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commercialization of fans

[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

On a more doctrinal level, respecting creativity as a human force should lead us to think differently about fair use, among other things, by encouraging us to take account of noncommercial motivations even in contexts current doctrine sees as commercial. Joanna Russ, the feminist science fiction writer, suggested that the“what if” of slash fanfiction was “what if I were free?” What would I read, what would I write, what relationships would I have with the external world and with other people? Asking “what if I were free”is very different from the claim-staking of the rhetoric of opensource software, which focuses on the idea that open-source software is “free as in free speech, not as in free beer.” That common phrase has always struck me as hiding within it many unexamined and problematic assumptions about what free is with respect to speech and how it relates to a commercial marketplace. What free is with respect to women’s voices, of course, has been fiercely debated at least since John Stuart Mill (and his wife) wrote The Subjection of Women. Slash and other fanworks come from a background of constraint, where acting as if we were free to write our own versions is a different kind of act than using our already-extant freedom to create open-source software instead of proprietary code. Women as writers have rarely had the luxury of exclusive control to give away.

One aspect of that unfreedom has been an inability to participate in the money economy on the same terms as men. Fanworks represent an alternative outlet for creative energies.

Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions ift.tt/1dL4BAw

[META] Amazon announces publishing platform for licensed fanfic

PaidContent reports that in June this year, Amazon will be launching Kindle Worlds, a legal publishing platform for fanfic. According to Amazon’s announcement, Kindle Worlds will start out by allowing fanfic based on Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries.

It’s not necessarily bad news that companies are trying to create options for “licensed” fanfic, and I’ll leave the in-depth analysis of the legal aspects of this to professionals. Legal issues aside, though, I certainly hope that Kindle Worlds won’t become a model for other attempts to legalize fanfic. This concept seems to repeat a lot of fan-unfriendly aspects of previous forays by companies into the weird world of fic monetization. Kindle Worlds would allow fic authors to sell works “without hassle”, as PaidContent says, but apparently also without many rights, and within the boundaries of extremely strict content guidelines.

The platform refers to fandoms as “Worlds”. Copyright holders can give Amazon Publishing a license to allow fic writers to upload stories about licensed media to Amazon Publishing, which will then offer the stories for sale. Since this is not a self-publishing platform, Amazon Publishing will be setting the prices:

Paidcontent:

The fan fiction authors get a royalty of 35 percent for works of at least 10,000 words, and a royalty of 20 percent on works between 5,000 and 10,000 words.

Amazon’s “Kindle Worlds for authors” page:

Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.

Fic authors will get a monthly payout. Amazon will be paying an undisclosed amount of royalties to the copyright holders of the media the fics are based on, and presumably also keep an undisclosed amount of money for itself. In short, while fic writers will get some money, they have zero control over how much they might want to charge or how much of a cut they deserve, and no options to negotiate. Amazon can organize its business the way it pleases, of course. But this “you will take what we offer you or nothing” approach may offer a big clue to how Amazon believes the rights of all parties should be balanced out when fic writers and copyright holders try to share income from fanworks.

An ever-returning problem with “official” fanfic contests and corporate websites is that they tend do have content guidelines that are rather more restrictive than what many fans feel is sensible, and Kindle Worlds is no exception. The copyright holders who license their properties to Amazon to allow fanfic on Kindle Worlds will be deciding which content is allowed:

World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.

It’s not immediately clear if this means that there will be different content guidelines for every fandom on top of the content guidelines that Amazon itself sets. But Amazon’s basic content guidelines are as follows:

Pornography: We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.
Offensive Content: We don’t accept offensive content, including but not limited to racial slurs, excessively graphic or violent material, or excessive use of foul language.
Illegal and Infringing Content: We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the authors’ responsibility to ensure that their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.
Poor Customer Experience: We don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions. We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.
Excessive Use of Brands: We don’t accept the excessive use of brand names or the inclusion of brand names for paid advertising or promotion.
Crossover: No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted, meaning your work may not include elements of any copyright-protected book, movie, or other property outside of the elements of this World.

This is rather incredibly restrictive, but I can’t say I’m surprised. In other fanfic contests and corporate fic-hosting endeavors, media companies have also set content guidelines that prohibit sexual content or other hard-to-market things. (Also check out this thesis by Suzanne Scott and this article by Roberta Pearson for more discussion on this.) Last year’s MTV-organized Teen Wolf fanfic contest caused some amazement precisely because it wasn’t explicitly hostile to slash or porn.

