Episode 86: The Money Question
In Episode 86, “The Money Question,” Flourish and Elizabeth complete their inadvertent DISCOURSE TRILOGY with a conversation about the monetization of fanfiction. The first half focuses on the Archive of our Own, a nonprofit fanfic archive that strongly discourages authors from monetizing their work. The second half focuses on Wattcon, a recent conference run by Wattpad, a reading-and-writing app that welcomes fanfic—and, as a for-profit company, both makes money from fanfic and encourages fic writers to think of themselves as entrepreneurs.
[00:00:00] Our intro music, as always, is “Awel” by Stefsax, used under a CC-BY license.
[00:03:47] The episode about cosplay we’re discussing, featuring Teresa Nguyen, is Episode 45, “Tall Princess.”
[00:05:52] Elizabeth’s article is “The Online Free Speech Debate Is Raging in Fanfiction, Too.”
[00:09:20] We’re not linking to some of these bad takes because they don't need more promotion! They're very easy to find on Tumblr, we promise.
[00:20:03] Civil, the journalism network. Their website tagline is “Civil is building the new economy for journalism,” which says everything about what they want to do, we guess.
[00:24:59] TheoryOfFicGate is described in a thorough Fanlore article.
[00:28:51] Our interstitial music is “Redhead” by Jahzzar, used under a CC-BY-SA license.
[00:29:04] We’re referring to Fansplaining Episode 3, “What’s the Deal With Wattpad?”
[00:29:27] Follow us on Instagram so you can see our Stories, one of which is excerpted here!
[00:42:08] Subscribe to The Rec Center!
FK: Hi, Elizabeth.
ELM: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for and about fandom.
ELM: This is Episode 86. It's called “The Money Question,” and it is inadvertently part three of the DISCOURSE TRILOGY!
FK: Because our last two episodes were also about the discourse.
ELM: We didn’t, we didn't mean this at all. Also, Flourish agreed with me around this time last year that we would be doing more just-the-two-of-us episodes, just on our own. You know, it’s a lot more work on my end to fold in one or more guests in the editing process. But we just by chance wound up doing just-us episodes, three in a row, all on the discourse.
FK: OK. Wait. OK. If you’re not familiar with the term “the discourse”—what does “the discourse” mean, Elizabeth?
ELM: You know, you may be aware of my interest in the early 18th century [FK laughs] and in their letters they’re like, you know, “I enjoyed discoursing with him well into the night! We discoursed until the sun rose.” That's what it is. It’s just, it’s just good banter.
FK: Except in this case, what we mean is, by “good banter,” the terrible subjects that haunt all of fandom and that don’t ever go away from your Tumblr dash! That people keep bringing back up! Like on Twitter, like as though there’s zombies coming out of the woodwork with different bad takes on every subject. They’re perennial conversation.
ELM: Let’s, all right, breaking down “discourse.” Seriously though. Breaking down “discourse” a little bit, I think in and of itself it’s a somewhat problematic term. There’s the whole “discourse is the new wank.” So, in the 2000s, you’d say “this is just wank,” in fandoms with people arguing over something stupid like Harry/Hermione versus Harry/Ron, et cetera, et cetera.
FK: Yeah, getting really het up, like arguing for the sake of arguing, only they would never admit that.
ELM: Right. And “wank” was a great term for that kind of thing because it's literally masturbatory and pointless, right? “Discourse,” unfortunately, while sometimes it refers to that, it also can refer to people having serious critical discussions about things. And I think the conflation of those and…I can just turn to you and just, I’m not going to turn around and say, “Oh, your serious critical discussion is something is just fandom wank,” right? People definitely do that. So I think it’s kind of a problem.
FK: In other words, we should bring back the term “wank” and separate it from “discourse.”
FK: Discourse is serious.
ELM: I don’t know, we can’t solve this by ourselves. We can’t, we can’t.
FK: Yeah, OK.
ELM: All right. But there are some…discourse, just to continue to use it. Some discoursey topics. Two episodes ago we talked about purity culture. One episode ago we talked about age and fandom. Right now we’re going to talk about money. Monetization of fan works. This is a topic we have touched on a lot in Q-and-A bits, but I think we’re going to dig in a lot deeper this time and we have a couple of things to peg it to. One of them is AO3 and the other is Wattpad, which I think we’ll get to in the second half.
FK: In the past, I think we’ve talked about this a lot with regard to fanart specifically, and we haven’t talked about it quite so much with regard to any other form of fan creativity, be it cosplay or filk or fan music or vidding or anything else—or fic. I feel like we’ve occasionally touched on it with cosplay…
ELM We have talked about it with cosplay—when we had Teresa on talking about cosplay, we talked about it quite a bit. I think that we do talk about it with fic, somewhat in the abstract, but mainly to talk about the double standard—saying that people who are in the same spaces, monetizing fanart, happy to pay for commissioning fanart or pay for work that already exists, are the same people who say, “Oh no, you can never charge for fanfiction.” Obviously not everyone is that person who does both things, but that duality—and I think sometimes hypocrisy or double standard—definitely exists. But for this we’re talking about fanfiction; this is going to be a fanfiction episode.
FK: Yeah. And one thing that I think we will both agree is true, is that recently some of the conversations around fanfic have very incrementally begun to change. Like, we’ve seen people having Ko-Fi [said “coffee”] accounts, Ko-Fi [said “koh-phi”] accounts.
ELM: Can we just say “koh-phi”? I know they want it to be “coffee,” it's not “buy me a koh-phi,” but I would like to continue calling it “koh-phi,” because every time you say “coffee” I get confused.
FK: OK. People have occasionally begun to have Ko-Fi [said “koh-phi”] accounts and…
ELM: [laughing] I just requested you to do something wrong, and you’re just going to do it for me. I really appreciate that. Thank you.
FK: I’m not, I mean, fine. Whatever. It doesn’t hurt me at all. It doesn't hurt me at all to make this small, small change. [laughing] But you know what I’m saying, that I've certainly noticed it in fanfiction spaces, that this is a point of contention. Because people are actually pushing the boundaries on it some. And it’s come up a lot with regard to the Archive of Our Own, which explicitly doesn’t allow monetization.
ELM: So let’s talk about that for a second. Not for a second. Let’s talk about that for like the first half of this episode.
FK: All right, great.
ELM: OK, so taking a step back, if you have not been on the Internet in fannish spaces in the past month, you may have missed this—and God bless your soul. You missed such a great discussion. But by the time this episode comes out, I believe my article about some of the AO3…uh…conversation, disagreement, will have come out in The Verge.
And basically just to give a really brief summary, and you tell me if you observed anything different: the Archive of Our Own is, I would say, the main project of the Organization for Transformative Works. Right? So that’s this nonprofit that is an umbrella organization. They have lawyers, we’ve had some of their lawyers, people who work with them in a legal capacity, come on. They have archivists who are porting old archives over. So they don’t get, you know, when people stop paying those hosting fees, those archives, that content will still stay on line, et cetera, et cetera. There’s a few other projects. There’s the academic journal, but the AO3 is their biggest project, right? That’s what most people know them for, that's how most people encounter them.
FK: I would say so.
ELM: But they all work together, right. I post my fic on the AO3 and someone, the rights holder wants to sue me, the legal committee has my back because that’s how they all connect. Right? That sort of thing. So the OTW. A nonprofit. Here’s something I want to talk about very briefly: nonprofit means you do not make a profit. You cannot make a profit. The OTW was founded by lawyers, you know, people who teach law, people who are active lawyers, not just lawyers, but a bunch of lawyers. They knew how the people who didn’t know what they were doing, they’re a nonprofit, it’s a specific legal status and specific things you can do with the money. Right. Do you feel like this is overkill for me to really clarify this?
