Wanderers, I know what you’re thinking. “We’ve done this already,” I’m sure you’re thinking, but you are mistaken. Today we’re not looking at fandom as a source of income for the people who own the rights to a film, show or book. Today, we’re looking at how fans themselves can make money off their fandoms. After all, those convention tickets aren’t going to buy themselves…
The first thing I have to point out is that legally speaking, fandom is a bit of a minefield when you want to start selling things. For example, if you get a still from a film and stick it on a t-shirt to start selling it, chances are that the minute a rights-holder notices it you’re going to find yourself unable to sell it any more. And possibly in court. This is where fandom itself comes in really handy.
Ever been a part of a fandom with about a million in-jokes that don’t really link up with the thing you’re a fan of at all? Or a fandom that’s found a tiny, throw-away comment in its show, film or book and blown it out of all proportion? This is why some Sherlock posts on Tumblr only reference cake and umbrellas, but fans know who’s being discussed anyway. And you know what? As long as it’s not a direct quote (either of the show, or someone else on the internet), you’re probably pretty safe putting a comment about cake and umbrellas on a t-shirt. And if you then start selling that t-shirt, you can make money!
There have recently been some rather famous examples of people writing fanfiction, ‘sanding off the serial numbers’ – or, in layman’s terms, changing some names and locations – and submitting it to publishers as original work. This tactic is, apparently, quite capable of bringing in the dough. If you don’t fancy going down that route, of course, Amazon Worlds has just been launched, and you could potentially make a small amount of money by using that scheme for your fanfiction. Be very careful to read those terms and conditions and weigh up whether your fic fits, and whether you want to sell it like that. Many people are choosing to continue to make their fanfiction available for free through the usual channels instead.
It’s possible, if you’re a cosplayer, to make a little money off selling photo prints once you’ve got a bit of a following. If you’re reading this article just in the hope of making some quick cash, cosplay is not your best bet – it’s expensive, time-consuming, and you really have to do it for the love of it. That said, if you’ve got some decent photos of you in cosplay and you can come to an arrangement about selling them with the photographer, there’s really nothing to stop you trying to make some of your costume money back that way. And who knows, maybe your aunt will slip you a small banknote in exchange for having Captain America appear at your little cousin’s birthday party…
Musically inclined? Fandom-related bands and albums can be very popular, and if you stick a small price tag on your album or let fans pay what they like for it, you might actually get a better response than you’d expect. Again, it’s worth familiarising yourself with copyright laws pertaining to your music and your fandom, but doing the homework can definitely pay off.
Coming back to where we started, the more abstract fandom-related designs can make great t-shirts, badges, iPhone cases, posters, etc. The more of your design that is your creation (and therefore the less of it that’s someone else’s), the less likely you are to be sued into oblivion, of course, so do check that you’re not infringing on anything. But the beauty of fandom-related creations is that they actually have a built-in market, and it’s worth taking advantage of that if you possibly can.
One last thing to mention – copyright in most jurisdictions actually has an expiry date. Usually, this is many years after the creator has died, so don’t hold your breath for Twilight suddenly becoming fair game, but some fandoms – Shakespeare’s works, for example, and Jane Austen’s – are technically in the public domain. Remember, though, that in those examples it’s the original work – that is, the script of The Tempest and the text of Emma – that’s public domain, and there may still be serious legal issues with basing anything you hope to make money from on a specific production or adaptation of the above.
Of course, even if you never sell – or even try to sell – anything related to your fandom, time spent creating is never wasted. Not only does it bring you, and anyone else who enjoys it, pleasure, but it’s also great practice for if you want to become an author or a costume designer. Everyone in those jobs started out by copying the work of someone more experienced than them, appropriating and adapting things they liked, because that’s how we learn.
So, the next time someone accuses you of not doing anything profitable, just sitting and indulging your obsession with a particular film or book, you can remind them that actually, this could lead to you making some money at some point. And then you can remind them that there’s more to life than money. And then you can go back to what you were doing, because it sounds like fun. So there.
Eleanor Musgrove (has sold the odd t-shirt in her time)