Needless to say, these guidelines will be excluding a massive number of authors from legally monetizing their fic – from those who write smut to those who like to write some violence, have their characters curse, or just don’t manage to provide a good “customer experience”. I’m curious what Amazon will make of non-sexually explicit slash.

Some may also consider it an issue that there will apparently be DRM on the stories to prevent them from being read on non-Kindle devices and programs:

Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on Amazon.com, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.

And then we come to where the copyright on the submitted stories will go:

Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright. (…) You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

Exactly what this implies is best explained by a legal professional, and I have no doubt that the OTW’s lawyers will have some advice ready soon, as they did with earlier corporate attempts to solicit fanworks. However, it certainly sounds like Amazon acquires all publication rights and will give the copyright owner a license to use a fan’s contributions without any compensation in any further commercial media they publish. (Whether Amazon gets any additional income from this licensing to the copyright holders isn’t mentioned either.) I’m curious about whether, for instance, this licensing agreement with Amazon would permit a fic writer to still offer her story for free on another fic archive.

Regardless – since claiming all rights to fanworks is another thing that many “official” fanwork-soliciting endeavors from Syfy with Battlestar Galactica to the fic contests planned by the infamous Fanlib have been lambasted for, I’m not sure if this will go down well anywhere.

All this doesn’t sound like the Kindle Worlds was designed to take fans’ rights and concerns into account. The list that Amazon gives of advantages that Kindle Worlds offers to fic writers is tellingly meaningless:

Writers benefit from Kindle Worlds because:

  • Amazon Publishing has already secured the necessary licenses to write about any Kindle World
  • They can earn royalties writing about established characters and universes
  • The Kindle Worlds self-service submission platform is easy to use

The first point seems to imply that fic writers need a license to be allowed to write fic at all, which is a contested idea at the very least; many legal scholars writing about fanworks would probably argue differently. The second point, earning money with fic, may be considered a good thing by some fic authors; I’ve argued in favor of fic writers considering commodification options, as have others, so I’d personally say that this can indeed be a legitimate advantage – although as mentioned earlier, the fact that fan writers would have no control whatsoever over pricing makes this a qualified “okay then” indeed. The third point, that Kindle Worlds is easy to use, is just silly. Plenty of websites where people can publish fic are easy to use. I get the feeling that they just needed a third point in there to match the three-point list of advantages for copyright holders, and couldn’t think of anything.

Again, I’m not against the idea of “licensed” fic in and of itself, and those who want to agree to Amazon’s terms certainly have the right to do so. However, something like Kindle Worlds can be only one option among many for licensing fic, and it definitely shouldn’t be a model for other “solutions” to the legal uncertainties surrounding fanworks. The only option for publishing fic legally can’t be a platform that takes or licenses away many rights, doesn’t give fic authors the option to set prices, and excludes large numbers of fans with its content guidelines. Hopefully, alternatives that strike a better balance between the rights of fans and copyright holders will emerge soon to counter this.

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

The Comic Market was dominated by women from the beginning (90 percent of its first participants were female), but in 1981, thanks to lolicon, male participants numbered the same as female participants for the first time in Comike’s history. With almost ten thousand participants, Comic Market was now Japan’s biggest dōjinshi event and the center of dōjinshi culture. It grew big enough that the nineteenth Comic Market, in the winter of 1981, was held in the International Exhibition Center in Harumi. A year later, a convention catalogue was sold for the first time, both to help visitors to find their favorite circles in the crowd of almost a thousand circles and to help finance Comic Market’s expansion. Comike also encouraged the many fan-related companies to include advertisements in the catalog.

Internal conflicts on the Comike planning committee underlay some of these developments: they marked the ascendancy of the faction led by Yonezawa Yoshihiro, who favored Comike’s unlimited expansion. Though he was criticized for purportedly selling dōjinshi out to commercialism, Yonezawa couched his plans for Comike in terms of a collective organization of the convention by all participants, including staff, circles, and visitors. Whatever the underlying reality, these public principles remain little changed today.

Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture

[QUOTE] From Fan-Yi Lam, Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture, p240-241

Since the 1980s, it has become common for talented dōjinshi creators to be recruited by professional companies and become popular on the mass market. Many famous artists have had a past in the dōjinshi scene or are still involved. Artists—including Ozaki Minami (1989–91, Zetsuai) or CLAMP (2003–9, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle; 1992–present, X: 1999)—became famous in the dōjinshi world before conquering the professional market, and artists such as Koge-Donbo (1999–2003, Pitaten) and Hiroe Rei (2002–present, Black Lagoon) are still very active, regularly selling dōjinshi at fairs. Dōjinshi like Masamune Shirow’s Black Magic (1983) or Minekura Kazuya’s Saiyuki (1997–2002) were directly converted into popular professional works.