FK: You know, on the one hand I think that our listeners...for them it’s probably overkill, but I feel like there have been a lot of people who I’ve seen in the discourse who don’t seem to understand what a nonprofit is, and/or that the Organization For Transformative Works is one.
ELM: OK. All right. Apologies to any listeners, if you feel like I’m punching you in the face with basic facts and nonprofitsplaining, but, like, you cannot pocket…if they raised more money than they wanted, they don’t just get to divvy it up and take it home. Right? There is recourse for what they do if they raise more money than they originally intended. It’s spent back out.
FK: Yeah, and by the way, it’s really transparent. So, I mean, they could do a bunch…it would be legal, for instance, for them to have a legal fund that they held onto in case there was some kind of protracted legal battle and they had to pay people for that or whatever. But actually, we can find out what they do with that money, because they have really transparent finances [laughing] and that’s one thing that a lot of nonprofits do. We can go and look in their budget and see exactly what they’ve done. And we can critique that if you want.
ELM: Yeah, down to the dollar. Like they really say “this is exactly how much we spent last year,” et cetera. Twice a year, I think, the OTW runs a donation drive, and they put that banner on the top of every AO3 page that you kind of have to hide if you don’t want to see it. With the big, what do you call it, a thermometer bar saying “Here’s what we have to get…”
FK: Like how Wikipedia does it, only with a much lower amount of money they’re asking for.
ELM: All right, I'm sorry. Wikipedia does it with the biggest…I mean, you’re talking to someone who literally listened to the entire 10-day pledge drive WNYC just did, and listened to it while they talked about it constantly. And I’m already a monthly sustainer! Right. But Wikipedia gives the biggest guilt trip. I’m just, I really, I support Wikipedia and their mission, but I just think their language choices…anyway! OK. Anyway. But yes, exactly like that, except not as…
FK: Guilt trippy.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. So they had one a few weeks ago. They wanted to raise $130,000. And as this went out into the world, a few people, maybe a bunch of people? Definitely it felt like the response was disproportionate to the number of people complaining! [laughing] [They] started to say things like, “Why do they even need this money? What are they doing with this?” People were saying things like, “I bet they’re…” Basically accusing them of fraud and embezzlement in some of these posts, you know, saying “I bet they're doing nefarious things with this. I bet this is all…” Very, I thought, very bad faith accusations—or maybe not bad faith, necessarily, but definitely done maliciously. Like, people who didn’t like the AO3 or the OTW. And so they said, “There’s no way they need this much money. They’re clearly doing something evil with it because they’re evil,” right?
FK: Yeah, I would say so. I think I saw a couple of things that also seemed like…they were people who did not understand that this is not some fly by the seat of your pants thing that’s really easy to put together, you know what I mean?
ELM: Absolutely, sure.
FK: They didn’t seem to have a concept of the fact that this is a very long-standing organization that is serious, that sends lawyers to talk to the Library of Congress and testify before all sorts of legal things. Full of grown-up people doing grown up work things, you know what I mean?
ELM: And has been since the very beginning. The founders of this archive were adults at the time.
FK: Exactly. It’s never, it’s never been a, you know, something that’s…I love things that are run out of a teenager’s bedroom. I’ve run some of them myself. This is not that, you know.
ELM: Right, right. Yeah. And I think some of them were, some of these posts were sheer ignorance, they just didn’t really know. They’d be like, “Why did they need that much money?" And people will be like, "Servers are expensive.” And they’d be like, “Oh.”
FK: Right. “It did not occur to me that when you have four million fanfictions that millions of people are reading all the time, that even though it’s text, guess what?!” [laughing]
ELM: Right. And then, you know, there was one post that got a lot of people yelling at the original poster. They were like, “Why don't you just put it on the cloud?” And there are many reasons why that was not a great statement. One of which was, you know, obviously the, the cloud didn’t exist when the Archive was founded. But more importantly, the whole point is that the OTW owns the servers.
FK: Owns it! In fact, that was one of the rallying cries, “We own the servers.” And that was what it was founded to do.
ELM: I think if, you know, if you’ve heard literally any news story about the cloud, quote unquote “the cloud,” which is obviously a bunch of different sites, not just Amazon Web Services or whatever, you mostly know about like…people hacking Jennifer Lawrence’s nudes, and stuff like that. Right? Generally, the cloud winds up in the news for being not a secure space.
ELM: And so it’s not even like, that wouldn’t even just be giving up ownership of the servers. That’d be putting them in very precarious…
FK: In a variety of ways!
ELM: Vulnerable. Yes, yes. That’s some of the discourse that was spreading. And so what I wound up writing about in my piece was, once you dug past this initial “LOL, why do they need money” thing? You got a lot of people who, if you just clicked on a few of their posts, hate the AO3 and hate the OTW. And a lot of it is because of the content that they allow.
This brings us back to the purity culture conversation. And since this is what I wrote so much about, and this isn’t really about monetization, I don’t think we should go too much into it. But you know, there were definitely people who, when you dug a little deeper, they were questioning the money thing, but really they were saying “Why would you ever give money to an organization that protects stories about pedophilia?” Or, you know, some less pure and slightly more wanky things like “protects the ship I don’t like.”
FK: I was gonna say “protects stories about Reylo.”
ELM: Right! Yeah. You know, like, “Reylo is abuse, and they allow Reylo stories, and so they support abusers, why would you give them money.”
FK: Insert your favorite Voltron ship here. Or your least favorite Voltron ship.
ELM: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
ELM: You know, obviously this is a broad fandom thing, and this is so much of what we’ve talked about in the purity culture conversation. I think this is tied directly into that.
FK: For sure.
ELM: You know, and so when I wrote about it, I talked to people who were involved in the organization and they really do have this free speech maximalist approach—“maximum inclusivity” is the term, from the terms of service. It’s a complicated question, right? You know, I don’t think free speech maximalism is impervious to critique.
FK: Certainly not.
ELM: But I also don’t think the way that a lot of people went about it during this…and to use the smoke screen of “Why, why do they need this money? They’re doing something bad with it.” I think that was not helping anyone’s case. I don't…you know what I mean?
FK: For sure. And I think that you say some really good stuff about this in your piece, but I’m interested in the other thing that you uncovered, which I had actually not seen very much of, but once you [laughing] showed it to me…
ELM: Diggin’ into the discourse!
FK: …I could see nothing else, which was people who were angry with the Archive of Our Own partially about this money thing, but partially because The Archive of Our Own doesn’t allow you to directly monetize your fanfic. And that, I thought, was really interesting, because on the one hand there’s this conversation of “why do they need money,” and then on the other hand there’s this conversation of “but I need money!”
ELM: Right, right. Yeah. “They need money and they won't let me make any.” Right. So yeah, this is something that because I was doing a lot of digging…not, obviously, I’ve been a fan of journalist for a long time, I wasn’t directly quoting anyone, any random Tumblr, out of context, and I would never do that—but I was trying to get a sense of the conversation, and so I spent a fair amount of time. But basically, someone posted something I thought was inflammatory, and I would click on their blog and I would see. And usually within a few posts you would click, quickly see another post that explained their stance about why they hated the AO3. And like I said, a lot of them content related, but a fair number of them were money related, and actually some of them were both.
