Fandom and Money (essay)

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Title: Fandom and Money
Creator: nnaylime
Date(s): August 11, 2005
Medium: online
External Links: Fandom and Money; archive link
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You may be looking for the topic Fandom and Profit.

This is a 2005 essay and comments at Fanthropology by nnaylime.

The post was in direct response to the controversy regarding cousinjean who'd recently solicited money so that she could take a year off of her paid employment and write Buffy fanfic instead.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and in the Comments

The Post

So there was a money for fanfic wank yesterday and it actually got me to thinking and doing a little self-examination on recompense within fandom in general and whether or where there is a line drawn.

First, because I've used fanworks to raise money myself - the major difference being that the money I raise is all for charity.

A few years ago some friends and I published a zine - the fanworks were all exclusive to the zine and could not be found anywhere else on the internet. We got it printed cheaply, bound it ourselves, and sold it for $15 - after postage and supplies, we had about $8 profit from [e]ach zine, (about $300 total ) all of which was sent to one of the actor's pet charities.

That said, someone in the fandom thought it downright wrong that we were charging for fanfic, she bought the zine and then went to Kinkos and had it scanned with OCR. Within hours of her having received it, she posted the stories under a pseudonym on the net. We did a reverse IP trace and she was drummed out of that fandom pretty summarily, but it was a pretty wanky event all-told. The difference is, we were regarded as the wronged party there - despite the fact that we were charging.

Yesterday, in ignorance at the time of what was going on in the Buffy fandom, I posted asking for donations to for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, and offered to write fic or make icons in return. After learning about that, I had some serious moments where I thought about deleting my post. Ultimately, I didn't - mostly because the donations are going directly through the Komen website, not my personal paypal account and because I'm going to keep writing fic and making icons whether people donate or not - this is just a little something more.

Similarly, during the presidential campaign there was an LJ group (the name of which currently escapes me) offering fic, icons, etc. in exchange for donations to certain candidates. And the Christmas Wish List meme took of BIG last year as well.

We gift each other with icons, story dedications, paid time/icon space, and other small things all the time. I've received unsoliceted [sic] 'gifts' in exchange for banners, etc. that I've made. To be honest, I felt rather weird accepting them, but I did anyway. And though I'm the furthest thing removed from a BNF, someone recently offered to set up a fund-raising drive for me after my iPod was stolen. (I declined and played it off as a joke, though I still wonder if she wasn't serious). [1]

There is the transatlantic fan fund (I think I got the name right) to pay for fans attendence [sic] in England or the US depending on what side of the Atlantic you live on.

So, my point is that money and payment in kind changes hands in fandom for fan services all the time. Most of it, I believe is gestures of goodwill and the bulk of it is unsolicited.

Without resurrecting the wank, or justifying what cousinjean did (because my gut reaction was "What unmitigated gal", even if I couldn't quite articulate why I felt that way), I'm wondering where it is the line is drawn - is it in the outright asking, is it in the making a profit, or something else.

Some Excerpts from the Comments


This is a very good question and one that I've been thinking quite hard on. I, too, considered writing fanfic for a charity fundraising kind of event and have second thoughts. Even though writing fanfic for a good cause and writing fanfic and asking people to support me in it are two totally different things, both are writing fanfic for money.

I guess it's a moral/ethical distinction.

Writing fanfic for profit vs. writing fanfic with the goal of someone in need (not the fanfic author) benefiting.

I think there must be a line drawn somewhere but it's difficult because good intentions can sometimes be seen as money grabbing or something.

There's a website, which is costing over $400 to run yearly so the maintainers put a paypal link on and not many people have donated so to drum up support, even just a few dollars from people, I asked if it would be a good idea if people said they'd write fic or do artwork or whatever nd people bid and gave them certain things to write about/draw and the money would go to the website's upkeeping.

Fell flat in the water. hmm.

I think it might have to be with the way people word things. cousinjean used "DANCING LESSONS FAN FIC" or something to that effect, but it might have played out differently (?) if she simply asked for donations and promises to write more if people did so, and instead of "DANCING LESSONS FANFIC", use the name of her website or something...

It'll amount to the same (and I don't even know if what I'm voicing is legal O.o) but it sounds a bit... less wanky, in my opinion.
[ghostgecko]: It seems like if someone wants a get out of work free pass, they should just go ahead and become a writer. Gifts are one thing - they're given of free will. Asking readers to pay for your hobby is not. Not to mention it takes your work out of fanfiction and into outright illegality.

