|Article summing up FanLib.
||[May. 20th, 2007|02:08 pm]
On March 22nd, FanLib emailed hundreds of fanfiction authors in dozens of online communities in LiveJournal, lotrfanfiction, FanFiction.net, and Fiction Alley. They invited writers to upload stories to a beta version of their new website, www.fanlib.com. Fanfiction, once only available under the counter at conventions, has exploded on the internet, with over 285,000 Harry Potter stories alone at fanfiction.net drawing high hit counts per story.
The founders of FanLib.com saw no reason they couldn't cash in on the internet traffic. Formerly from Yahoo, Chris Williams, the CEO and co-founder of FanLib, has an impressive resume. FanLib has corporate backing and $3 million of venture capital invested into the site.
"My colleagues and I want it to be the ultimate place for talented writers like you," Naomi of FanLib wrote to fanfiction writers. "In case you're wondering, FanLib's not new to fanfiction. Since 2001, they've been producing really cool web events with people like CBS, Showtime and HarperCollins to bring fan creativity into the big leagues."
FanLib did their homework. "We scouted for serious fanfiction authors on various sites and invited only a few hundred based on their writing and impact in the community," co-founder David Williams says, and fans agree that their search focused on popular writers. What's a "serious" fanfiction writer? A serious fanfiction writer could have anywhere from 30 to 100 stories, with upwards of 700 regular readers subscribed to their blogs or LiveJournal accounts. Currently, fanfiction writers do their own marketing through networking with other fans, posting in blogs, fan-run archives, and various fanfiction communities targeted to their readers.
Unfortunately, FanLib did little more than ask the writers to hand over the product.
FanLib's creators immediately ran into trouble with fans critical of FanLib's plans to turn profits on their freely provided fanfiction with no compensation to the authors beyond t-shirts and prizes. To fill the site with content, authors who signed up were issued points for each story they uploaded, earning $50 gift certificates from Amazon.com. Fanfiction writers were also unhappy at a clause where FanLib owned the rights to any fiction they posted.
Fans pointed out that FanLib's stringent TOS shunted all risks of copyright violation to the fanfiction writers, though this was not vastly different from other fan sites according to fandom_lawyers, who call it a poorly assembled boilerplate. Fanfiction lies in a legal gray area where it is largely protected because it is non-profit, since it is hard to prove harm where no money has changed hands. This protection fans feared could be threatened by FanLib's profits. In the past, George Lucas has sent "cease and desist" letters to a large Star Wars website, and Anne Rice has done the same for fanfiction based on her vampire chronicles. Other authors are more indulgent. Rather than fight a legal battle, the sites either moved or closed, though new Star Wars fanfiction sites appeared almost immediately, proving fanfiction was about as easy to stamp out as dandelions.
Even before FanLib's launch, a group of Tolkien fans voiced concerns about their privacy. FanLib sign-ups originally required writers give an address and phone number. Co-founder David Williams responded in lotrfanfiction's forum with a vehement defense of FanLib. "Hi, My name is David and I'm the co-founder of FanLib.com. I'd like to maybe clear up some misunderstandings. WE DO *NOT* ASK FOR ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER ON THE SITE. This is purely a misunderstanding. It probably arises from when people who participate in our contests and giveaways claim a prize." Later in the conversation he suggested the fans had mistakenly browsed a different site.
Regarding FanLib's ownership rights he explained, "Speaking of our Terms of Service, it says, just one sentence after the one quoted in this post, 'The foregoing license granted by You TERMINATES ONCE YOU REMOVE OR DELETE A SUBMISSION FROM THE WEBSITE.' So, the only rights we ask for cover what's actually posted on the site, and only while it's posted. It wouldn't be appropriate to distribute your work without these rights. BTW, you can also make submissions private if you like. We ask for "derivative" rights only so we can excerpt and summarize fanfics when we showcase them on our homepage. We took great pains to make sure this was all done properly and in a way that's good for fanfic authors."
He also defended FanLib's intention to profit from fanfiction, explaining LiveJournal and FanFiction.net also profited, though it was unclear how LiveJournal's community networking service profited specifically from fanfiction. "In fact," he said, "based on public stats for those two sites, they're for-BIG-PROFIT."
