Fandom Shifts and Professionalism

Being the old geek that I am, I've seen fandom change over the decades (yes, decades).  I remember the 'zine days leading to the internet revolution.  I remember when Doctor Who was obscure as opposed to a sex symbol.  I remember the comics revolution – and the comics bust.

Yes, I've seen a lot.  And I'm old – in fact having seen all of this probably makes me feel even older.

One thing that didn't change was the idea of the profan.  The core of "profan" thought that didn't change was the idea that:

  1. Your fandom expressed what you were interested in.
  2. Your fandom acted as a kind of practice/networking activity.  Fanfic trained authors, fanart trained artists, zine-writing helped you with publishing, webmastery trained technical skills, etc.
  3. Eventually you made it to do what you liked for a living.

It's a simple – and simplistic – model, but I think it reflects a basic mindset of fandom as awareness and practice that led to something else.

The problem was the transition between B and C.  If you wanted to make video games you had to hook up with a game company.  If you wanted to do comics you needed to get hired by a comics company or found one (a risky proposition).  If you wanted to be a writer, you needed an agent.  If you wanted to be in film you had to work your way up – or you had to make a shot at the small, indie film.

The problem was the gatekeepers.

They're going away.

You can self-publish a comic easily.  You can self-publish a book easily.  DLC and cheap development tools means faster delivery of video games and a new indie market.  You can podcast your ideas across the world.  Your website or blog can be the main point of a multi-faceted business. may seem revolutionary now, but at this rate in ten years I could see a "make your own" manga studio that lets you design characters and scenes with no art skills – and if you haven't explored how cheap digital effects are, do so.

This of course is something I consider a good thing.  More people can get more quality materials out, from books to art, faster.  Yes, people can distribute lousy stuff, but there's plenty of lousy "professional" stuff.  I'd rather have more people take a crack at writing, acting, reporting, what have you than less.

But this changes steps B and C.  It's made me wonder how it can change fandom.

If you want to be the next J.R.R. Tolkein you don't need to wait to get publishes.  You can do it yourself, do a website, and spend time building traffic and reputation.

If you want to be a video game developer you can go indie with some friends and make the next Braid – and from there who knows?

If you want to make a film, just take a look at what people are doing on the internet.  If nothing else you may do something low-budget that gets you noticed.

If you're a fan who wants to go pro or partially pro, that phase between practice and success is going away.  With that happening, why not make the "practice" phase professional or semi-professional anyway?  Why not put out a few original short stories instead of fanfic?  Why not start a podcast now to build your pundit career?

I can't say if this is good or bad.  Personally I want to encourage more people to try their hands at doing what they like.  I can say that I see a great change is possible in the profan lifestyle – one where fandom is a starting point and a point of support, but less a place to develop for some people (an artist may do fanart professionally, but a writer would obviously go do original properties).

Where does this leave fandom?  Well, much the same, but I see more people trying professional activities earlier.  I also see fandom becoming even more valuable as a networking and self-promotion tool as people's priorities shift.  That could be good – or become annoying as some people promote themselves over having fun with their friends.

It's all theory.  We shall see . . .

– Steven Savage