Profiting from fanfiction (essay by fluterbev, a follow up to my recent poll)

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Title: Profiting from fanfiction (a follow up to my recent poll)
Creator: fluterbev
Date(s): February 27, 2009
Medium: journal post
Fandom: all fandoms, but has a Sentinel-focus
Topic: fandom and profit, zines, fanfic, fiction archives
External Links: Profiting from fanfiction; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Profiting from fanfiction (a follow up to my recent poll) by fluterbev is part of a 2009 discussion regarding fandom and profit.

It is a response to a fan selling a fanfic ebook: see Changes.

This essay is a follow-up to Profiting from fanfiction (essay by fluterbev).

Specifically-Related Posts in This Discussion

The Post

[fluterbev]: Full disclosure: my post was inspired by a recent announcement on one of the TS lists, in that a single, novel-length TS story is currently being offered in a downloadable pdf at a cost of $20 (and this was on the heels of another, similar announcement by a different person). Without alluding to those specific examples, I wanted to find out what people generally felt about the concept of selling fanfiction for profit.

No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s pretty clear that $20 is a lot of money for an e-book. Professional e-books from, for example, Torquere Press, seemingly retail at between $5.99 - $6.99. Fanfiction zines, on the other hand, are widely touted as not-for-profit ventures, for fairly obvious reasons which I see no need to rehash here – we’re all well aware of the copyright issues and the fine line we all walk in that regard. Printed zines, as most would acknowledge, do most definitely cost money to produce, which is usually reflected in the price (and zine producer [ profile] aprilvalentine gave some great examples of the expenses associated with that in my last post, for which I thank her sincerely). But what are the specific costs involved in producing and distributing an e-book, as opposed to a printed zine? Can a single, downloadable file seriously cost the agent who is selling it $20 in expenses each time it is sold (especially as that same agent is selling other e-books at the considerably lower price of $8.00)? What makes this particular e-book so incredibly expensive?

Ultimately, it is inevitable that such an astronomically high price-tag for a downloaded fic will attract questions about whether it might, in fact, be attracting a rather handsome profit, and have little to do with recouping expenses at all. Maybe that is an incorrect and unfair assumption, but common sense leads people to assume otherwise in the absence of any kind of transparent breakdown in costs.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this particular downloaded zine is, in fact, being sold for profit. In what circumstances might doing so be regarded by fans as an acceptable thing to do? Responses to my last post, comments to this very interesting and pertinent post as well as discussion elsewhere suggest some reasons why some people might not only turn a blind eye to profiteering in fandom, but also support it.

Examples I’ve seen people cite include circumstances where the author is suffering financial hardship, and is trying to raise money to alleviate that (and honestly? The kindness and generosity of people in fandom when other fans are in dire straits can be an amazing and precious thing, it has to be said, and this is something I know from personal experience). There is also vast support across the board where the money is being raised for charity, and not personally for the author or the agent selling the wares at all.

It also seems clear that in the eyes of some, selling fanfic for profit is regarded as a perfectly acceptable activity for certain special people to engage in (but not necessarily for others). If the writer is a well-liked personality, for example, their friends and admirers might wish to rally round them and provide support by buying their stories, no matter the reason why they are being sold. And if the writer is extremely highly regarded in terms of their talent and/or longevity in fandom, the fact that they are deigning to sell their exclusive fannish product in a way that nets them a few quid is often presented, by their supporters, as actually doing those who are willing to pay through the nose for it a whopping great favour.

So where do I stand? I particularly like what byslantedlight has to say in a reply to a comment in her post: There are alot of people who do amazing things for fandom, without expecting for any recompense at all. I've had people send me dvds, give me zines that they'd finished with, copies of fic that they adored and wanted me to read too - all sorts of things. Our archivists (for all they're not currently as active as they have been in the past!) don't charge money for what they do, the comm mods don't expect payment for their time, and all the people who spend hours over fic/art/vids for other people to enjoy freely, don't generally expect to be paid for that time or the resources that they consume. We're all, in effect, losing money on fandom all the time. Except that we do it because we're paying each other back, enjoying each other's work and effort and generousity. So why do a few people seem to think that we owe them cash on top of it all? Maybe because they're not actually interested in our fandom at all, maybe because they don't get anything else out of it. In which case what they do is blantant profiteering, compared to what everyone else does...

Yep, taking the whole copyright issue on board as a matter of course, that about covers it. I really couldn’t have put it better myself.

Excerpts from Some Responses

mab browne: I'm still writing my meta on this - yes, I am actually writing it. *g* I guess that the short version is that I like the wonderful availability of fannish creation that the web makes possible and that I see charging for fic downloads as a backwards step in making fandom accessible. And if anyone is entitled to recoup costs in modern fandom it is surely not zine sellers, but archivists, in my opinion. 852 Prospect, ASR3, Starfox's Mansion, Brothers in Arms, Cascade Library as pay-sites? Imagine the distress, and the argy-bargy. Fandom has changed massively as it's come on to the web, and as someone who lives at the bottom of the world in a country with a really crap exchange rate right now, I enjoy the way that other people's generosity has given me the chance to share my obsessions.
[fluterbev]: I agree that, if anyone deserves to recoup their losses, it is archivists who really are the backbone of online fandom. To add to this, we all pay something for our involvement with fandom. Everyone pays for their hardware and software. Writers additionally invest time in their writing, maintain and PAY for web hosting (okay, I do it on the cheap at LJ, but I have a paid journal because it bothered me that visitors to my pages would see ads otherwise). We all pay something, in our million and one ways, and most of us recognise that to do so is integral to the gift economy we maintain. Why do some people deserve financial recompense for that, and not others?
[lit_gal]: Once a year, I put up an "informercial" asking for help to pay my archive cost on my own site. I generally get the full cost of the archive in about three or four days, and I'm pretty graphics heavy, so I have some pretty high bandwidth needs. So, I don't think even the archives need to "charge"....It doesn't cost anything to put up a PDF on a file-sharing site. If you use a site like Lulu, it costs nothing. If you charge, Lulu takes a percentage. If you allow downloads for free, they will host the file for free.
[betagoddess]: Interesting questions and thoughts. One of the many reasons I love fanfic (besides my slash addiction) is that it costs nothing.