So they’d say, “I want to make money off my fic and also I promise to only write fic that is morally good.” So, “I want to make money off my fic that doesn't allow rape.” I saw a person saying, advertising for commissions for fic, just like we see for fan artists pretty commonly these days. And they were like, “Here are the things I won't write.” It was a pretty boilerplate list of, of the quote-unquote “anti” topics that they’re usually saying should be banned. And so it seems like for some people, for some AO3 critics, this is a sticking point for them. Say, you know what I mean?
FK: I mean, to give some context for that, too, my understanding of why the Archive of Our Own doesn’t allow monetization is that because they do so much legal work in favor of fanfiction, they take a really conservative stance as far as what you can or cannot monetize. Because they want to make sure that…you know, that’s one of the criteria in determining fair use, is “are you making money off of this thing?” It’s not the only criterion, but they want to take a conservative stance toward this, so that they’re as sure as they can be about the legality of everything they’re doing. That’s my understanding. Is that how…?
ELM: I would say, having read and spoken to some of the people who were involved in the founding [of the AO3], I think that it’s that while that is true…and it sounds like from the lawyers who were involved, they kind of differ, everyone understands that as the kind of core argument, but they may disagree about the bounds of that. But it seems like some of the founders, and I think that this is…you know, there there’s always going to be a philosophical…archives, any website is architected. Built, not just the actual architecture of the actual physical building of something, but it’s conceived of and structured by humans, right.
And it seems like for some of the founders and maybe most of the founders, this is a philosophical kind of point of…I almost said “sticking point” again, but I gotta come up with another term. This is kind of fundamental to some people’s understandings of what fanworks are. They are, this is the gift economy, non-monetization. “This is something that I think is integral to the definition of fanfiction.”
ELM: Obviously, not everyone agrees with that. Right?
FK: Actually, I would say that that makes it more coherent why, for instance, you can write a piece of Greek mythology fanfiction, put it on the Archive of Our Own, and you’re still not allowed to monetize that. Even though Greek mythology is—has long been!—out of copyright, it was never in copyright, it’s Greek mythology, right, but because you’re putting it in this context and you’re saying this is fanfiction…OK, great. Then that means something specific. To them. To the people who have founded and run that archive.
ELM: Yeah. I, you know, I honestly don’t see that changing because I can’t imagine…it doesn’t seem like anyone who’s really…I think that the people who are pushing for monetization in the AO3 space, people who want to use AO3 but want to be able to make money off of their work, I don’t see…I don’t want to draw sloppy analogies to politics or whatever, but it sort of seems like a lot of them are more interested in complaining than trying to join the organization and bring more people to the…kind of bend the…because it seems like a lot of the people who are still involved are people who philosophically agree with these underpinnings. Say, “This is what this archive stands for.”
You know, just because the organization was founded with certain principles doesn’t mean that those are set in stone. Obviously they’re embedded in the DNA of it, but you know, norms change over time. Broad community ideas, the general way that the fan art community looks at the monetization question, is very different than it was 10 years ago. And that wasn’t a single person or a single website making a rule, that was a general shift. And I don’t see people who are mad at AO3 trying to change it from the inside. And maybe that’s putting a lot of pressure on them. It doesn’t seem like they want that for the most part, from what I’ve read in a lot of people’s posts about this.
FK: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, I think there’s also something interesting within this, which is that the Archive of Our Own doesn’t allow direct monetization of fic, but it also doesn’t have, for instance, rules in place that prevent you from doing things like pulling your fic to publish. And it certainly doesn’t prevent you from doing things like linking to your social media and from there monetizing your fic. The only thing it prevents is [doing so] directly in the author’s notes.
ELM: Yeah. But I mean, I can say as someone who works with funnels and trying to get people to sign up for things in my day job, having a little donate button right there on the page, “Did you like this?”
FK: Oh, it makes a huge difference.
ELM: “Give it a dollar.” The conversion rate on clicking out of that is an incredible drop off! And you know, I think about too, there’s a lot of chatter right now about Civil in the media space. Are you familiar with…? It’s a journalism network that’s emerging right now that’s built on blockchain. [Flourish moans] I said blockchain!
ELM: But they’re…I’m fairly critical of, of some of this because I do feel like…I don’t want to go into this right now. This is not a media podcast. But one of the ways that they kind of pitch it is saying “This could revolutionize the way journalism is monetized. If people can make micro payments by the blockchain and their coin,” which has not done well in its initial coin offering…I’m saying all these words that I hate. I’m so sorry. But you know, if everyone is working on in various cryptocurrencies and you can make a micropayment…so I read an article, I love it. I hit a button and I give you, the author, a penny. You know, as opposed to them selling an ad for $100, and then if I click that, they get a fraction of that penny. You know what I mean? It is cutting out, basically cutting out the advertising industry. I don’t have a huge problem with that. I think that’s fine. You know.
FK: I mean honestly, if I were, if I were able to pay one penny for every article that I read in a day and just have that debited from it, hell yeah.
ELM: And see no ads.
FK: I don’t want to pay for all these articles I didn’t read, right. But if I paid a penny for every article that I actually, like, clicked open, sure.
ELM: Absolutely. I mean like, I think this is wide open to critique. You can say that structures of inequality will be continue to be perpetuated…
FK: For sure.
ELM: Et cetera. Et cetera. But, so when you think about a model like that, and obviously the Archive of Our Own is not built on blockchain [laughs], but if you think that could be a model for the monetization of fanworks…I have $5 worth of coins in my account and that’s 500 pennies to distribute amongst writers, and that adds up in very tiny ways. That obviously could be a model, but that is not something that this archive wants. And I think, you know, possibly not something that a lot of fans want.
FK: Yeah, I mean, and I do think that at that point it’s true that there is a complicated question with the actual legal status of fanfic. When we look at people who actually do directly profit off of fanfic, even there it’s often in very small scale ways. It’s flying under the radar. It’s asking for a commission, you know what I mean? It’s asking for a donation, broadly, to my Ko-Fi. To support my writing, but…
ELM: To support you as a writer…
FK: Not a particular piece of…right. And when you look at people who are more actively trying to get careers off the ground based on fanfic, that’s always pull-to-publish, rub the serial numbers off of your fanfic and go from there. Right?
ELM: Still working within the traditional structures of the publishing industry. Yes.
FK: Exactly, or self-publishing, but you know, having removed the fanfiction elements of it. And I think that one thing that people…I do think there are people who miss that in that monetization conversation. Maybe you can get away with it for awhile. But I actually don’t think that Disney is going to sleep on a lot of people directly paying for fanfic in a large…like if the Archive of Our Own allowed that or enabled it through a donate button or something like that? Yeah, I don’t think they’d sleep on that!
ELM: So you think that if another fanfiction platform were to emerge that was a rival in popularity and legitimacy to the AO3, and they were more open with the monetization policy, you think that would be exploited by the entertainment corporations?
ELM: Fairly quickly.
FK: I do, yeah. And I think that it’s also a losing proposition for people who are arguing about fanfic. I mean, I think there are a lot of people who say fanfic is…who still say “Fanfic is wrong because you're profiting off of someone else's work.”
FK: Lots of reasons why I don’t think that that’s true, but I think that that sort of a direction plays right into those people's hands.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. It’s making me think of the thing that we both saw yesterday and have some mixed feelings…mixed-to-negative feelings about. If you look up a big movie—I haven’t tested the bounds of this, but it seemed like mostly blockbusters—on Google, on mobile, along with “you could rent this movie” or, like, “go to IMDB” or whatever, there’s this whole splash screen where it’s done in colors that kind of coordinate aesthetically with the movie.
