leveler, especially as it becomes more and more difficult for all but the very top tier of so-called professional novelists to make a full-time living at that craft via conventional means.
[brown betty]: I think the permission argument hints that the actual issue is ettiquette. If it's wrong, permission isn't the issue, but if it's rude, permission makes a real difference.
[liviapenn]: See, and what's interesting is that even the "permission is morally required" proponents recognize this, when they say "But actually, what's *polite* is to *not* throw the fact of fanfic into TPTB's face." Because of *course* it's a matter of politeness, not a matter of morality or integrity. Etc.
Do you feel that writing fanfiction is, *inherently*, a harmful act, and therefore morally wrong *unless you get permission*?
not, absolutely not. we're actually mixing two issues here (at least I think so).
the first issue is the actual writing: we make up stories in our head all the time, no one can say 'you're not allowed to think about this show in this way'. so then what's the big difference between thinking it and writing it down to remember it? it's our mind, our thought. if we'd write fanfiction down in out secret diary, no one could tell us not to. that's purely private. if someone didn't want us to think about what they said/wrote they wouldn't have said/written it where we can see.
the problem is with the secon issue: we share. we can tell our friends about the scenario we thought up, maybe even say 'you know, I had an idea for a great episode/novel, wouldn't it be cool if the author did that?', we can probably even share our diary and it's still be ok. but noooo, we have to share in PUBLIC: printed 'zines are public, the internet is public. heck, we traded the secret diary for LJ. and here the authors/actore can throw my previous paragraph right back at us: if we didn't want then to know what we think of their show we shouldn't have 'thought' it in public where they can see.
does that make writing fanfiction inherently wrong? no. but fanfiction's become more than just sharing a good story with a few friends, and we end up pretty much shoving it into the writer's face.is what's become of the whole fandom/fanfiction 'institution' wrong? no idea. but I personnaly think that that is a different debate.
[sodzilla]: *shrugs* The bit about "shoving into writer's face" only applies if you assume the writer's going to notice. IF the writer/producer/actor cares enough to go looking for fans online, and IF that search leads them to fic communities or archives, and IF their curiosity makes them actually read the fic, THEN they may be offended. But making an argument that writing fic is wrong based on that possibility is like saying that we shouldn't post any NC-17 fic anywhere, for example, because there's always a possibility that a kid could see it and kids shouldn't have to be exposed to porn.
Since the internet is obviously neither a completely private nor a completely public space and can be treated as both, I'd just make the argument that posting fic is OK as long as you take the necessary precautions (disclaimers, not making money off of it, kid-locking the NC-17 stuff).what I meant by 'shoving in their face' is actually more along the lines of fans asking actors at conventions about slash or fanfiction or actually writing to an author about it. if we write fanfiction and say 'it's none of the author's business what we do with our friends' then we shouldn't go and make it their business. if they stumble on it on their own, well it's not our responsability and reasonably they can't ask more than for us to keep it a little more private. same with kids and porn: we'd put a password on NC-17 fics but if a kid lies about their age to get in, well again, not really our responsability.
I think in some ways people are arguing about the wrong thing.
It's not some common-law form of ownership that is what needs to be considered, but the impact it would have on writers' emotional attachment to their writing.
People can argue whether they have any ownership rights until they're blue in the face (and it seems like they're trying), but it's impossible to legitimately tell someone how they should feel. We all have our feelings, and often they are not something we can even control ourselves, or find logical basis for. But they can really hurt.
The respect, therefore, if not for the work itself, should be for the writer's feelings.
Maybe a fic was a labour of love; maybe it was a one-shot the author is really proud of... the reason for the attachment is irrelevant. I personally love a couple of my works to death; I can't make any legal claim to them, because it's fanfiction, but I am very attached to them the way they are. I can't really rationalise it (not without sounding more of a nutter), but it matters to me. It simply does.
We should be able to respect each other enough in fandom to simply appreciate that it might upset someone (for whatever reason), and to make the small effort of asking, and respecting the originating ficcer's personal feelings enough not to then ignore their wishes if they have any objections.
I can never say someone 'can't' work from my fics, but I can let them know I'd prefer it if they didn't (and perhaps explain why). I would hope that my fellow SGA fans would have the respect for my feelings (or any other writers') to honour that.