Professional artists selling dōjin products on the side have been a common practice for a long time. In the summer of 2004, 5 percent of all circles participating in Comike were headed by a professional mangaka or illustrator, while another 10 percent had some professional experience. Similarly, it is common for erotic game producers to allow their underpaid artists to sell their drafts and sketches as dōjinshi, giving the artists a second wage and the company free promotion.

muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/mechademia/v005/5.lam.html

[META] heidi8: astolat: andthenisay: i’d just like to take this brief time to remind everyone who…

heidi8:

astolat:

andthenisay:

i’d just like to take this brief time to remind everyone who asserts that the internet is full of leeches who pirate and steal hollywood’s “property” and don’t think that there needs to be a new business model for the way hollywood funds and markets film that a relatively small fandom of a relatively small show is about to raise 2 million dollars in 24 hours just because a cast they used to love asked for their help.

so much this

It marks a sea change in the interaction between creators (who are, re TV and film (and music) usually not the copyright-holders, or who have licensed away their ability to use the works they have created) and fans.

I’ve seen some concern about WB’s role in this, and various industry websites say that WB is handling distribution & things related to that (the way 20th Century Fox did for Lucasfilm, or Disney did for PIXAR initially) as well as legal clearance issues (via their legal department). No, it’s not an “indie” in the way we traditionally think of them, but many indies get picked up by studios at film festivals & events and distributed by majors; for this film, since WB owns the IP per whatever agreements they have from 2003/2004 with Rob Thomas, that structure was put into place ahead of time.

Fascinating discussion of the studio process, as well as the “ethics of using Kickstarter for something distributed by a major company” went on last night between Leverage’s John Rogers and AtlanticWire’s Richard Lawson (among others) who wrote something that I thought was frankly ridiculous yesterday (no, kickstarter is not for charities and nobody is saying the VM film is one; most backers are pre-buying a product they will receive and a few people are buying a chance to be in a film, which is their choice to do with their money).

The idea that those who back at the DVD level are being double-charged for the product is, imnsho, incorrect as cartoonist Gordon McAlmin discussed – and he also reminded me that “It’s worth noting here that Kickstarter prohibits financial rewards including ownership and financial returns.” As someone who saw Avengers twelve times in theaters, and paid for it ten times (two were sneak previews) was I deca-charged? If I was, was I totally okay with that? Or did I pay for something ten times, that I received ten times?

For those who think that the VM kickstarter is a bad use of their money, or who aren’t interested, that’s their call. Nothing wrong/problematic with coming to that decision. But acting (as mansplainer Richard Lawson did) like your view is the only correct or appropriate one by saying things like, “My gut still finds all the upfront money talk to be a bit unrefined, let’s say. Art should exist for art’s sake…” will cause a lot of people in the entertainment industry, and in the fandom for any show, film, book, comic, music or sports team, to laugh at you.

The irony of this is, the VM Kickstarter was announced a few hours before we learned there would be a new Pope, and was fully funded just after his first prayers in Rome. Remember the days when the Pope and the church and the aristocracy were the primary Patrons of Art, and the riff-raff’s theatricalities were at risk of shut-downs by The Powers That Be because of Indecency and such?

Now, we all know, anyone can create art, and because of the internet and the democratization of funding, anyone can support art – whether it’s on ETSY or via a Kickstarter to bring a much-fanned-about story to the movies.

Isn’t that awesome?

ETA: A few days ago, there was a piece in Reuters that basically said, when people start donating, they tend to give more going forward – it starts with a discussion of the 700K+ in donations to the bullied bus monitor last year. A section of the piece:

It is more fun, and much easier, to make one person happy than it is “to work together to change the underlying context”. And yes, that’s one of the reasons why we do such things. There’s nothing inherently bad about fun-and-easy, but Stevenson seems to think that there is. The hidden syllogism would seem to be that the $700,000 that went to Karen Klein is money that would otherwise have gone to change the underlying context, and that therefore there’s something corrosive about the donations to Klein, because the alternative, while not as fun and not as easy, was in some sense superior.