FK: Yeah. Yeah. Which comes up at the top of your Google search when you look for a movie.
ELM: It doesn’t happen on desktop, it’s only on mobile when you get the colors. And one of the new features is “related fanfiction.” And I saw this yesterday and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” And thinking very, very vividly about TheoryOfFicGate, which I believe happened in 2015. Two students, I believe, were running…it was a student led class at Berkeley, trying to teach an interterm, like a January term, casual sort of class about fanfiction, where they were teaching various stories without getting any permission to teach them. And it launched this big debate about the context of fanworks and who fanfiction is for. And it was a frustrating one to me because they were students and they were from fandom. It wasn’t some random guy who didn’t know anything about fanfiction, like, publishing some fanfiction in an anthology or something, because he thought…you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah. I guess: Do I love that this is happening? No.
ELM: The Google thing?
FK: The Google thing. Do I love that this is happening? No. Do I think that it’s probably going to cause some unpleasantness? Yes. Do I feel like anybody has a leg to stand on to say this is wrong and it cannot happen? No, because I do think that there are a lot of different fanfiction communities that exist out there in different spaces. That are not always on Archive of Our Own. You know what I mean? Like, people write fanfiction on message boards for video games. Men write fanfiction, there…shocking, right? [laughs] MEN write fanfiction! But genuinely. You know what I mean? I don’t think that…people write fanfiction on DeviantArt, in DeviantArt comments.
ELM: People are still writing on fanfiction.net.
FK: Yeah, absolutely.
ELM: It’s not dead.
FK: It’s not dead. And there’s all these different communities that do have different norms. Right. One of the things around FicGate, one of the big sticking points, was that people in the class were going and leaving comments on fic which were not conforming to the rules of the AO3. Or not rules, but social norms. But the reality is, those norms are totally different if you’re writing greentext fanfic on 4chan, you know what I mean?
So I think that on the one hand, do I love this? No, because it’s going to bring all these communities even closer into contact and I actually think that that’s gonna be really annoying [laughs] and it’s going to bring a lot of new people in and that’s always annoying. I mean, I hate to say it, but it’s true. Everyone knows when a bunch of new people show up to your subculture, you’re like, “What the hell?” But I can’t condemn it entirely, because I don’t think that fanfiction has ever been quite as much of a walled garden as a lot of people like to imagine it.
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: Still. Really?!?!
ELM: I know.
FK: Can you imagine the arguments people are gonna have over this?
ELM: Yeah, I am dreading this. You heard it here first! We are both dreading this.
FK: Yeah, it’s true.
ELM: You may have heard about this here first as well. I’m sorry to break the news to you that Google is highlighting…I mean, whatever. If I typed “Captain America fanfiction” into Google, there it is. They saved you a click.
FK: They did save you a click. And they probably put it in there because they found that people who are searching for the movie would then go, “oops,” and add the term “fanfiction.”
ELM: Sure, but I definitely think this will get in front of probably millions of eyeballs. People who don’t know what fanfiction is. And probably some fraction of those people will click on that out of curiosity, and then who knows where that’s going to lead. I mean, maybe it’s going to lead to a lot more people who are into fanfiction!
FK: Yeah. Let’s think positive, right? Because actually, genuinely, I do think that people who encounter more fanfiction tend to have better opinions of it.
FK: You know what I mean, separate from whether or not they like everything that they read, but just exposure makes people less terrible about it.
ELM: Right, right. Well, should we take a little break, and we can continue to talk about AO3 and the OTW, but we really want to talk about Wattpad. I think inherently we will still continue to be touching on that as a point of comparison, but we should move on to monetized fanfiction space number two.
FK: Let's do it.
FK: All right, we’re back.
ELM: We are back.
FK: And we are going to talk about Wattpad, partially because this past weekend we attended Wattcon.
FK: The Wattpad conference, run by former podcast guest Samantha!
FK: Pennington. She has a last name.
ELM: We also saw former podcast guest Aron Levitz.
ELM: Of Wattpad. And Kfan. Kevin Fanning.
ELM: Of Wattpad also, but not as an employee. As a writer.
FK: Yeah. Which was a delight.
ELM: Oh yeah. Seeing both of them, all three of them was a delight. Seeing Kfan, the truest delight because we went to the Applebee’s in Times Square.
FK: Yeah, we sure did that. We ate some spinach artichoke dip. We looked out at the back of the sign. Really crusty. It was surprisingly quiet.
ELM: It was surprisingly quiet!
FK: It was just like an Applebee’s.
ELM: Yeah. It was really, really a delight to…it was called Kfancon.
ELM: That was it. Kfancon.
FK: I sponsored lunch! [both laugh]
ELM: Anyway, Wattcon, which was not about fanfiction very much at all. There was one panel in the weekend. Because as our listeners probably know, even though we kind of…I dunno, I feel like I get this a lot. Do you get this a lot? People be like, “Wattpad, I don’t know anything about that and I don’t want anything to do with that.” And you’re like, oh, OK. [laughing] You don’t need to be so negative!
FK: It is a mobile reading site that people can publish their own works to. And it is, what—I don’t know what percentage fanfiction, but it’s not mostly fanfiction. It’s mostly original writing.
ELM: I think it’s no more than 20% fanfiction. The basic backstory of it is, they created this, uh, the founders—2006, I believe it was, created a reading app, mobile reading app. And this was before the iPhone came out, right? It’s 2006, you know, just in context. And then they opened it up to writing, reading and writing. And they were thinking original writing and you know, people started writing fanfiction and they didn’t stop it.
FK: They’re like, “Hey, sure, come on in.”
ELM: Yeah. And so people started writing fic there. Um, I think that the reason that Wattpad became so well known for fanfiction was twofold. One was they had a few massive hits that then were monetized—not pulled to publish even. The biggest one was After, by Anna Todd, which was Harry Styles…
FK: One Direction really popped huge on Wattpad. Wattpad had a lot of young people who really were attracted to it because of the mobile interface, which is something the Archive of Our Own doesn’t have, for instance, or fanfiction.net. Right. On mobile, don’t, don’t even.
ELM: Sure. But I also think that Wattpad was, I don’t know what it is now, but at least five years ago was demographically a much, much younger space. And I think that you get people far more likely, as teens, to write bandom self-inserts, basically.
ELM: Or be willing to write original female characters. It’s kind of before people tell you you’re writing Mary Sues, and then you feel ashamed and you walk away and you only write intellislash or whatever. [Both laughing] But like, that’s the journey that everyone takes! I mean, obviously there’s plenty of people who, like myself, who never never wrote bandom self-inserts.
FK: Yeah, you were too busy writing about middle-aged men. [Elizabeth laughs]
ELM: But I do think this is something that…it seemed like it was a space where because it was more normalized, and it was more accepted, and you know, I feel like people might feel uncomfortable like waltzing into AO3 and saying, “I’m going to write…” Obviously people do it, but you know, saying “I’m going to write my original female character/Harry Styles fic.” I think that you will get a less warm reception on AO3 than you would on Wattpad. And so people really dug it. So I think that was one reason why fanfiction kind of…it became known as such a fanfiction space. The other reason was honestly, Wattpad, for awhile, was really leaning into it. And not just in terms of them highlighting fanfiction that was being written organically, but they were also running fanfiction contests…
FK: Yeah, they were partnering with people to do fanfiction things.
ELM: Margaret Atwood, you know, the classic Canadian pairing, Wattpad and Margaret Atwood. [both laugh]
FK: They’re a Canadian company if you didn't know.
