On the Demise of Fanlib, and Why Fan-run Sites Are More Likely to Succeed

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Title: On the Demise of Fanlib, and Why Fan-run Sites Are More Likely to Succeed
Creator: Leva Cygnet
Date(s): 24 July 2008
External Links: On the Demise of Fanlib, and Why Fan-run Sites Are More Likely to Succeed
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On the Demise of Fanlib, and Why Fan-run Sites Are More Likely to Succeed is a 2008 essay by Leva Cygnet about the end of Fanlib.

Some Topics Discussed

From the Essay

Fanlib is closing its doors on August 4th, 2008. Cue the snickers and I-told-you-so's from fen.

For those who somehow missed the whole saga, Fanlib is a fanfiction archive which started with three million in venture capital funds. Its board of directors included well-connected media mogul types. And, very clearly, from the beginning, it was designed to make money off of fandom. It was all about the moola. Otherwise, they wouldn't have started with three million dollars of investment money.

Of course, they couldn't turn a profit with that sort of debt hanging over their heads. I am quite amused that the venture capitalists thought they could. Fanlib's bigwigs must have sold those venture capitalists an absolutely fantastic marketing spiel.

Now, contrast [Fanlib] with what what happens if a fan decides to build a fan site for the fun.

A fan -- we'll call her Susie FanGirl -- decides she wants to make the Bestest Fan Site for Jane Author Ever. Susie knows a little bit about programming, and thinks Stupid CSS Tricks are lots of fun, and is a decent graphic designer. And so a fabulous fan site is born for Jane Author.

Her startup costs? $16 -- $9 for a domain name, plus a $5 a month plan with a cheap web host plus $2 for a couple pots of coffee for those late-night design sessions.

Susie has no intention of making money. It's just a fan site.

She starts out with a phpBB bulletin board, a fanfic archive and a Wordpress blog with some insightful articles and news about Jane Author. Susie's well-spoken and clever in the blog and a great moderator on the bulletin board, so fans keep coming back. It's a personality thing that gets the site started, more than anything else. The other fans simply like her.

(Fans did not like the management of FanLib. The CEO of FanLib was rude to fans.)

Jane Author is flattered by the fan site and thinks it's great marketing that requires no effort at all from her. No effort is a good thing. Jane Author has deadlines to meet. Jane Author grants Susie FanGirl a few interviews and sends Susie FanGirl a few autographed books, however, and Susie thinks she can die happy.

Susie adds some chat rooms or an IRC channel to the Bestest Fan Site Ever. Then she does some podcasts. Perhaps she writes a clever script for art archives. And she's always adding more content. The site flourishes.

For years, Susie Fangirl runs a beautiful site that gets several thousand views a day. If there's advertising on it, the ads just break even and pay for the hosting costs. But that's okay. Susie FanGirl is not doing it for money, she's doing it for love.

If someone with "money" started a "fan" site wanting a return on their investment, they'd almost certainly give up after a year or two of watching the ad revenue not roll in. But Susie is doing this out of love for the fandom and the books.

However, as all things must, Susie FanGirl finally needs to move on. Her life circumstances have changed so she no longer has time to properly maintain it. But Susie wants her site to go on without her. She's emotionally vested in the site. She sends an appeal out to the community for a new webmaster. A committee is formed of other fans and they take over for her. Susie steps down, the site goes on, and life is good for Susie, the site, and the fandom.

Rarely, of course, the stars all align and a site like Susie FanGirl's Bestest Fan Site Ever becomes an enormous success. I'm thinking of the sites like the gigantic Harry Potter archives and forums, Fanfiction.net, DeviantArt.com, and ToonZone. This is rare, however. For every Fanfiction.net there must be a thousand sites like, oh, Station 8 -- which are run without profit by someone who just likes a fandom and makes a shiny site for the other fans.

Enormous success and get-a-server-farm levels of traffic are awesome when they happen; generally, the site fulfilled a need, the fans involved put in long hours at their own expense, and they earned every penny of the ad revenue.

Undoubtedly, the venture capitalists behind FanLib simply saw that some of the fan sites have unbelievable pageviews per day and thought that they could capture that kind of traffic quickly, with an advertising blitz and a few cheap iPods as prizes to the users.


Investors, of course, don't want to wait several years to see a "maybe" return on their money. They want a quick success and profit right away. And so, a site like FanLib, that started with millions in venture capital and people looking to get rich, was almost certainly doomed to fail. Whereas Susie FanGirl's Bestest Fan Site Ever might eventually be a big moneymaking success -- because she was willing to put the time, effort, and love into it with no guarantee of financial return, simply because she wanted to.