But this is silly. At the margin, the Karen Klein campaign, along with all the publicity surrounding it, surely helped, rather than hindered, those people working to change the underlying context. And once someone has given $20 to Karen Klein, they will be more rather than less receptive to people asking for help on broader campaigns.

[QUOTE] From Bertha Chin, The Veronica Mars Movie: crowdfunding – or fan-funding – at its best?

This also brings to light some people’s uneasiness and concern that money raised through this (Veronica Mars) Kickstarter project is not going towards an indie project, but instead towards a studio film that Warner Bros is essentially too cheap to finance. It obviously brings up question of fan labour and the monetisation of fans, which big conglomerates (such as the Disney-backed Fanlib years ago) have been trying to tap into. And it’s precisely why this post is being written.

While I think it’s a valid point to bring up the issue of fan labour (or investment in this case?), and whether the success of this funding campaign [1] might prompt other media conglomerates to start seeking funding for other ventures this way, we must not forget at the very core of this, is the fans. EW is currently running a poll asking fans which other TV series they would fund for a film, while X-Files fans are asking if 20th Century Fox is paying attention to this campaign, and if a similar thing can be done to get a 3rd film green-lighted. Ultimately, fans choose to fund this project, and this is the voice that’s missing in some of the concerns raised; that somehow fans need to be educated that they’re financing a studio film, so they’re not actually doing anything for the so-called greater good.

(…)

Frustratingly, fan agency always gets left out in arguments which purports concern that fans are being duped by studios and networks. Perhaps, rather than assuming that fans are being duped into donating towards a studio film, thought should be given to implications the success of this campaign might bring to Hollywood’s system; or more importantly, the power fans can wield if they decide a Veronica Mars movie is deserving to be made.

onoffscreen.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/the-veronica-mars-movie-crowdfunding-or-fan-funding-at-its-best/

[QUOTE] From Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture, p62. (via considerdasource.tumblr.com)

Here’s the paradox: to be desired by the networks is to have your tastes commodified. On the one hand, to be commodified expands a group’s cultural visibility. Those groups that have no recognized economic value get ignored. That said, commodification is also a form of exploitation. Those groups that are commodified find themselves targeted more aggressively by marketers and often feel they have lost control over their own culture, since it is mass produced and mass marketed. One cannot help but have conflicted feelings because one doesn’t want to go unrepresented— but one doesn’t want to be exploited either.

[QUOTE] From Lawrence Lessig, Remix

We’ve already seen a similar frustration brew in the context of “fan fiction,” particularly around the Star Wars franchise. As with the Harry Potter story, Lucasfilm learned early on that there were millions who wanted to build upon Star Wars, and few who thought themselves restricted by the rules of copyright. Like Warner, Lucasfilm recognized that these fans could provide real value to the franchise. So under the banner of encouraging this fan culture, Lucasfilm offered free Web space to anyone wanting to set up a fan home page.

But the fine print in this offer struck many as unfair. The contract read:

“The creation of derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, including, but not limited to, products, services, fonts, icons, link buttons, wallpaper, desktop themes, online postcards and greeting cards and unlicensed merchandise (whether sold, bartered or given away) is expressly prohibited. If despite these Terms of Service you do create any derivative works based on or derived from the Star Wars Properties, such derivative works shall be deemed and shall remain the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. in perpetuity.”

Translation: “Work hard here, Star Wars fans, to make our franchise flourish, but don’t expect that anything you make is actually yours. You, Star Wars fans, are our sharecroppers.”

(…)

But though the objective of profit is not a problem, the manner in which that profit is secured can be. The respect, or lack of respect, demonstrated by the terms under which the remix gets made says something to the remixer about how his work is valued. So again, when Lucas claims all right to profit from a remix, or when he claims a perpetual right to profit from stuff mixed with a remix, he expresses a view about his creativity versus theirs: about which is more important, about which deserves respect.

Crosspost: fanhackers.tumblr.com/post/44348237435/weve-already-seen-a-similar-frustration-brew-in

[QUOTE] From Rebecca Tushnet, Economies of Desire: Fair Use and Marketplace Assumptions

Fanworks, as creative endeavors existing outside the money economy, are fundamentally based on the inexhaustibility of the imagination. Yet the creative desires fanworks express and satisfy are not alien to other, marketized creative works. Indeed, creators’ passions are strikingly similar across the boundary between “original”/authorized and unauthorized derivative works. That similarity has lessons for copyright’s incentivizing ambitions, as well as for a broader cultural policy that strives to allow people to express themselves creatively.