ELM: Yes, they’re Canadian. She’s a Canadian person. All Canada.
FK: They probably went to a Tim Horton’s together or something.
ELM: You think that’s what they did?
FK: Someone did at some point! Some Timmie’s was consumed at some point in this process!
ELM: They politely went to Tim Horton’s together! [laughing] This was a couple of years ago. There was essentially a…for me…
FK: It was a fanfic contest!
ELM: I kind of bristle at it because it was like, you know, Margaret Atwood was the judge of this, so that kind of stresses me out. And do what you want to do. People who really liked her work were willing to do this, but I feel like it wasn’t the same thing as me writing Handmaid’s Tale fanfiction. Fun times. Going to go right out and do that.
FK: Oh my God. But at the same time, I think that there is…I mean, everyone agreed to it, everyone who was part of it. But I think that Wattpad helps people monetize their fanfic in a very specific way. Right. They actually really actively—Anna Todd's After being the big example, but with lots of other examples too, went in, like, “Great, we will help you rub the serial numbers off of this fanfic and find a publisher and move forward with this. We are in for this. We want to help you do this. We want to be your agent for this, basically.”
ELM: Right. And also, there was a couple of years, two years ago, I believe it was, they published that Imagines book.
FK: Which Kfan had a story in.
ELM: Which, they were commissioned. They went to those writers. They were writers who had written popular works on Wattpad and they said, “Will you write a story about,” you know, “will you write basically a celebrity second-person reader-perspective story.”
FK: Yeah, fanfic stories, basically.
ELM: Yeah, like the one I read about you, an overworked middle aged woman who cooks, makes a home cooked meal, for Nicholas Hoult. [Flourish laughs] I really loved how many of them were like, not, not romantic or…
FK: Not romantic, just…
ELM: Kfan’s wasn’t either. This was like…I mean, maybe she wasn’t middle, maybe she was in her forties, but I remember she was tired and she had a preteen daughter. These are not the kind of self-insert stories where the “you” is a completely blank character. These were like just second person.
FK: Second person stories.
ELM: Yeah. Yeah. And Nicholas Hoult was in Australia filming, and he seemed very lost and far from home and she made him dinner.
FK: This is an extremely wholesome story that has nothing objectionable to purity culture in it.
ELM: No, I mean, also, Nicholas Hoult seems quite pure to me.
FK: He seems very pure to me too.
ELM: He seems like a nice boy. He’s an adult man now, isn’t he.
FK: [laughing] He’s definitely…he’s been an adult man for a long time, but he does seem like a nice boy.
ELM: [laughing] I don’t know! Even though I’ve seen him in adult roles, he’s still going to be the boy from About A Boy to me, always. And I’ll be like, “I need to take care of that young boy. He’s so awkward.” That’ll be my self-insert fanfiction.
FK: Anyway, point is though, it was interesting going to Wattcon because it was very much something being put on by a platform that was…I mean, I wasn’t entirely sure, always, who the audience was, but it seemed clear to me that the point of this convention was, here’s a platform. People are going to come here, and they’re going to learn more things about how we can help monetize the stories that you put on the platform. How you can write a story that is more likely to get monetized and get inspired to do more of that.
ELM: I think that the word “platform” may be a little misleading or wrong here. I think you were the one who brought this up when we were leaving. It was more of a product than a platform.
FK: Yeah, that might be true. That might be true.
ELM: You were comparing it to some other events that you’ve seen around certain software products. Saying, “You’re already using it, you already like it. How can it be better?” Like, I can’t imagine a Twitter con, which would be a garbage fire, you know…
FK: It could be like a Slack con maybe. You know what I mean?
FK: I felt a little bit like that. Right? Like, “Here we are, we all like thIs product. We genuinely use it all the time in our work lives. We want it to be better and we want to be better at it.”
FK: “So here we all are.” It was not at all like a fan convention, which I’m not sure it wanted to be. So that’s OK.
ELM: It also kind of reminded me, I got little bit of a vibe like the community around NaNoWriMo.
FK: Very timely, it is about to be NaNoWriMo.
ELM: It is just around the corner. I’m on the, can I just say side note, I’m on the mailing list for the New York City, because I was going to do it a couple of years ago for the hell of it. And it’s just, I get those emails all the time. They’re like “Time to start writing!” And I’m like, “Oh, leave me alone! I’m not even doing it!”
FK: I have done NaNoWriMo many times and…
ELM: Many times! Have you succeeded?
ELM: Wow, Flourish!
FK: When it was starting, when I was in high school. I used to do it.
ELM: Back in the day! Whenever I see people in the NaNoWriMo sphere, people love to give each other writing tips and craft tips, but also working tips…
FK: People will be like, “Hey, I need to talk to an anesthesiologist about this story point, is anyone an anesthesiologist?” And sure off some anesthesiologist doing NaNoWriMo will pop up and be like, “Hello, let me tell you about my career,” which is a delight. I will say that I love that you just shout and the world provides you with someone to solve your plot point problem.
ELM: That’s perfect. But yeah, there definitely was a lot of that vibe, a few of the panels we saw, I feel like, had that. It was definitely people who were, it seemed like who were still learning themselves to some extent, though who had seen some success. There was one author who—we both really admired her. She was talking about how she had success on Wattpad, but she went out and took a grammar class because she wanted to and she knew she had room to improve.
FK: She had been successful on Wattpad. Then she had self published and then she had gotten a publishing deal and she was like, “I realized I needed to…”
ELM: Button that up!
FK: “To figure out what’s wrong with my grammar, because I know that’s my weak point.” Which that was totally different. It was interesting, you know, that that’s quite…maybe not totally different, but it’s pretty different from a lot of conversation I see in some other spaces that include people with fanfic. You know what I mean?
ELM: Yeah. Actually, just thinking about it, I don't think that AO3, the broader communities around AO3 are aggressively resistant to open talk of improving writing. But I do think that there is a resistance, a general resistance to that. Because the culture of commenting excludes a culture of critique. And we’ve talked about this at length, but I see fewer people being really open about…except when people are like, “I am just learning English. Sorry, I’m trying this.”
FK: And that’s not always, I mean, this has not always historically been the case in fandom, but it is what is like right now on AO3. But here’s the thing that I thought was interesting, going to Wattcon: I realized partway through that one of the reasons that everybody was so into improving their writing was because they all…everybody agreed that what they wanted to do was get a lot of reads on Wattpad and have a successful book.
FK: Either by self-publishing it, or by getting published…
ELM: Book in a traditional sense. Not like on Wattpad where all fanfiction stories are called “books.”
FK: Right. They want to write a Wattpad book and have it be a published book, and this is why you want to improve your writing. This is why you want to get better: because you want to have a long-term career. If you have one success, you want to get better so you can have more. And that’s something that I feel like is kind of taboo to talk about. I mean, separate from the issue of monetization, even. It’s probably a little bit taboo to talk about in fandom, too. “I’m writing for people to comment, for success, for numbers of people to see this.” I don't feel like that’s, people will say it, but I don’t know…
ELM: Oh really? Hang on. I think that the spaces that I’m in, I’ve been completely overrun by a line of discourse that is, “Fandom is being slowly strangled because people don’t comment.”
FK: Well, that’s true.
ELM: “Don’t you understand that if you don’t comment, I will stop writing. All your faves will stop writing. No one ever writes for any other reason except to receive comments,” which I’ve literally seen written, you know? And so…
FK: That’s true. That’s true.