I'm wondering where it is the line is drawn - is it in the outright asking, is it in the making a profit, or something else.

It's in the making of a personal profit without any attempt on the profiteer's part to help themselves. It is also in the sheer amount requested; gall, IMO, correlates directly to the money being begged for.

If it were "send money to help the left-leaning southeastern salamander fund," well, maybe I would and maybe I wouldn't, depending on my opinon of newts, but it's not someone making a personal profit.

If it were "I wanted so badly to go to Worldcon but right before I was ready to buy my ticket my car got wrecked and I had to use my Worldcon money to repair it, and all I've got of value right now is my ability to spin a tale - is that worth a buck to you?" well, once again, maybe I will and maybe I won't... but disasters happen to us all, so I understand.

Even if it were "I need about $100 for a goal I'm working on... if you'd buy a fanzine for $25, would you consider buying my e-fanfic for $3 a head?" it's greedy, but it's not overwhelmingly so.

But it takes gall the size of Texas... no ego the size of Anne Rice's! - to say "My fanfic brings all the fen to the yard, which is why I'm So Wonderful that you should give me an all-expenses-paid pass for a year to work on it." I'm not sure which part gets me more - that she's begging to be subsidized for a not-entirely-legal hobby, or that she thinks her audience and her talents are that large, or that she expects to reap in more than most established authors can do.

That last was my first reaction to finding out about that beg. "Honey, it would take me two hours just to list all the names of people I *know* who are published and want to laugh in your face right now."

I liked what cesperanza [Untitled post on Cousin Jean's proposal: "She's taking advantage of fandom's communal history of caring, and I think that's abusive" had to say].

Fanfic for charity is not so much anathema, I think, because it doesn't conflict with the "do it for love, not for gain" fandom ethic.
[partly_bouncy, owner of Fan History Wiki ]:

But if people are writing for feedback or are writing to become better writers or are writing it with the hope of eventually going professional, is that not the same as writing for gain? Just a different, non-monetary type?...

But the issue was gain that you stated no? Not just monetary gain? Did you also preclude a love of money? As a motivation? Some people are in fandom for monetary gain or don't see it as a problem if it happens incidently...

As such, I find the love vs. gain model kind of flawed and dishonest in the context of money.

"Gain" as in you gain approval from other fans -- the "wow, got a good review!" high -- rather than barter or other mundane commerce.

Last I heard, you couldn't purchase a twelve-pack of Coke with fanfic reviews. ;)

Personally, I think it's the commercialization aspect that pings people. [httUntitled post on Cousin Jean's proposal: "She's taking advantage of fandom's communal history of caring, and I think that's abusive" There's a response post by cesperanza] that touches on this: fandom isn't a market, it's a community, and treating your community as a market (by, say, asking to be paid for fanfic) is taboo.

I've donated money to help a fellow fan replace her dying laptop. I commissioned a community layout from a fandom friend who was trying to raise money for concert tickets. I've thought about buying fanart from friends who were strapped for cash (but usually couldn't afford it). In all these cases--even the commissioned artwork -- the transaction wasn't strictly commercial because there was an underlying reason for doing it in the first place: "I need money for X, and I'm willing to do commissions for it." And no fan artist is trying to live off commissions (though I have some uni students on my flist who have come close...).

I know there are times when the cash flow around fandom seems absurd-- LaptopGate|the money wank after thegraybook's apartment got burgled was epic--but it always stays just below the level of actual commercial transaction. We maintain the polite fiction that we're trading favors instead, because it reinforces the sense of community.

fandom isn't a market, it's a community, and treating your community as a market (by, say, asking to be paid for fanfic) is taboo.

But it's not taboo. It's only taboo if you post your fic on the net. Publish in zine form and fen will happily shell out upwards of $20 for it.

It pisses me off that fanom rushed to publicly lynch cousinjean when zine publishers openly profit and get rewarded for it. Yes, I said Profit. Just lurk on Zinelist (yahoo group) for a while. Every single one of them admits that they charge more than the cost of materials and distribution for their zines (though any moron with a calculator should be able to tell that from the prices). They justify it by claiming that the cost of their con tickets, hotel and travel expenses, even their time as editors are legitimate expenses. Such things are business expenses - if they're not running a business, it's not legit to charge for your perks.

I'm not suggesting anyone gets rich selling zines but they most certainly profit from it.

