Fandom is big business these days. Of course, it’s been clear for some time that those who like something will do all they possibly can to support it; the film industry, for example, realised that it could capitalise on big film franchises in more ways than just selling tickets and DVDs some time ago, and now it’s not unusual to see Avengers lunchboxes or Harry Potter hoodies on the producers’ official site. It’s a simple truth; if someone loves something very, very much, and they can afford to spend a little money on something that allows them to take that magic home with them, the chances are they’ll buy some merchandise. Especially in recent years, the people who produce things that gather fans have caught on to this vast potential market, and have been using it to market all sorts of official branded stuff.
Of course, that was only ever going to be half of the picture. Once a fandom gets going, a whole little industry springs up inside of it. It’s a strange sort of economy, because a lot of intellectual property rules and restrictions have to be navigated, but there are definitely signs of an economic system there. There are people selling fandom-inspired tees, and teas, and paintings, and knitted characters, and so on, but that’s just the most obvious transaction going on. At this basic level, goods and talents are exchanged for money in the way that’s familiar to many of us in this day and age. Depending on how well you know the seller and how you’re buying, there’s even the element of negotiation that’s all but died out in most of the Western world. With this basic exchange of money for a product, fandom is still feeding the wider economy.
But the fandom economy goes deeper than that. Beneath the surface is a veritable bustling market place operating on a barter system – trading not money, but art, ideas, creations – and involving, more often than not, no actual currency at all. One fan might exchange their painting of an angel in a grubby trenchcoat for a sketch of eleven Time Lords depicted as different sorts of trees. Another might see the aforementioned painting and write a story about the character looking on from the background. Still another might read the story and create their own art for it. Through a series of dedications, gifts, credits and exchanges, an entire string of transactions can be built up without anyone becoming one penny richer or poorer.
And, of course, what can be traded can also be freely given. One of the most amazing things about fandom is that it’s completely acceptable to turn to another fan and say “I value you as a person, so I’m going to tell you a story”. That, at its heart, is what writing a fanfic for someone is. Equally, “You’re my friend. Have a picture I drew.” is completely commonplace among fans. That picture or story might, of course, also be shared with many others on the internet, but there’s something very special about knowing it was created for you.
One of the most beautiful things about fandom, in my opinion, is that almost without realising it, a society has sprung up that trades not based on arbitrary figures or a strict conversion of ‘one cow = two goats’, but rather on the value placed on an item – a picture, a video, a story, an idea – by the person giving it away and the person receiving it. Imagine if life worked like that all the time.
Eleanor Musgrove (reckons if that was the case, a blue police box would stand in the Louvre with the Mona Lisa)