But people seem very keen to get wrapped up in irrelevant legalities... Although I do take the SG fandom as having unspoken permission (they post fanfic on Gateworld, where actual SG people have blogs etc; they make jokes about it and don't seem to find it any sort of threat), if they said tomorrow, 'Please don't write fanfic of Stargate' I would stop. Because then I would know they didn't like it and I wouldn't want to go against their wishes.It all comes back to respect again, doesn't it?
[zvi loves tv]:
Okay, the problem I am having with the argument that it upsets you (generic you) when I write fanfic of your stories is this: your emotional identification with your fiction appears to be hurting you. You identify with your stories so much that the idea that someone might consider writing fanfic of it (fanfic which in this specific case was supposed to be a report appropriate for turning into the leader of a military/scientific expedition, not the sort of radical reimagining that can happen in the larger remix challenges) is causing you to comment and post on multiple LJs about how much pain this thought is causing you, without actually explaining in a way I understand the source of your distress. This pain appears to be the same sort of upset which causes some people to say that critical discussion of fanfiction should not take place in public or that less than glowing reviews of fanfic should not be published, both of which positions I find morally wrong (I do find it morally wrong to make other people stop talking because you don't like what they're going to say.)
Why should I enable your bad feelings, which lead at least some of the people with the same feelings as you to morally wrong positions? Some people are upset that other people have gay sex, but I don't help them structure the world to get rid of gay sex, or even make sure that the idea of gay sex never crosses their minds again. I think it's better, actually, for them to be repeatedly exposed to the idea of gay sex until they're desensitized to that idea and it no longer makes them feel bad, although I would never make them go to specifically gay places or have gay sex themselves.I am afraid this sounds condescending. I honestly don't intend it to be, but when I am passionate I either descend into a string of invective or retreat into a very dry, academic tone.
Well, for the record, it's not that I identify with any part of my stories - I'm just proud of what I created. You've heard the blood, sweat and tears argument everywhere, I'm sure.But if you genuinely do not care about hurting someone's feelings I'm very, very sad for you.
You can't just say "It hurts my feelings" and expect that to be the king of all arguments, though. I mean, what if I said "But it hurts my feelings when people won't let me write fanfic of their stories?" Now both of our feelings are hurt! Whose feelings are more important?I think it's obvious that *feelings* are not a good basis to argue about whether or not something is *right*, since people can still get their feelings hurt even when other people *aren't doing anything wrong.* Feelings are irrational like that. I mean, personally, it hurts my feelings a little when people post recs pages and don't include my stories. Does that mean I can say, "You shouldn't rec stories unless you include me, because it hurts my feelings?" No, that's obviously ridiculous.
What does genre have to do with asking for permission? Just because the scifi genre by nature has more familiarity with fanfic doesn't mean the SGA people approve of it, even if they are involved in ONE forum that hosts it. That argument also implies that anyone who writes in fandoms that aren't scifi are therefore rude and inconsiderate, because they are writing in fandoms in which the powers that be don't have a clue as to what fanfic is, therefore, they don't have this silent approval that scifi by nature seems to have.
Also? A lot of people put up with a lot of worse things than not being asked for permission in their daily lives and don't say a thing when it's done to them. It doesn't mean they approve of it. It just means they have better reasons to keep quiet than to speak up. The silence that you think is them being OK with it can mean a lot more things than just that.
And the argument that "people who are involved in something and don't actively object in that particular forum they're involved in means it's permission" is an argument with a lot of holes. By extension then, it means that any fanfic writer who hasn't opted out of the flashfic challenge means that they've given their own brand of silent permission. It can be argued at this point that through LJ, friends lists, friends of friends lists, community posts, the SGA newsletter, Metafandom and Fandom Wank that any fan of SGA who has written fiction has had more than enough of this debate and be linked to the opt-out post. But hey, if they haven't opted out, they must approve, because how can they have missed out at this point? People not actively saying otherwise means it's permission after all.And here's what I really don't get. You're familiar with the forum in which the creators of SG apparently post. Why haven't you just asked them for permission directly then? You have an actual route to investigate whether the creators mind fanfic writers creating fiction based on their universe, so I don't understand why their silence is good enough for you when you can get confirmation directly from them that they don't mind. They're smart people - they can phrase a yes that is at the very least, legally defensible.
I have to say that I'm uncomfortable with the argument that pro authors should be fanficced whether you have permission or not because we pay them, and because they should know about the existence of fanfiction, which I have seen all over LJ in this debate.