Maintaining a website costs money, and time. Maintaining a large archive, especially for a large fandom, costs a small fortune. But if an online fan author dares to suggest a small donation might be nice - Oh my god she's destroying fandom! (Unless she's a BNF of course. They can charge for any old crap and people will pay.)

The hypocrisy of it all is heartbreaking.
[darththalia]: Well, Mysti Frank has certainly been pilloried in any number of forums for her zine-selling practices--she just seems to have the chutzpah to keep publishing. I do think there's a difference between selling a zine--a product--even if you're adding enough to the cost to cover sales expenses, and trying to get fandom to pay you an entire year's salary with no guarantee of a finished product.

Yeah, but Mysti is the only one who has been. They all atificially inflate their costs and I know of only one who donates her profits to charity instead of her own bank balance like the rest.

And as I see it, the difference is only one of degree. I'm neither condemning nor defending either practice; I'm condemning the hypocrisy of slating one while lauding the other.

With my limited experience in 'zines, I've heard very little on the stories of price inflation, etc. As most of my experience is pre-internet, I'd never had any experience with price inflation.

I also wonder if, in the internet age, issues like this just get less attention.

You know that Mysti profits enough to make a living from this, right? Well, how much higher are her prices than other zines of a similar production quality and size? I'll tell you - they're almost identical.

I can do the math. I don't need to see the books.

It's not hypocrisy, it's fear.

Like it or not, online is treated differently than offline. And even offline, there's been cease & desist orders when people have gotten too extreme. But the extremes that are allowed online aren't the extremes allowed offline.

I don't really know if FOX's legal department would have gone after her for this. My guess is that if it was brought to their attention, they would. As for the predictions for what might happen to the rest of the community . . . it's FOX. FOX's legal department has actually dealt with the fannish community in the past in many instances, are clearly aware of the fan fiction community, and their actions in the past indicate that they're usually after the individuals who step out of line rather than the fannish community at large (although, they can rather relentlessly pursue those individuals).

But if it wasn't FOX . . . speaking as someone who has been hit with a pretty scatter-shot C&D before, the fear might be appropriate. I actually think it was appropriate here, because it's the only type of community policing/awareness we have. FOX isn't the monster in the closet (unless their legal department priorities undergo a total morph, which they could with a change of management) but there ARE monsters in the closet. There ARE legal departments that might not take the go-with-the-flow attitude, only hitting those that become too arrogant. And once C&Ds start getting sent, it doesn't really matter whether they're valid or enforceable. Much of the community doesn't have the money or connections to start to fight them.

Like it or not, online is treated differently than offline.

True. But zines are sold online. There are a lot of fan artists who sell their work online. The Moonridge thing every year in Sentinel fandom is an online activity and at least as dubious as what this girl proposed (fans are asked to bid on fic, sight unseen, many of which are unwritten at the time of the auction)...but it's organised by a BNF and it's for charity. So that's okay.

I have a problem with this girl being singled out when fandom as a whole is quite happy for money to be exchanged for fan works as long as there's some flimsy justification for it.

And I'll stand by my original term. It's hypocrisy.

I'd say the charity case makes a difference (as long as it's all properly donated). Fanworks, fanart, get auctioned at a variety of conventions, and I'd say that's different as no one actually makes a profit (and as long as no one makes a profit).

Auctioning off unwritten fic, I admit, seems kind of weird to me, that's one I've never heard of. Live and learn.

I'd say that's different as no one actually makes a profit (and as long as no one makes a profit).

At every con "charity" auction I've attended, the con took a percentage. In some cases the entire profit of the con for charity - so no one makes a profit from that cut - it's there to cover other potential losses. But that's not the way things are done at other cons.

(This is in the UK; I don't know what the practice may be elsewhere.)

But why does charity make a difference? If money is changing hands, that's a commercial transaction. It may make a moral difference, but if the subject is potential legal repercussions it makes no difference at all.

My experience with charities is different than yours - I'm used to all/most of the money going, sometimes even more than that.

Why charity makes a difference is a good question - I'll try my explanation.

The goal of the charity is to give money not to the producer of a work, but to a good cause. The work that is made by the producer and then given to the donator is a way of inducing a person to give money to the chairty (indirectly). The producer does not recieve any reimbursement for their work. The donator does recieve something for their money, but the money goes to charity and the producer does not recieve anything. The producer of the work may be seen as making a donation themselves.

