Creating Value in a Fan-Centric Economy

In Valuing Fans, Eleanor Baird Stribling writes about how fandom can create economic value. She looks at this partly from a consumer point of view, which makes sense, but her ideas on endorsing are interesting. Indeed, fans are influencers today and brand advocates – an active audience. Fans make it rain, but in what way?

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In her essay Baird Stribling defines the value of fandom in four economic pillars:

  1. Watching, listening, or attending
  2. Purchasing primary and secondary products
  3. Endorsing
  4. Sharing and recommending

This typology sounds easy enough, right? I have done lots of studies on dynamics like these, and I’m curious about how cosplay is increasingly going mainstream. It’s becoming part of these lenses of endorsing and sharing. But doesn’t this work both ways? What’s the point where fandom ends and the industry begins? Official cosplays are launched all over the place, cosplay shows are produced globally, and cosplayers help promote official events as influencers.

Are these lenses sufficient? I find that these roles don’t necessarily describe their dialogue and co-creation with the industry. We live in a time where fan fiction goes pro, with big hit books like Fifty Shades of Grey. Games and other media rely on their fan base throughout the development process. Check out how Microsoft had to rely on their fans for development of X-Box One.

Our economy increasingly profits from fans, introducing premium models and tiers. With fan-driven platforms like Kickstarter, surely we are looking at a world in which fans have become investors as well.

Endorsing, also, doesn’t necessarily mean criticism. Fans do not create value by recommending and endorsing, but by their word of mouth, which may not always be positive. Seeing fandom as only a positive movement, and not a creative and critical movement, can be highly problematic.

Yes, your brand and story may be endorsed, but along the way fans can also be critical of a story, remix it and rewrite it. All of my studies on fandom (e.g. on Sherlock and Glee) contained observations of fans who did not necessarily fully embrace or adore a product. They often liked specific characters, situations, tropes or genres.

I would definitely add the following lenses and perhaps more as we move towards a fan-centric economy!

  1. Watching, listening, or attending
  2. Purchasing primary and secondary products
  3. Endorsing
  4. Sharing and recommending
  5. Co-creating
  6. Investing
  7. Criticizing

Perhaps empathizing (to hint at the affective) could even be a separate role as well that creates value by generating user insights.

 

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