AngiePen (angiepen) wrote,

Audience and Priorities

or, Why FanLib Really Doesn't Care About Us

I typed up a response to dustyasymptotes's comment on my last FanLib post, but it was too long for one comment -- and besides I thought some other folks might like to see it too -- so I'm putting it here as its own post.

I mentioned a while back, in a few comments in some journals the names of which I've forgotten in all the uproar, that IMO the intended audience, once FanLib really gets going, is going to be that really huge body of fans who watch the TV shows and movies, and read the books and comics, but haven't yet gotten actively involved in fandom. That is, people who might say, "Yes, I'm a Firefly fan," but who've never been to a convention, never made a costume or maybe not even seen a fan-made costume, never made or seen a fanvid, never joined a fan club, never drawn or painted or seen a piece of fan art, never made or seen a fan-made prop, never written or read fanfic -- someone who likes the original source material, maybe quite a lot, but has never gotten actively involved with other fans doing fannish activities beyond some friends going to see a movie together on opening day.

This group is a huge, ripe field ready for harvest from FanLib's point of view. These people don't know what's out there, have no preconceptions or expectations and would probably think that pretty much anything they saw was cool. A lot of them are young, yes, but they wouldn't necessarily have to be. Inexperienced is more like it. I mentioned upstream in comments [to my previous FanLib post] that I see what FanLib is doing as "preying upon our young," but it'd be better to substitute "newbies" or "inexperienced" for "young" because I never really meant that in terms of chronological age. Rather, they're preying upon people who have little or no experience of organized fandom and are more easily exploited than someone who's been around long enough to know how things are supposed to work and why, and to have developed a reasonably thick veneer of both cynicism and skepticism. "Protofans" maybe?

The reason I think this is FanLib's true target audience is because there simply aren't enough fanfic fans to make them their investment back. Three million dollars is a boatload of ad clicks, and it's even a lot of "writing events," which I'm assuming make them a nice bit of money from the sponsors. (Although not enough to prevent them from trying to expand into fanfic archiving and ad revenue.) And figure, their investors are going to want to see some fairly significant profits, not just to earn back their three million, and that means a boatload of eyeballs for those ads and such.

Fanfic fandom isn't big enough. Even active fandom as a whole -- which is much larger, fanfic fandom being a small fraction of it -- wouldn't be big enough, I don't think. It'd take some fraction of the entire fanbase (by which I mean the group composed of everyone who's read/seen and enjoyed the original canon source material) to give them the profits they have to be looking for. And keep in mind that they'd be targetting the entire fanbases of every show and movie and book and comic for which they have fanfic in their archive, which would be a staggeringly huge number of people. If they can drag even ten percent, five percent, two percent of that total over to their web site, that'd still be a huge number of people in actual numbers.

I think that at this point they're still just collecting product. They're getting the shelves stocked so that the store will look nice and full and browsable when they really open their doors and start seriously advertising. I'm betting that there'll be ads -- not full-blown commercials but blips or bugs with the FanLib URL and a quick note about "further stories" or something -- during or right after the programs or on an ad-page in the back of the books produced by the studios and publishers with whom FanLib has partnerships. Figure, it's in the studio or publisher's interest to help publicize a writing contest-thing which, to them, is just another marketing event. It'd draw people in for the writing events and hopefully (from FanLib's POV) a lot of those people would stay for the fanfic, maybe even start writing it themselves, which gets more product on the shelves.

Past a certain point, as soon as they have enough stories uploaded to properly "prime the pump" and get your average TV or movie or book or comic consumer to stick around once they find the place, FanLib won't need fanfic fandom anymore. If they get anywhere near enough eyeballs to the site to keep their ad revenue coming in at the rate they need, then even if a small fraction of those people try writing fanfic themselves, they'll have enough new stories coming in to keep the archives looking fresh. And the new stuff doesn't have to be really great by our standards, because the reader base at that point will be mostly newbies who won't know the difference.

I think that's why they're making just enough of an effort (like with Chris Williams's responses to Prof. Jenkins) to make it seem like they're trying to be all professional and respectful (they're failing, but they probably think they look like they're trying really hard) but aren't actually taking the time to get to know the existing fanfic fandoms or how they work or what's important to us as a sub-culture. They don't need us in the long term and as soon as they have enough of their real audience, they can afford to just turn their backs and cut us loose completely, with no further need to pretend they're trying to accommodate us in any way.

I also think that's another reason why Mr. Williams responded seriously and courteously to Prof. Jenkins and not to telesilla or any of the rest of us -- Henry Jenkins's blog has a huge audience and that was FanLib playing to the public, to the media, to potential new customers and investors and anyone who writes articles which might be published in (what are to Mr. Williams) legitimate media publications with huge circulations. (He's hoping, anyway.) But FanLib doesn't need us and doesn't really care what we think, so they'll play to the larger crowd in a way that an outsider unfamiliar with the real issues and the history of our interactions would see as reasonable. It doesn't matter to FanLib that his responses ranged from "slightly better" to "infuriating" from our POV because our POV doesn't count. We're not his audience, and as soon as he has enough of an audience tapped from that virgin pool of media consumers, we won't even be his source of product anymore.

Tags: fandom, fanfic, issues

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