ELM: Like, what? We were talking about this over the weekend. It’s fascinating to me because it’s also like, at least with the Wattpad folks I can understand: I want to get more reads, I want to get more hits, so I can catch the eye of someone who wants to monetize this, because I would like to make this my career. But it is interesting to me to simultaneously hold this “I would never monetize this,” but “I want as many views as possible.” You know?
I was saying to you, I had a friend ask about how many people subscribed to “The Rec Center” and she was like, “but I don’t understand, you’re never gonna monetize that.” Like, “Why do you care how many people read it,” you know? And I was just like “Uh…” You know, I guess I could come up with some high-minded, “I’d like to reach as many people as possible with my wonderful words,” or whatever. That’s not high-minded. That’s actually very selfish. But I think…something in your id. It’s something very…why do I care how many Twitter followers I have? I just kinda care! When I get another one I'm like, “Yeah!”
FK: People like being BNFs, right?
ELM: Yeah! But I think it’s very, very natural. I think that, you know, we’re, I mean, that’s the whole critique of all the social media platforms exploiting our, the dopamine hits we get from likes or whatever. “I’m liked! Another like, another like. That’s me!” I think that might be the heart of some of it, but it’s really interesting. I feel like in some ways Wattpad is a little more, maybe not honest, but a little more stripped down, a little more straightforward. “I want to get these hits because I want to make some cash, because I live in a capitalist society.” You know what I mean?
FK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Or, “I want to gain legitimacy and one of the few ways that I can gain legitimacy…” It was interesting, too, because some of my own feelings about publishing and fanfiction and questions of this also came up in here. I don’t know how common this feeling is, but I think that there are a lot of people who are intimidated by the process of trying to get a novel published, right? I think that can be extremely big barrier for a lot of people. It’s scary to send a query letter. I can never fail if I don’t try.
And it’s interesting because Wattpad, it seems like with the goal of getting hits, that’s maybe not as intimidating in a certain way. You know what I mean? It’s easier to be like, “Oh, I’m going to get a lot of hits and then someone will catch…of course! I know how that, I know what that’s like. I do social media, so I’m going to do that. And then that’s gonna be my path to success in this space.” And I feel like for fanfic…I do think that there are many people who never want to monetize anything, but I also think that there are also people who…I do believe there are people who write fanfic, like me, because it’s scary to try, you know what I mean? That’s not the only reason I write fanfic, but I think that there are other people who feel that way too.
ELM: Sure, sure.
FK: Again, you know perfectly well that I love writing fanfic for many, many other reasons, but it’s interesting to see the different attitudes people take toward their writing practice. You know?
ELM: Absolutely. Well, I kind of want to circle back to Wattpad, and particularly as a platform or product. Because I think that one thing we are seeing, even though fanfiction was never 75% of the content of the site, I do see them turning away from it. Some of the signals we’re getting—and we’ve discussed this at length, because we went to the con and stuff, over the past week or so. It just, it seems like they hit a ceiling. And maybe this is just speculation, but it seems like they hit a ceiling in terms of how much it can scale. It’s a for-profit company, unlike the OTW, which is a non-profit! [laughing]
FK: Yeah! Absolutely! In this case, when you put your fanfiction on there, it does actually help their bottom line!
ELM: Right. Oh yeah! We didn’t even talk about…is it even worth talking about that one post, that post where I just walked into the sea? Is that a problematic phrase? Should I not say that?
FK: Everything is problematic. Everything is problematic.
ELM: I live next to the sea and I walked into it. There was this post that was like, “Oh, I’m just asking questions, but,” written by someone whose bio said that they were a “fandom elder,” which is what one thing that really threw me off—because I kind of feel like anyone who, who asserts their fandom elder-hood is often like, “We do it this way because this is the way we did it back in the day, and you can never change it.” Right? I feel like often that’s the sense, and you’re like, “Oh yeah, I mean that’s, historically you’re correct, but also, please, time to evolve.” [laughs] This post was basically like…maybe you can summarize it instead of me just scoffing and rolling my eyes, which is what I did right now.
FK: If I recall correctly, the post is something like: “All this AO3 discourse, fine, but have you ever stopped to think about how every time you upload something to the Archive of Our Own, they’re profiting off you? They’re profiting off your fic." [laughing] I have a lot of questions about how someone got to this place, because you know, as we noted at the beginning of this, the Archive of Our Own is a nonprofit. Also, they are writing this on Tumblr, which…well, Tumblr we all know doesn’t turn a profit, but they want to! [laughter]
ELM: In theory they could be profiting off that post!
FK: They would be profiting off that post! And also, there are sites that are very open about the fact they’re profiting off it. Wattpad is a…it’s not a nonprofit! It totally is there and people totally put their fic on there.
FK: And that’s fine. I mean I think that’s fine. It’s part of the deal, right?
ELM: So, the AO3 has no…beyond wanting to archive as much fannish history as possible, it has no actual incentive to grow its user base.
FK: Yeah, none at all. In fact, it kind of has a disincentive, because the more people use it, the more you have to pay in server costs!
ELM: Yeah, but as we saw that they had absolutely no trouble reaching that goal.
FK: Fair enough.
ELM: Don’t you worry about them.
FK: Fair enough.
ELM: Wattpad does have an incentive to get as many users on that platform as possible. Not least because many, many tech companies are funded by venture capital. There aren’t a lot of other models, really, on the web. That is the main one. And basically one of the big problems with venture capital is venture capitalists. The investors have very extreme expectations for success in terms of…what is it, like 10x growth? That whole thing. Pretend I’m on Silicon Valley right now. I sort of work in the tech industry. I don’t know why I’m undercutting myself. Basically, you know, if I say I have 100,000 users…
FK: They want it to be…
ELM: The sign of success for this second round of funding, or the first proper round of funding beyond the seed money, is they want to see me have a million users or ideally…I don’t want to misuse the word “exponential,” because I think sometimes it does mean something specific mathematically, but yes, it’s that sort of, that sort of extreme growth.
FK: Growth curve. It is an exponential growth curve that they want to see. “Exponential” is correctly used here.
ELM: Good. Thank you. Right. And that that creates some really, really bad incentives in the tech industry to scale very, very quickly. To jump up from one level, to a factor of—to ten times that level in a relatively short period of time. I think you see a lot of… I don’t know if I've mentioned in the podcast, but one of the things that really struck me, I used to produce this tech podcast called “Track Changes” and we had Anil Dash on one of the earliest episodes, who you might know from the internet. He's a well known internet guy. And he was talking about…he has a lot of really good thoughts about trust and safety.
The one thing he was talking about is that in their quest to scale, in their quest to get as many users on these platforms as possible, social media platforms, they’ve sacrificed setting…the couple of extra clicks it would take, the couple extra screens and bits of text, to define community standards. And they’re sacrificing that for seamless onboarding. One click and you can join Instagram. One click and you can set up an account on this. No friendly little mod note, like you would have in a forum, or frankly what you have on some subreddits now. There’s still plenty of space on the web where they lay out the ground rules.
FK: Absolutely, a lot of subreddits you have to read them before you can post, and it won’t let you post.
ELM: “Here’s what we allow and here’s who we are,” the mods, you know, not like, “here’s my name and social security,” but they’re like, “this is why I’m the mod, this is my role, this is what we allow.” And that used to be really prevalent around the web and now that's just completely gone. Because you are going to lose participants in those few clicks. They are going to say, “Oh, it's too much work.” It’s much easier to just click a button and then you're on the platform with no expectations of what it means to be there.