I sometimes use the metaphor of the charity dinner. You're giving far more than the value of the dinner, but you get something in return and associate with people participating in the charity.

Now if the money went right to the producer, then I'd say there's a direct transaction. That's different. I also think any fan charity event has to be scrupulously straightforward about where/how much of money is going well.

That clarify my views?

Or, as long as you're getting something actual for it.

That really goes to the heart of an entirely different matter which is far bigger than fandom--that we don't consider electronic bits to be real, or have as high a value as hard copy. First Sale Doctrine doesn't generally apply to electronic bits.

I think I'd have to disagree with you there. The Moonridge auction is an auction. People donate and buy items specifically to benefit the charity. Not just stories, or even Sentinel-related items. There were dragons, tablecloths, and I don't know what all. And ALL the money goes to Moonridge. The organizers even pay for the website themselves. I don't see any hypocrisy in that.

The woman under question wanted people to give her money, subsidize her writing, and holding her unfinished stories hostage. And it's a shared universe, which means she's profiting from other people's work. That's what bugs me. It makes a difference if it's for charity or for someone's personal pocket.

The fanzine thing is a totally different set of issues to me.

But it's not taboo. It's only taboo if you post your fic on the net. Publish in zine form and fen will happily shell out upwards of $20 for it.

I have the probably unfair belief that zine elitism lets this stuff happen. Because, yay, it's edited and has art! There is (or at least seems to be) something of a conviction that zines are a step above net-publishing. I've seen people drop everything to write a story they can publish in a zine, and while I can see the appeal of seeing your fic on paper it sometimes feels like it gets taken too far, as if zines are just Somehow Better. And, really, there's a bunch of stuff I'd be wary about with zines, not least being the demand that you don't net-publish for about a year. So, presumably this is because there's a strong audience overlap between net and zines. Although my experience with zines has been fairly fic-light and what there was tended to be, err, well I wouldn't even bother to read it online, really.
[speshulduck]: I think what made this so much worse (because really I'd just laugh a lot at anyone who expected to have fandom pay for them to live for a year) was the fact that the WIP she was promising to finish has something like 12-15 coauthors. It's not like this is someone promising the final story in a series; this is someone asking for money for a story of which she didn't write a very large chunk. That's what sent it past amusement and into sheer "WTF are you smoking?" territory for me.

From reading comments on the one post Cousin Jean left undeleted on her LJ, the reason this set so many people off so strongly is that Cousin Jean was seeking to *make a living from fanfic*. People were afraid her actions would encourage others to do the same, which would then attract the attention of the Powers That Be. That, they said, would result in cease and decist letters and the begining of a crackdown on all fanficcers.

Plus, there was the matter that one of the fanfics she was pledging to finish if people gave her money was a joint effort with several other writers -- and she didn't consult her co-writers at all before putting out the offer.
[sydni_64]: I actually just posted about this in my lj. For me, one of the biggest problems is that cousinjean's post is that she doesn't just say, "Pay me and I will write for you," she says, "Pay me because you already owe me bigtime." That seems incredibly hurtful and rude to the readers who probably thought she'd been operating from a more developed sense of good will than that.
[nnaylime]: I think something you touched on that I've only seen tangentially as well was unique - in that she seems to think she was above all the other hard working and talented fan authors . . . intereting.

Excellent point--I wish I still had handy the link to the essay that compared fandom to potlatch culture, because it really fits. Normal authors gain prestige for posting fic, and this lady wants money, too?

[queenitsy]: I don't know anything of the current situatin you mentioned, but my feeling is this. Fanfic is a copyright violation. The basic defense fanauthors have for this is that they aren't making money for it--it's done for love, and not profit; because it's not for profit, they aren't robbing any money from the actual canon creators. And charity can fall into this: you make money, sure, but if all that money is given to a good cause, it's not like you're actually making the money at all. On the other hand, asking to be paid for fanfic, when the money is actually for you, is (or can be construed as) stealing from TPTB that look the other way on copyright. So fanfic for cash seems to be a much bigger legal infrigement, and is more likely to get all fanfic writers shut down by TPTB.

I read the original post last night, the corresponding post that sparked the debate, and everyone's opinion and after thinking about this all day, I have to say I agree with you.