Eventually, David apologized for his tone, while FanLib had stopped requesting personal information. The TOS still gave writers the "heebie-jeebies," and they did not appreciate the denial that FanLib had ever requested this information. Said Nieriel Raina, "I'm afraid there is not much you can do to remove my very bad first impression of your site. Not to mention when I tried to join initially, it DID ask for personal information and I'm not the only one, yet you deny this. Sorry, you won't find me there."
FanLib launched this week to negative blowback among the very writers -- and source of revenue -- they hoped to court. The contentious and divisive fanfiction communities were uncharacteristically unanimous in their dismay at what they regarded as an outside big business interloper. Two separate public appeals were made by popular fanfiction writers with subscribers in the thousands to avoid FanLib. Within three days, 23 of the 60 articles that appeared in the newsletter Meta Fandom (metafandom) concerned FanLib, none of them positive, although a few suggested FanLib might force the court case that would decide fanfiction's legal standing once and for all.
"While I don't mind the increasing public light being brought to bear on fanfiction, I do strongly object to people who aren't fandom making money off it," wrote one.
"It smells of exploitation and viral marketing," said another.
They seem to be right. FanLib's marketing brochure describes its new entertainment marketing service to be like "a coloring book, players must 'stay within the lines'" where a mass audience can "collaborate democratically in a fun online game that you control." [Emphasis theirs.] They promise their partners "Full monitoring & management of submissions & players." Which is odd, given David Williams' answer to hadesphoenix on FanLib's forum. When asked, "who sponsors the site and why? (Like, are we under surveillance or something?)" David replied, "You are not under surveillance by us. Fan fiction has been going on for a long time in a kind of black market and we understand that the fact that we're trying to do it commercially and out in the open makes a lot of people skeptical."
The frustrated CEO of FanLib, Chris Williams responded via LiveJournal comments to several of his critics, "hey everyone, I'm Chris one of the founders of FanLib> it's really late and i have been working on the site all day. I'm exhausted but i just realized what was going on here and all of the commentsts are making me sick. we're a small company with 10 emplyees who work 16 hours a day to try and make a great website. we're real people! with feelings and everything! we have been working on this and dreaming about it for a long time and you are just here to shit on it without giving us a chance. i care deeply about what you think but this is crazy. we're good people here and you make us sound like we're an evil corporation or the govt. sending your kids to war or something. we really are all about celebrating fanfiction and fanfiction readers and writers. im sorry this is so short and please excuse the fact that i am cutting and pasting this across a bunch of ljs but i gotta get some sleep."
Telesilla, one of the Meta Fandom contributors, opened the floor. "In a comment to a previous post of mine, Chris Williams, the co-founder and CEO of FanLib, linked me to FanLib's FAQ and told me to consider the dialog open. Therefore, I have gone through the FAQ question by question and expressed my concerns."
Williams replied that he did not have time to respond, but he would organize a Q & A session soon. Fans were unimpressed. "While I completely understand being busy with a new project, you should be aware that in the last 24 hours or so, you've managed to confirm all of my initial reservations about FanLib and add a few new ones," commented Darkrosetiger.
Still Chris Williams assures fans that, "I believe whole-heartedly that fanfiction authors and readers should be celebrated and supported. That is my mission in life."
FanLib miscalculated. Probably as a result of past "cease and desist" letters against them, fanfiction communities are close knit, where membership within the community is an important credential, one which FanLib lacks and the owner of the long-standing FanFiction.net has. The established FanFiction.net lost its cachet and many of its more popular writers with its 2002 decision to remove NC-17 fiction, one reason FanLib had to cherry-pick through LiveJournal and multiple archives for its invitees. Unlike professional writers, online fanfiction writers are not hungry for venues to publish. There was nothing in it for the writers. Offers of FanLib t-shirts did not entice them.
FanLib also failed to research the demographic of their writers, with a patronizing tone and site design aimed at teenagers, where many of the fanfiction writers they invited were professionals and university students in their 20s, 30s, and older, including their own employee jdsampson who'd been writing fanfiction since the 1970s. Yet the owners appear confident that a "young audience of teens [make] up such large part of the community." Their current ad campaign, featuring a 98-lb weakling (who doesn't read fanfiction) alongside an muscleman who reads fanfiction on FanLib.com, left fans mystified and vaguely insulted. It seemed to be aimed at a stereotypical Star Trek fan with Spock ears in an ill-fitting uniform and a Klingon phrasebook. The fact that FanLib's founders were men counted against them as well with several prominent writers. According to one 2003 survey, 96% of fanfiction writers are women, and the exploitation of women writers is a current hot topic. Among the feminists, an attempt to make money off of women fanfiction writers with no compensation went over like a lead balloon.