Crosspost: fanhackers.tumblr.com/post/43791126247/fanworks-as-creative-endeavors-existing-outside

[QUOTE] From Suzanne Scott, Repackaging fan culture: The regifting economy of ancillary content models

My concern, as fans and acafans continue to vigorously debate the importance or continued viability of fandom’s gift economy and focus on flagrant instances of the industry’s attempt to co-opt fandom, is that the subtler attempts to replicate fannish gift economies aren’t being met with an equivalent volume of discussion or scrutiny.

(…)

Positioned precariously between official/commercial transmedia storytelling systems (Jenkins 2006:93–130) and the unofficial/gifted exchange of texts within fandom, ancillary content models downplay their commercial infrastructure by adopting the guise of a gift economy, vocally claiming that their goal is simply to give fans more—more “free” content, more access to the show’s creative team. The rhetoric of gifting that accompanies ancillary content models, and the accompanying drive to create a community founded on this “gifted” content, is arguably more concerned with creating alternative revenue streams for the failing commercial model of television than it is with fostering a fan community or encouraging fan practices. Grappling with the growing problem of time-shifting, ancillary content models create a “digital enclosure” (Andrejevic 2007:2–3) within which they can carefully cultivate and monitor an alternative, “official” fan community whose participatory value is measured by its consumption of advertisement-laced ancillary content.

By regifting a version of participatory fan culture to a general audience unfamiliar with fandom’s gift economy, these planned communities attempt to repackage fan culture, masking something old as something new.

Crosspost: fanhackers.tumblr.com/post/41348797082/my-concern-as-fans-and-acafans-continue-to

[META] In Search of the Hybrid Economy

In the current issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, my friend Nele Noppe has a piece on Why we should talk about commodifying fan work. In her article, Noppe reviews much current English-language scholarship that considers the possibility of some kind of legal and legitimate “hybrid” fannish economy emerging, and concludes that, while such an economy may very well emerge at some point, for a variety of reasons, it’s not here yet. In particular, Noppe notes that

A final reason why a viable hybrid economy for fan work is unlikely to emerge soon is that many of the fans who would power it may not be prepared to imagine the possibilities, advantages, and disadvantages of such a system. Up to now, fans and fan scholars have rarely even speculated about the potential inherent in linking fan work to commodity culture. … The most important question here is not whether fans will at some point be given the option to commodify and monetize their works, but how the fan community in general will deal with new modes of fannish production emerging alongside the traditional gift economy.

It strikes me, however, that the issue here may not be a question of waiting for new modes of fannish production to emerge, but of recognizing the fact that, in many cases, they already have emerged.

Noppe mentions the example of the Japanese dôjinshi market several times in her piece, quite sensibly in light of the fact that the fannish/”amateur” dôjin production sphere is perhaps the pre-eminent example of a hybrid economy. In Japan, fan-created comic books and, in recent years, animation, video games, and other forms of media have not only been wildly successful in the semi-sequestered fannish economy, but have been picked up by professional companies for further production and wider distribution, going on to launch their creators into fully professional careers and spawning mega-hit transmedia franchises that have defined whole eras in the Japanese contents industry. Moreover, despite a lack of explicitly permissive laws, the line between professional and “amateur” or fannish production in Japanese media is often quite fuzzy: professional creators routinely sell fan works of their own professional media creations, or even actual professionally produced elements of their creation such as production stills, at dôjin (“like-minded”) markets, the largest of which is Comiket in Tokyo.

Although the Japanese contents industry undoubtedly possesses the most highly developed “hybrid” economy in the Laurence Lessig-derived sense that Noppe discusses, there are ample signs that the English-language contents industry is already starting to develop in a similar direction, particularly in the world of book publishing. Multiple professional authors working today in YA and SFF avowedly came out of fandom, whether putting their fan fiction-honed writing skills to work on wholly original works or “filing off the serial numbers” and selling works that were originally fannish as entirely “original” novels and stories. Moreover, while it seems that formerly professional authors were reluctant to discuss their roots in fan fiction, more and more authors (not coincidentally, overwhelmingly female) are not only willing to own their fannish roots, but to “cross streams” and jump back into fandom for exchanges such as Yuletide, among other forms of fannish activity.