FK: And that is something that I think…if I were going to critique Wattpad, I would say that that is one of the things that I would critique. It is a space that is pretty…all of the things that created community within it have sort of died off over the years. They used to have some forums. Those forums are totally neglected. People jump in and there really aren’t…there’s obviously people who are forming communities within it, but there’s not community norms broadly across the site.
I mean, I don't want to backseat drive here. I don't know anything about the pressures they’re under. But I think that it is true that looking at at Wattpad versus the Archive of Our Own, you see both the benefits and the downsides of those types of pressure on a space for people to read things.
ELM: Absolutely. Yeah. Do you think it’s unfair—to me, Wattpad sorta feels like a, just listening to people talk about it, it sorta feels like a giant slush pile where people are hoping to catch someone’s attention. Do you think that’s too unfair? I don’t think everyone on the platform is like that. I think that some people are there just to have fun reading and writing.
FK: I think there are absolutely people that have fun reading and writing. But I think that a lot of people do feel that it’s like that.
ELM: Yeah, maybe “slush pile” is pejorative. Because “slush pile” is genuinely generally not positive, but you know, I’m…
FK: But everybody knows that there are some novels that come out of the slush pile. You know what I mean? The slush pile, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the bunch of stuff that a publisher gets mailed, all the manuscripts that you have no reason to ever look at.
ELM: And FYI, almost nothing makes it out of the slush pile. Almost never.
FK: Oh, almost never.
ELM: I can’t speak for book publishing actually, but magazines? Skip it. That’s not a good use of your stamp, is what I would say, having worked in magazines for a very long time. I mean, I’m sure you could find some random anecdotes, or some famous person is like “they found me on the slush pile.” Like, yeah, there are probably exceptions, but then some of those stories have only a grain of truth in them, also. It’s a more romantic story than “I knew a guy who knew a guy.”
FK: Yeah. But yeah, I completely agree with you that I think there are a significant portion of people who view it that way. But it does make kind of ironic then when people are lambasting the Archive of Our Own. It’s like, “Actually, we can observe here what it looks like when a platform is monetizing. We can do that.”
ELM: Right. And you know, coming back to that, I just think the legal thing…you know, they say this, and I think it can turn into a little bit of a flippant response: they say, “Well, the code is open source so you can make your own.” But I think that argument, and I don’t think that people who were actually involved in the OTW are necessarily making that, because they understand the AO3 is a part of the OTW. So it’s not just, you can slap a site up using the code and maybe pay for, I dunno…host it in the cloud, I hear that that’s the thing you could do. [laughter]
I think that people completely take for granted the OTW legal folks and all of the lawyers who were involved in this general corner of fandom. [They] aren’t just sitting there waiting for a fan writer to get sued. They are literally going out there and trying to…you know, in their very lawyerly ways, trying to see like where, where are the laws? Where do the laws stand right now? How can we continue to lay these frameworks so in the future…right? Lawyers are very, very proactive, in a way that the culture at large doesn’t do a very good job. You know what I mean? I don’t know. Did you see that RBG documentary?
FK: No, I did not see the RBG documentary.
ELM: I thought that they did a very bad job. You know, RBG spent the first 20 years of her career, very methodically laying…doing all this casework, laying the ground work for basically dismantling sexist, gender discrimination, basically. She had to do, she did cases that basically were, like, men’s rights cases, because she was trying to dismantle sex-based discrimination, and so she…
FK: Totally, totally. There’s all sorts of stuff, like, there’s this case in, the famous case in New York City of not having ladies’ nights. Because if you have ladies’ nights, then you’re also allowed to say “no women allowed in this bar.”
ELM: Right, right, right. But it’s such a long game.
FK: It’s a super long game.
ELM: She’s doing this for decades, and it’s just like, this one will lead to this one will lead to this one. And I just thought that the documentary instead was like, [mocking voice] “She's a feminist icon!” But it’s like, because she played the long game with related cases! I mean, there’s many reasons she’s great. I love her. So that’s where we wound up. [laughing]
FK: So, I’m glad that we wound up with someone we both admire. I think that coming to the end of this, I would say that…
ELM: Wait, wait, wait! I didn’t finish my point.
FK: You hadn't finished your point?!
ELM: Oh my God. So the point is, this is really, really hard to do without an extraordinary amount of intention. You can just slap your fic on any platform you want right now. Right? But then you’re basically back in the realm that people were before the OTW was founded. You’re at the whims of the platform. Whether that’s Tumblr’s instability, or who knows. I mean we’re in a different, very different…
FK: I mean, I don’t know the truth, I don’t know what this is, but whatever, the whim of Wattpad’s investors, right.
ELM: I’m not talking about Wattpad, but sure. I’m talking about, like: I can put my fic on Twitter. I don't actually know if Twitter has got my back. If the person who owns the rights to the source material is like, “Wait, you can’t do that. You can’t say that about my client,” or whatever. OTW was founded very intentionally and it has a foundation of lawyers. Wattpad, while I don’t actually know what their stance is on various things at various times, I do know they’re a relatively large company with lawyers and with plans and ideas and a specific stance about the law. And they know what they’re doing in terms of monetization of fan works, you know, they’re not just putting it out there to see what happens.
FK: I'm not trying to say that Wattpad is necessarily bad. I’m just saying that you might not know.
ELM: I think Wattpad is an example, just like the Archive of Our Own, is something intentional.
FK: Very intentional.
ELM: One thing that frustrates me about the “Well, if you don’t like AO3, go make your own thing,” is again, these were adults who created it. Adults who were professors and lawyers. You know what I mean? Like, they did it very intentionally, and I don’t think that it’s that easy. And an extraordinary amount of credit to them. But I also don’t know if that's enough, a useful response to this question of, like, “Well, I want to monetize my fic,” like, “OK, go out and do it.” Because it’s not really something that people can do in small groups. You really need that safety in numbers and those structures, I feel like.
FK: Yeah. But I think it’s the opposite. I think that it’s that…
ELM: What’s the opposite?
FK: I think that there’s not safety in numbers. I think that if people are monetizing their fics directly in large numbers, then there is no safety in that and that the entertainment industry is going to come down on you.
ELM: Oh yeah. Oh, that's the other side of it.
FK: You need those numbers in order to like crowdfund a bunch of money and to actually make money off of anything. But if you’re directly monetizing it, then that also is exactly the thing that is the reason that the OTW won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Because it’s a red flag in front of the bull.
ELM: You should speak up more in these discoursey things. Because I feel like you need to come in here and be like, “here’s the reality of the entertainment industry. Bunch of vult…” Actually, I don't want to malign vultures. “Bunch of humans…”
FK: No, humans who are really concerned with preserving their trademarks for good business reasons!
ELM: And making money! Like…they’re capitalists.
FK: And making money! They’re capitalists. I love money. All right. If we’ve achieved the “I love money” stage of this episode about money…
ELM: You knew we were gonna get there eventually.
FK: I think we may be coming around to the end.
ELM: But I’m, I’m genuinely glad that we took the time to talk about this, because I think that endlessly answering the same exact question, “Why are fanworks paid for and fanfiction not?” We’ve answered this question, like, six times and we literally have no answer. We’re like, “It seems like a double standard.”
FK: Yeah. And also a lot of kids will get caught up in, like, morality issues of “is it moral to pay for fanworks or not?" And actually to me that’s like…OK, you can feel how you wanna feel about it. I’m much more interested in this sort of broad structural question of how do they get paid for and not on a structural level.
ELM: Yeah, I think we’re having a kind of a breakdown about what people should pay for in terms of…
FK: In terms of everything in the world?