Most of all, the unresolved question of the legality of fanfiction hangs over the community. Is it derivative "transformative" work protected under Fair Use, or does using another writer's characters in your story count as copyright infringement? This is less cut and dried than it seems, as works such as Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea use characters from Bronte's Jane Eyre in the same fashion that fanfiction writers do. Jane Eyre, however, has an expired copyright. According to professional writers, writing another author's characters seems to be acceptable so long as that author is dead. Yet parody of living authors' works is accepted. Is a story where Frodo is gay a parody?
The legal limbo of fanfiction was raised on FanLib's forums, and the owners replied with a question. "Do you think fanfiction authors should be persecuted?" Chris Williams answered. "Something just feels so right about fanfiction."
Many fanfiction writers crave legitimacy for their hobby, which FanLib's publishing partners HarperCollins seemed to provide. However, FanLib's partners only endorse specific tie-in contests on the site. A careful reading of FanLib's TOS revealed that legitimacy to be a thin veneer. FanLib had legally distanced themselves from fanfiction even more than was usual, with a clause that fans defend FanLib. Says Caer, a fanfiction author, "In real life, I write magazine nonfiction –- and I would run, run, run from a contract with legal liability terms like FanLib’s. I wouldn’t even try to negotiate better terms; I don’t work with publications who try to screw over their authors like that." In fact, the TOS was designed primarily to protect the owners of the copyright. David Williams explains in iMedia Connection, "If, for example, someone submitted a script about a talking tulip, and months later, a singing daisy appeared on The L Word, there is nothing to prevent the submitter from claiming Showtime stole the idea. FanLib lawyers worked painstakingly to develop an industrial strength online user agreement and set of rules in order to mitigate these concerns."
Fan reaction against FanLib was as angry and intense as if they had discovered a fraud. At the very least FanLib was guilty of exploitation. While FanLib earnestly marketed to their advertising partners, they never attempted to get a buy-in from the fans themselves, seeming to assume that the fans would play along the way children will follow an ice cream truck. Not so. David and Chris Williams, FanLib's co-founders, were caught flat-footed, outsiders in a culture they had hoped to profit from, but did not understand.
I'm open for edits, comments, and changes. I probably won't have time for a lot of discussion this week -- last week of classes -- but I'll read everything and comment where I can.
Thank you, guys, for all the peer review edits.
ETA: Added correction. Chris Williams did reply.
ETA2: Additional correction. From jdsampson at fanthropology, corporate sponsors are only associated with specific contests.
ETA3: Added Chris Williams' assurance that fanfiction was his mission in life.
ETA4: Added Chris Williams' statements about the legality of fanfiction, and a bit more about ff.net.
ETA5: Updated with information from Fandom Lawyers.
ETA6: Added changes from taverymate on fandom statistics.
*ETA7: Correction from wrenlet, Chris Williams was with Yahoo, not Google.
ETA8: Added revealing FanLib marketing brochure info from Riba Rambles.
Links to posts about FanLib:
Pawprints of the Mind 'FanLib Association Chain'
Fitness for the Occasion 'Corporations and People: Content and Control'
Valleywag 'BROUHAHA: Fanlib's storyline gets hijacked'
Slashdot.com 'Fan Fiction Writers Balk at FanLib.com'
Picked up at Zicos 'Fan Fiction Writers Balk At FanLib.com'
Mary McNamara 'Internet Goes Nova Over Showtime, Starz, Moonves Partnered FanLib.com'
Califa Police Gazette 'FanLib: Boo!'
Chris Williams Responds to Fan Concerns in Jenkins' Blog
BBC's Chris Vallance 'FanLib and Fan Fiction'
Henry Jenkins (author of Textual Poachers) 'Transforming Fan Culture into User-Generated Content: The Case of FanLib'
Liblog 'FanLib - Marketing Fan Fiction'
Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light 'FanLib wholly exploded'
Lis Riba 'FanLib: Chump Change from My2Centences'
Scalzi at Ficlets Blog 'Corporatized Fan Fiction?'