At the same time, the rise of ebooks and of high-quality self-publishing operations such as Lulu have made it easier than ever for fans to make their content, whether original or fannish or a hybrid of the two (never, as the above discussion should make clear, very clearly separated in the first place), available to others for free, at cost, or for profit with very little extra effort. These developments are transforming not only fandom, but also the contents industry, leading not only to reactionary legislative efforts such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. Congress but also to true innovation in both the fannish and professional contents spheres, some of which Henry Jenkins has discussed in his continuing investigations of professional transmedia storytelling.

So, where is all this going? As a historian, I am professionally allergic to predicting the future, but inasmuch as these developments are happening right now, it seems clear that some kind of rapprochement is in order, not only between fannish and professional content creators, but also between fans and themselves. English-language fandom has historically been highly leery of anything that seems to violate the spirit of the “fannish gift economy,” and with good reason; the non-commercial principles by which fandom has operated are one of the things that set it apart from the mainstream of global cultural economies. But the twenty-first century, for good and for ill, is not the twentieth, and it seems clear that fandom is already in the process of evolving into a different configuration vis-a-vis professionalization and the contents industry. The sooner we recognize that it’s happening, the sooner we can begin to think about and consciously decide how we want to do fandom, and be fans, in light of that fact.

[META] The Flavor Text Roundtable on Avatar Secrets

Over at my new favorite blog earlier this week, the authors held the first Flavor Text Roundtable, a critique of Ramona Pringle’s Avatar Secrets, a geeky girl-oriented version of a self-help/relationship advice website. In the interest of full disclosure, I am typically quite positive about self-help in comparison with many of my academic, fannish, and aca-fannish friends. I’m an Oprah viewer, as well as O magazine reader (let’s be really honest and admit I once spent 8 Euro, then the equivalent of about 15 US dollars, on O magazine before a transatlantic flight), and I have a long-standing love affair with memoirs from the “Addiction/Recovery” section of my local bookstore.

However.

I quickly lose patience when I get the sense that a space of relative intellectual freedom and experimental identity exploration within digital culture is being converted into a profit machine (original Facebook, I’m looking at you). This is not because I’m so hopelessly naïve as to believe in a tech-utopian vision of the future, but rather because I refuse to accept that our conversion from users, fans, and readers, into market research subjects ought to be expedited. Norm at Flavor Text summarizes it best:

“But seeing search-engine optimized self-actualization drivel isn’t appealing to me, even when it’s dressed up in sometimes painful stories of learning how to play an MMO. While our internet dragons may not be easily understood by the mainstream media, the writing about games by gamers is almost devastatingly honest and straight-forward. My mister, when asked, described WoW bloggers’ motivation as ‘I love this so I am going to present what I think about it for free because I want other people to love it, too.’ I cannot help but feel that this business venture is an outsider trying to commodify one of my sub-cultures, and getting it hopelessly off-kilter.”

Again, to return to my original Facebook comment, the change that frustrated me most about Facebook wasn’t actually the obviously egregious privacy violations. Rather, I was most irritated by the conversion of almost every category from text box to drop down menu full of suggestions. Movies? My taste in movies? I’d love to talk about my taste in movies, yes, sure to people who are only kind of my friends. I’d love to talk about it in sentences, with references to the multiple origins of my interest in x or y. I would not love to fill out your survey about whether or not I indeed liked Inception, thus confirming your suspicion that…er…the film catered to tastes apparently common within my milieu.

Thankfully, I already have a place to do that, one which is at least more slowly transitioning from text box into a series of yes/yes questions about how much I’m enjoying my experience. WoW bloggers do, as well, and they can better help people seeking community through the game by continuing the excellent work so many of them are already doing, than can someone at the outskirts who wants to reduce the complexity of the experience to an algorithm of simple avatar identification, and the inaccurate assumption that the game works as a substitute for all-important RL interactions.

Although I do not currently play an MMO myself, I believe that media fans in general, and particularly feminist-identified media fans like myself, ought to forge and maintain alliances with gamers because of our shared stakes in a digital culture in which we can all intellectually, emotionally, and even “actually,” whatever that means, thrive. My personal mantra is about text boxes, but the more general principle is about people speaking for themselves. There’s nothing wrong at the core of the idea of self-help or dating services, but when these are presented in a way that reduces the complex and constantly evolving community they claim to want to address and serve, it is important to make clear that this is not what’s happening.

It’s great that Pringle and others with entrepreneurial interests are excited about the stories they hear about gamers and the cool community they’re building, but, as it is with any fandom or community, it’s better to start by lurking, listening, and asking questions, rather than making sure, a la movie!Divya Narendra, that getting there first is everything. It isn’t worth it.