I totally agree with all that byslantedlight wrote. Fandom has been very generous to me and given me great reading and entertainment value for absolutely nothing and added many valuable friendships to my life at the same time.

When I clicked on the "I'd be willing to pay $20 for your stories", I was thinking that they'd be in hardcopy book form for some reason. I don't think I'd be too willing to spend $20 for a zine, especially not for just one story.
[fluterbev]: Well, to be fair, it doesn't cost you nothing, because you pay for your internet connection, your hardware and software, just like any other fan in fandom. And not only that; you pay in other ways. You comment, send feedback, give encouragement. This may not have monetary value, but I can assure you - as somone frequently on the receiving end of your generosity - it has massive currency in the sense of fandom's gift economy. You are a big spender, lovey, whether you realise it or not, and I am but one of many lucky beneficiaries.
[april valentine]: If only everyone felt that way -- people used to actually feel honor-bound to write and mail off LoCs to zine eds to thank them and give back to the authors who wrote the stories. Even online when commenting only requires a simple click, we get less and less of it, but that's a whole 'nother discussion. I also get so much out of fandom, friendship, enjoyment, ideas, feedback and just a general good feeling. It's the reason that I've been doing it for over 30 years and have no plans to leave. So many folks give back by sharing episodes, clips, ideas and sources when someone new comes along and I love that about fandom. I've benefitted from others' generosity and it's a long chain of passing that along that I try to continue to be a part of.
[jane davit]: I agree with byslantedlight completely.

I've benefited from the generosity of fandom and I've done my best to reciprocate. It gives me pleasure to do so because I feel like I'm part of something kind and generous. Fandom isn't Eden before the snake, no, but in some ways -- oh God, it just blows me away by how kind it is.

Then you come across someone who's part of it all, enjoying the lavish banquet and stuffing their faces for free who then produces a cake and says, doesn't this look tasty? Pay me and I'll cut you a slice.

No thanks.
[sallymn]: As I mentioned on mab_browne's post, I personally wouldn't pay that (would and have paid far more for zines, including 2nd hand ones from o'seas, but that was then and this is now), but I'd still pay for certain fan art... and I'm not sure where the difference is, only that it is. I do recall during the decline of the print zine, one editor suggested that contributors could pay a reduced price for their copy instead of getting it free - so that the zine could be sold less of a loss all round - and that was totally slammed.
[[[greenwoman]]]: It's a dichotemy for me ... one that perhaps, oh yeah sure ... makes me a hypocrite.

In general, I object strongly to fanfic being sold for profit. There is a particular fanzine publisher who I regard as the perfect example of all that is bad about this practice, but she is not the only one. At a basic level, I feel that fanfic exists by virtue of the gracious oversight (or sometimes simple cluelessness) of the Creators who give us the playgrounds in which we cavort (or, in truth, in which we cause their characters to cavort ;-) ).

That said ... and here comes that which may be perceived as hypocrisy ....

There are some authors who I grant everything ... some writers whose work, and who themselves ... I love so much, that I would happily purchase their work. (You're one of them, btw.) And here's why.

First of all, I would feel that I am purchasing something that the Creators are not, never did, or are no longer selling to me; therefore, I am not causing them financial harm.

Second, there are authors whose work means so much to me ... in some ways, as much or more than canon ... that I can never pay them back fully with a simple LoC.

And finally, if some of my favorite authors are, or should come to be, in financial hardship, an opportunity to pay them back with $$$ in an exchange for (mostly) original work that has brought me much joy, seems a reasonable and honorable transaction that trespasses neither upon their pride nor on the financial or creative purvue of the original Creators.

And yes, I understand, all of my arguments can be challenged in any number of ways. I don't care. These are my gut feelings. I consider my personal hairsplitting on this issue to be minute trespasses, considering some of the more outrageous actions in fandom.
[snycock]: ...for me it's all about the gift culture and the way fandom operates to help us share our love and squee for something. Offering to help someone I know is in dire straights, or opting to contribute to help keep an archive up? Voluntary, and great if one can do it. Being demanded to pay for something I can get for free? No way. :-)
[swanpride]: I have to agree with you and the posted you cited: If everyone deserves anything for their work than the people who organize the websites. I won't put down the work the authors do, being a writer myself (although at the moment I am only posting at SA Sentinel fics, but the fics I have written for other fandomes are all free avaible). But fact is: Every writer is not only a writer, he is also a reader. He spends at last as many time reading ffs as writing them. We all in the fandom are providers AND users. Some people, with more talent, time or inclination to write (or draw or whatever) are doing a little bit more than the others, but what they are doing is not a chore for them, or they would not do it.
[artemis54]: I remember when the only way to get fanfic was to buy a zine. Then the 'net became available, fanfic exploded, and may 'net users said they'd "never buy a zine"!. Until I purchased my beloved ebook, I printed most of my fic reading because I can't read off a monitor for very long due to vision problems. I really preferred having zines in my hands to read and I was willing to offset the cost of those that produced the zines. I still am. I don't even have that much problem with some profit being made to make up for the time etc that goes into zine production. What does cause some concern is using other people's ideas (as in characters promoted in fanfic), making money, and those folks don't get anything for what is essentially their intellectual property. I think "they" ignore us as long as we don't really make any money, and perform the service of keeping their characters alive. That's my two bits.