Jim Macdonald at Making Light 'Fanfiction, Monetized'
John at the Whatever blog 'FanLib to Fanficcers: All Your Writing Are Belong To Us'
Sci-fi author Tobias Buckell 'FanLib'
Ivan Askwith at MIT Convergence Culture Consortium 'FanLib Provides Another Home For FanFic Writers'
Designated Sidekick on The Candy Floss Aneurism 'Hey Fanlib - An open letter from a marketer watching yet another fan connected company self harm'
akfrankel on Killerstartups.com 'Fanfiction In Demand'
Studio Splurd 'FanLib'
Silent Hill Fanfiction Archive 'FanLib is Bad'
David Kaplan on paidContect.org 'Storytelling Social Net FanLib Launches With $3 Million In Funding'
7/26/06:HarperCollins Press Release HarperCollins Publishers and FanLib Launch Groundbreaking Online Community Events'
John Fine in BusinessWeek 'Putting The Fans To Work'
'Speedpainting + this FanLib thing'
Synecdochic compares FanLib and LiveJournal's TOS'
Stewardess has links to more articles.
And mockery, anyone? life_wo_fanlib (watchdog group)
Important note (added 5/25/07): It's been brought to my attention by scarah2 that FanLib is asking members for their FanFiction.net emails and passwords. I set up an account with FanLib and checked this out. It's true (this is a screen capture of the page requesting my password). Do not give out passwords under any circumstances. This is basic internet security.
FanFiction.net says, "May 22nd, 2007 -- The login process has been enhanced to prevent 'bots' from attempting to access your accounts. Please note to never share your email and password combination with anyone."
Lastly, there's a wild rumor that LJ's being pressured to ban users partially due to complaints arising from the FanLib situation.
LJ's Abuse team laughed their heads off when they heard it. The scare turned out to be true. On May 28th, in a move that left the fans breathless, dozens of fanfiction and literary journals were deleted for having controversial interests listed, including a Spanish-language Lolita discussion journal, an incest survivors' support group, and a Harry Potter fanfiction group with over 4,000 readers. It's unclear whether the sweep had anything to do with FanLib, though fans point to vigilante groups that have been dogging LiveJournal for over a month.
I have had many requests to link to this post. Please feel free.
Absolutely RIVETING stuff! This is a great summarisation. May I post about it on my recs list, HP Fanfic Recs
, linking to this post?
Of course, absolutely. I'm making little changes as I go.
this seems like a clear and accurate description of the FanLib story, at least as it came across my friends page.
just out of curiosity, do you have sources for the numbers you cite? (96% of fanfic writers being women, majority of us being in our 20s and 30s)
Those are the kind of things that I feel are instinctually/anecdotally true, but I've never seen the research demonstrating them, and I'd like to.
does statistical research for her career and did a survey back in 2003. I believe it's still up on her website.
Great essay. Nice summary of the situation.
Quick edit: "George Lukas" should be "George Lucas"
Ah, thank you. An important fix. *changes immediately*
Thanks for this.
I've only been on the fringes of this and seen only snippets on my Flist.
Thanks for explaining the bigger picture of what's going on.
The more I research about these guys, the more I see how they're making some of the same arguments I've made about fanfiction. The question is, what is good for fanfiction and fanfiction writers?
Thank you. At a moment of heated debate and rage spiralling out of control (my rage, anyway), I really appreciate you having taken the time to summarise everything as evenhandedly as possible. :-)
What's interesting about this is that they've acted as though, say, Showtime, are the only ones whose opinions mattered, when they needed to get the buy-in from the fanfiction writers themselves.
may i direct folks to this? I know of a few fanfic writers that may have an interest...
Sure, of course! It's meant to be read.
This is a great, even-handed summary of the debate. Thanks for posting it!
membership within the community is an important credential, one which FanLib lacks and the owner of the long-standing FanFiction.com has
Shouldn't that be dot net, not dot com?
One typo: interlooper for interloper.
Thanks for posting this, I'd be hearing bits and pieces but this is the complete (to this point, anyway) summary I've seen. I gotta admit I'm wondering what direction the FanLib people will head in from here.
I know what they need to do. I wonder if they'll think of it.
I started writing this for David Hewlett's site. Beyond that, I don't know. :)
Good one. Do you have a publisher for this?
No idea. I started writing it for David Hewlett's site, which has a lot of non-fanfiction readers.
explaining LiveJournal and FanFiction.net also profited from fan fiction.
How is lj profiting from fanfiction exactly? Sure there are people who buy paid accounts (or have sponsored accounts) and host fanfiction on their journals, but that's not "profiting from fanfiction." Lj isn't selling the fanfic; they're selling the webspace. That's like saying that my ISP is profiting from fanfiction because I pay to go online and post fanfiction.