However, just because we have paid for the books, movies, etc., does not seem to indicate to me that we have a right to write fanfiction. Fanfic authors just can't unilaterally write a social contract. I think it would be, logically speaking, very valid for an author to say "well, I sold you the right to own the books, and to enjoy the movie, but I did *not* sell you the right to create derivative works." I mean, in a way, shouldn't the concerns of the pro be taken much more seriously because this is their livelihood, and not just their hobby we're talking about?And we don't really know how knowledgable an author is about fanfiction. Maybe they have the belief that people naturally will ask them about fanfiction if they want to write it. After all, with this controversy, the remix/permission issue is all over fandom. Should we now conclude that because everyone knows about this practice that it's okay to remix if we don't know the author's opinion, because surely if they were really against it they would go public with their opinion?
This is where the evolution of the Internet and of electronic publishing come into play with a vengeance.
Pre-Internet, the economics of fanfic were such that circulating fanfic was expensive. Stories had to be snailmailed back and forth, and zines had to be compiled, edited, printed, and snailed or sold in convention dealers' rooms. The quality of the printing varied greatly depending on how much a fan-editor was willing to sink into a project and how much access they had to better repro systems. It may be worth noting that in those days there were zine editors, which had the effect of filtering the market so that only the strongest material actually got printed and circulated in anything more than microscopic quantity. What all this meant was that in absolute terms, the quality, presentation, and quantity of fanfic available was very small and easily distinguishable from the professional product at first glance.
Today, online, the playing field is so much more level that to a lot of pro authors, it's actively alarming. Three things: (1) The great majority of writers of genre fiction are getting hammered in the professional marketplace. Book advances are down, average per-title sales are slipping badly, and it's increasingly hard to sustain a career. (2) Self-publishing -- both for print and etext -- has gotten vastly cheaper and more accessible. (3) Fanfic writers have taken advantage of the Web to become much more organized, much more visible, and -- scariest -- much more popular.
To put this in perspective -- a first hardcover SF/F novel today, published by any of the major genre houses, will be d*mn lucky to get a print run of 10,000 copies, and if it actually sells more than half of those, everyone involved will be amazed and delighted. A mass market paperback may -- if the writer is amazingly fortunate -- get 20K copies printed, and sell maybe half of those (a third isn't unknown). And in both those cases, the print-run figures I've given are at the high end of the range; 5K and 10K-15K are far more common.
Match these against download figures for Fanfiction.net or other major online archives (I don't have these, but I can make some educated guesses based on what I do see discussed), and the result is this:
Weighing numbers of copies sold vs. numbers of downloads, I strongly suspect that at least the most widely read third of fanfic authors have larger readerships than the most widely read two-thirds of professional genre authors.
This isn't nearly as big a problem for mediaverses as it is for writers of original prose fiction, because for most of the mediaverses, prose fiction is a secondary storytelling medium, and the fandom for the mediaverses isn't author-driven in the first place. But for writers of prosefic, it's a very large problem on two levels, one of which hadn't occurred to me until just this moment.
First, it means that there's a very real potential for a fanwriter who co-opts a professionally public prosefic universe to out-popular the creator of that universe and effectively take it over. [Yes, there are a lot of complicating elements in that equation, but the potential nonetheless exists.]Second, and scarier: in professional publishing, fiction sales over the last few years have been declining. The conventional explanation is that books are having to compete harder and harder against alternate media -- DVDs, video games, etc. No one that I know of on the industry side has suggested it yet, but it occurs to me that the increasingly wide availability of easily accessible fanfic may be a major contributing factor. (Interestingly, the one category of fiction where sales are spiking upward is paranormal romance, which is arguably the most fanfic-like genre/category in professional publishing.)
This is where the evolution of the Internet and of electronic publishing come into play with a vengeance.
Your arguments make a lot of sense, but the thing is, most of what you're saying could apply to, say, newsbloggers vs. newspapers. Like, I suppose it *is* alarming if you're a print or tv journalist and all of a sudden people are getting their news from blogs instead. But I don't think there's some kind of obligation on behalf of bloggers to worry about journalists' careers, especially if they can do the job better.I personally don't think fanfic will ever replace pro books, if only because I don't think ebooks will ever actually replace physical books. Maybe when vanity publishing becomes as easy as, say, Cafepress, publishers will *really* have something to worry about.