Taking money for any reason revolving around fanfiction or fanart puts all fandoms in big danger of being shut down. If anyone looks at the current news and politics, you can clearly see that once the fire gets started it spreads very quickly. In other words, once the copyright holders of one fandom find someone receiving money for fiction of their characters and decides to sue the author or shut the whole fandom down, it'll get other creators thinking and next we'll have other copyright holders doing the same thing. Soon it'll be some big law issue on the Today Show and we'll all be in trouble.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with an author receiving gifts from readers, as long as it is NOT for the fan fiction. But when someone says, 'Pay me and I'll finish this story.' as cousinjean(i think that's her name) said, there lies a potential problem. I'd even go so far as to say, you need to be careful collecting money for charity through fan fiction. Sure it's for a great cause and I'm sure most people understand that but not all copyright holders are that understanding and lawyers just don't care. So be careful.

Honestly, I think this is all a sign that people are taking fan fiction why too seriously and placing too high a value on it. I'm author myself, so I understand how precious my stories are to me but I'd never accept money for them because it's wrong. It goes against every disclaimer I've ever written: "I don't own these characters. I'm not making money off of them. I'm just having fun." If I want to make some money off of creative work, I'll do the smart thing: write my own original novel.

Another element that comes into this is money-for-service versus straightul money-for-fanfic.

With a 'zine you're often paying for the service and related elements - typesetting, paper, etc. It's a delivery method. Same with a website, in a way. These things cost, and I think people don't mind too much paying for them (When I put ads on my site to pay for it, which has some fannish elements, I got very little protest, people understood). In my limited 'zine experience, the 'zines recouped the cost for the printing and/or extra went to charities or related efforts.

But when you're actually paying FOR the story, for the work to be done (with copyrighted work), thats where that subtle line gets crossed.

The entire cousinjean issue got worse than that for a various reasons I feel:

The blatant money-for-fanfic.

Ignoring her co-authors.

It'd also help fund her pro work.

As I recall (Haven't re-read it) she was working part time.

On the other hand, I see some of her "help me go pro" thing being a potentially legitimate model. There's been suggestions at places like slashdot that a patronage model can evolve on the internet.

Personally, i think making money off fanfic/fanart is squicky territory because the major justification for the okay-ness of fan production is "We are making no money off of this." I found fan_the_vote squicky for just this reason. Okay the money wasn't going to the personal fans but rather being funnelled through them to what they considered good causes (which is why folks like TBQ were personally morally okay with participating, though they were also willing to suffer the consequences were there any backlash).

If people give you money for your sick pet or extra icon space or whatever, and it happens to be because they love your fannish work, i don't have a problem with that because there isn't so much of a direct correlation and also because it's a gift. Sports players can receive lots of gifts from fans and still be considered amateurs. It's when they start charging for their services as a sports player that they're considered a professional and ineligible to compete in the Olympics.
[nostalgia_lj]: I think it's that, generally, charity seems to be unassailable as A Good Thing. (See also music, where you can release any old shit as long as you say the word 'charity'.) It's no less illegal, but I think we generally assume that no PTB want to look like bastards who begrudge money going to charity.

What I don't understand of all this thing is why it had to wait for someone to be so balantly ignorant of how fandom works (I think we all agree that making money out of fanfic for one's own interest is wrong) for this kind of backlash.

I've always been against people getting money out of fanart, which is a reason why I rarely talk about fanart and comissions with people. I think the fanartists who actually get money from their comissions are quite talented, but also think that people shouldn't pay them for fanart, that they should be doing original art if they want to get money out off it. And that opinion makes me not that popular in some places because for some reason, selling fanart is not as "not ok" as selling fanfic is (Which makes me wonder why fanart and fanfiction are held so different among some fans, too).

So... while I am glad that she was told so clearly that there's no personal gain to be obtained from fanfic (Which I think is the main situation. Gifts are different because usually the one who gets the gift didn't ask for it, as far as I can understand), I also wonder what happens to all those who are making some profit out of fandom.

“...I'm wondering where it is the line is drawn - is it in the outright asking, is it in the making a profit, or something else.”

I'm thinking the line is drawn just before the point that a fan fiction writer thinks of herself as a person, and realizes that she's spending her time creating and getting nothing in return. So, she flips out and makes the mistake of asking for something. And she gets put back in her place -- in serfdom. How's that?

I'm not suggesting that this particular writer should have asked for money. It's illegal, and worse than that, a total waste of time that could have been better spent lazing around on the beach. But I can understand why the concept of 'writing for love as a gift to Fandom' could run out of steam after a while.


  1. A reference to Can't we just buy you an IPod