Understanding how digitization is changing fans and fandom’s economic relationships with producers.
Fans and fandom are the new drivers of wealth production in the digital economy (Jenkins, 2008). Hence, entertainment corporations have realised the economic potential of fan communities and their creative energy. Increasingly, they are looking to monetize and professionalize this mode of production and engagement. Recent examples of this included MTV’s Teen Wolf promotional campaign for the show’s fifth season on Tumblr, Glee’s use of transmedia marketing practices, or the rise of fansites like Sherlockology and Galactica.tv as a communication channel for producers and artists.
Patryk Galuszka’s 2015 paper, ‘New Economy of Fandom’ attempts to break down the different roles that fans now play in the digital economy.
Fandom as sponsors
Several artists have experimented with the model of “pay what you want” and voluntary donations. They are an example of a gift economy, whereby fans can contribute to improving the artist’s financial situation, and the artist reciprocates by publishing their tracks as free downloads on the website.
Even if some choose not to pay, artists can always leverage the economic power of the most passionate fans. For example, payments received by Radiohead and Jane Siberry were highly skewed, with a relatively small group of fans (16% of downloaders) accounting for 80% of the overall revenue. As a result, this suggests the existence of a group of “hard-core” fans who decided to support the artists by proposing exceptionally high prices.
Fandom as co-creators
Many organisations have begun to capitalise on fans’ power as co-creator and grassroots intermediaries. With Glee, for example, Fox was able to include fan performance into its central marketing practice. The strategy puts fans as “like-minded” peers and invited them to participate in the creation of content and the spreading of information about the show. In returns, fans are rewarded with more content and interaction. Consequently, fans’ creation becomes commercial products, economizing their emotional and cultural activities.
Similarly, Teen Wolf’s Tumblr promotional campaign is another example of this phenomenon. In 2015, MTV reached out to nine well-known Teen Wolf fan artists and commissioned them to create fan art promoting the fifth season. The resulting works were displayed at a June 2015 exhibition in New York City, dubbed #TeenWolfExhibit and displayed on billboards in Times Square.
Fandom as stakeholders and investors
Interactions between fans and producers can move towards a quasi-business relationship. Fans are invited to not only create or sponsor content but to receive the possibility of participatory profits. Musician Donita Sparks, for example, offered her half of one percentage point on the sync license royalty checks for every investment of $100.
Likewise, fans also work as investors, which is the case with crowdfunding. By participating in crowdfunding project, fans take on financial risks that were never associated with them. Most noteworthy, fans’ motivation for doing so varied from a willingness to help the artists to choose projects that will bring profits.
Overall, fans are becoming increasingly active in the consumption, production, and promotion of products. As such, there are great opportunities for brands to leverage on this heightened participation and capitalize on fans’ production efforts. However, marketers must exercise cautions. After all, there is a fine line between co-operation and exploitation when it comes to fans’ labour online.
Jenkins, H. (2008) ‘The Moral Economy of Web 2.0’, Confession of an Aca-Fan, March 18th. Available at: http://henryjenkins.org/blog/2008/03/the_moral_economy_of_web_20_pa.html
Galuszka, P. (2015) ‘New Economy of Fandom’, Popular Music and Society, 38 (1), pp. 25-43, EBSCO [Online].
Willard, L. A. (2017) ‘From co-optation to commission: A diachronic perspective on the development of fannish literacy through Teen Wolf’s Tumblr promotional campaign’, Transformative Works and Cultures, 25 [Online]. Available at: http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/894/868
Stork, M. (2014) ‘The cultural economics of performance space: Negotiating fan, labour, and marketing practice in Glee’s transmedia geography’, Transformative Works and Cultures, 15 [Online]. Available at: http://journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/490/420