ELM: Yeah, well, the entire world is broken. But when I think about Twitch streamers making money, when I think about people who just tweet a lot and then they go “Support my work!” and their work is…literally tweets? And they’re doing a lot of labor, but I’m also like, “But you're tweeting!” And I have this bias.
FK: I can tell you that tweeting is really difficult to do really well over a long period of time. And yet also, you’re tweeting, dude.
ELM: Well, this is the thing, is this my own bias? Whereas if they were writing blog posts with the same words, I’d be like, “Oh yes, I’ll support your fine writing,” but instead I’m like, “Your writing is in tiny chunks. Why would I ever give you money?” So it’s these kinds of questions. Or, “I’m really struggling to pay my rent.”
It’s basically, the technology is opening up moral questions that I think a lot of us are struggling to answer. Because in the past, 20 years ago, unless it was someone in your church or in your street and you knew they were struggling…so we’re going to take up a collection for Bob, or whatever…I wouldn’t have the opportunity to drop Bob $5, if he was some stranger that I liked the tweets of occasionally. You know what I mean? So I just feel like a lot of us don’t know how to process these kinds of shifting modes of how money changes hands.
FK: I don’t even know how to process how, at the end of a meal, to correctly make sure that everyone is Venmoed the right amount of money, such that the check and the tip is split. I don’t even know that, I can’t even handle that.
ELM: So. All right, first of all, learn your friends better so you can know which ones are in a comfortable enough position and have similar enough tastes, where, like, you all got wine or whatever, so you can just split it.
FK: True, always best.
ELM: Just say whatever. Learn which friends are in that camp and which friends are either in the to the last-penny camp or in the not-in-a-financially-stable-position-to-do-that camp. Right. OK.
Step two, if you can afford it, put it on your card and tell them what to Venmo you. You don’t let people do the math themselves. Makes them nervous. Takin’ out calculators, can’t do basic addition…just do it yourself. You do it with a calculator, but just say “You owe me $35. You owe me $40.” Done. Super simple. I got you solved. You in fact Venmoed me…
FK: You Venmoed me last time we went out.
ELM: No, you gave me cash.
FK: No, I gave you cash…no, but since then we ate lunch together.
ELM: Oh no, I’ve seen so much of you recently. Yeah, we did it both ways. I said “you owe me this much” and you handed me $12 and three quarters. [Flourish laughing] It’s fine, it’s fine. We got multiple meals together in the last four days. That sets a record and we’re not even in San Diego.
FK: [Flourish laughing] All right. I think that we are out at the wrap-up point.
ELM: [laughing] Oh, the discourse. So we have already gotten maybe five responses to…mostly to the “Purity Culture” episode so far, but some to the age one as well. I mean, they all kind of connect together. I assume we’re going to get stuff on this [episode] too. So honestly, I think that maybe not next episode, but the one after that, we could do a discourse feedback episode.
FK: Ooh, yeah!
ELM: Yeah. So let’s do that. It will be like the unwanted fourth movie in a trilogy, like the upcoming X-Men film that I can’t wait for. That is not coming out for a hundred years. Not unwanted, clearly! I want it! So if you want to get in touch with us, fansplaining at gmail.com.
FK: That’s the best way.
ELM: Or if you want to say words out loud, there’s a phone number at fansplaining.com, which is our main site. That's the Tumblr. You can call that number and leave a voicemail. We will play it.
FK: That’s actually the number one way.
ELM: That’s actually the best way, because then you get to say the words the way you want to say them, and not the way Flourish and I want to say them—not just Flourish. As we’ve established, you’re better at reading out loud than me.
FK: You’re better at responding.
ELM: OK, yeah, I am better at responding. I’m glad you said that one more time. That’s great. Thank you.
FK: But you can also obviously tweet at us, give us Facebook comments, whatever you feel like doing. I mean, you know, you know how to get in touch, but the best way is definitely by email or phone call.
ELM: And you can, you can leave an anonymous ask on Tumblr, as long as you aren’t mean.
FK: That’s true, our ask box is open and anon is on and you don’t have to be a jerk to use it.
ELM: That’s a nice way of framing it. So those are the ways. And then...
FK: You can also support us.
FK: Monetarily. We're talking about money. Support us on patreon.com/fansplaining. Because…
ELM: Flourish. Flourish. This is fraud. We didn’t even mention that we talk about fandom and we profit from it. Nefarious.
FK: We do, but I think that anybody who has made it to this point probably is going to be fine with that.
ELM: People have yelled at me about this. Have you ever gotten yelled at?
FK: No. They all know that I’m a capitalist who makes money off fandom all the time.
ELM: Someone yelled at me on Twitter and I was like, “You know I’m a journalist who writes about fandom, right?” They were like, “I don’t believe anyone should profit in any way off of fandom,” and I was thinking, “As a journalist I get paid to write about fandom.” And she was like, “I didn’t know that.” I was like, “Why are you following me?!” She was like, “I don’t know. I think you said something once that I liked.” I’m sure this person has long since unfollowed me after I was like, “Please leave me alone.”
FK: Yeah, well they should. Because they obviously don’t…
ELM: [laughing] They morally dIsapprove of me, so…
FK: No one can possibly…
ELM: At this point, you know. So patreon.com/fansplaining. Tiers start as low as $1 a month, and I know we’ve been saying it for awhile but we are ACTUALLY doing it shortly: talking to Javier Grillo-Marxuach about his massive crossover fanfiction that he wrote.
FK: We’ve been having some scheduling issues, but we’re going to make it happen! We’re all on board!
ELM: So that will be for the dollar pledge. We’ll be making that the dollar pledge episode.
FK: And we’ll let you know when it’s going up.
ELM: The $3 pledge, which is our most popular tier, you get access to all the special episodes. We’ve had eight of them so far. A good portion of them are really talking about kind of the gritty details of like writing and reading fanfiction. A lot of writing fanfiction stuff. So if you’re into that, it’s three dollars a month.
FK: We should do an X-Men: First Class watchthrough for one of them.
ELM: That’s an extraordinary idea and I am into it.
FK: Because we’re both into it. Let’s do it.
ELM: Let’s do that. That sounds like a great plan. Cool, great, we’re just gonna watch the X-Men films.
FK: Again! What else is there to say?
ELM: Well, if you live in the Providence, Rhode Island area…
FK: Oh yes, that’s true.
ELM: We’re speaking at Wheaton College, which is actually in Massachusetts, but it’s pretty close to Providence. It’s closer to Providence than Boston. On Thursday, November 15th, in the evening. I believe it’s around seven o’clock. We can get the exact details in our next episode.
FK: Yeah. And we’ll put them in our show notes too.
ELM: And we will be sharing it on social media. We’ll be talking to some classes there too. So if you happen to be listening to this podcast already, and you are in those classes, we’re excited to talk to you about things. [laughing] I made that real awkward in advance, as I always do in these kind of situations.
FK: It’s gonna be awesome.
ELM: Oh man. It’s going to be like, "How do you do fellow kids?” …we’re not that old. Yeah, she just actually did the…
FK: We are, in fact, that old.
ELM: We’re really not. But yeah, I believe the evening event is open to the public, so definitely keep an eye out for that if you live in the area, because I think it’s going to be a fun conversation.
FK: I think so too.
ELM: And that’s all I have to say.
FK: All right, well in that case, Elizabeth, I will talk with you later.
ELM: All right, I’ll talk to you later.
FK: All right, good bye.
[Outro music, thank-yous and disclaimers]