I've been trying to stay away from the whole FanLib thing because it makes me crazy. I'm glad to see that you've summed it up so nicely (so I can avoid the majority of the crazy-making).
That's very true. I should add a point in all fairness that LJ doesn't specifically profit off of fanfiction.
Very nicely done. I'm going to link to this in my LJ tomorrow.
Thank you, I appreciate it.
Linked to on News.YCombinator
. Hopefully other entrepreneurs (either in fandom or other fields) can avoid making the same mistakes.
Thank you. *laughs* I love your title. May I use it as well?
thank you so much for this summary! honestly, this week i have seen mentions of fanlib but had no clue what it was about or what was going on...and with very little time for internet did not have the chance to figure it out on my own..
i loved the whole essay because it was evenly laid out and brought up the relevant issues. :)
Glad I could help. :) Hope you're having fun in Belgium.
I have no idea where you want to post this, but if it's all right with you, I'd like to share the link to this post to people who are here at Phoenix Rising? It's an excellent summary of something that's being talked about right and left at the conference this week.
Go for it. And thank you. :)
This is great. From everything I've seen and heard so far on my flist, this is a wonderful summation of the issue.
Thank you. I'm adding changes as people suggest them.
Nice article. :D One thing I noticed is there's no mention of how FF.Net (who might be the only "comparable" site, or at least closest thing to) has been treated -- I doubt many fans, for example, expect to find *good* fic there.
Actually, "The Pit" is rather notorious as a starting place for immature writers and poor quality... which I think at least one person has pointed out also applies to FanLib -- nonselective, multifandom archives have no quality control, and are therefore unlikely to be more than "beginning points" for fanwriters, not the place to find "the greatest fanfic in the world" or whatever FanLib's byline is.
Second, the infamous NC-17 Ban is probably a good precedent for how fans react to "outside" archivers trying to tamper with or control their fic. So very many writers bailed, while others re-rated stories without changing them or linked to off-site copies of high-rated chapters... And, as you pointed out, FF.Net at least has some kind of community affiliation.
And man, I did not know about the personal-info thing. They've been up for a month, and already they're backpedaling and denying something? Not a good sign!
It really was, if not "real" fraud, fraud in the emotional sense -- they promised or appeared to promise safety and validity, while in fact endangering both. Not to mention the whole "hey, give us free stuff so we can make money from it -- not that you'll see any of it" thing. Trying to convince writers to fork over free fiction for their profit is pretty scummy.
That's a good point about making sure it's clear ff.net is not the end-all, be-all of fanfiction. However, my first two attempts to add that level of detail obscured the point. I'll see if I have better luck editing later.
I loved your summary. I have only read a few of the discussion posts to get the gist of this, so it's nice to have an idea of the full picture. I'm going to link to this in my LJ just in case there's anyone who's missed the discussion. It's very interesting.
I've been as even-handed as I could.
Wow, thanks for putting this all together! I just can't believe how *badly* Fanlib went about everything. *shakes head*
Oh, and you mention "Tesilla", and I think you mean telesilla
You know, that's what I was just thinking: How did they manage to screw this up so badly? And I think the answer is that they never had the fans or the welfare of fanfiction in mind. They just want to make a buck off of someone else's intellectual property.
From their tone I'd also guess that they look down on fanfiction and its writers. I worked very hard to be even-handed and gracious, but these guys do not deserve our fanfiction.
Wow, that's really well written! And easy to understand;)
Thanks for sharing!
Thank you. I've been maybe too gentle, but there are plenty of other people to stomp on them so I thought I'd give them a fair shake. FanLib could have worked if they'd sought the fan's buy-in.
Thanks for the summary! I've been reading snippets of this here and there but this summed up the goings-on well. However I'm getting the idea that fannish response is mainly a "us not them" kind of thing, which is kind of amusing and kind of sad.
I hope fanlib and fandom can come together in peaceful harmony (or perhaps have bitter sex, filled with emnity... fanlib/fandom otp?)
Thank you. I'm making some minor adjustments. I thought I'd bent over too far to be generous to them. They've created this situation. You have to understand your consumers or you can't sell to them. It's like that situation with the vacuum cleaner from... was it Norway? Anyway, they translated their ads into
English and they read, "Such-and-so vacuum cleaner -- it really sucks!"
Have you seen telesilla
's last post? FanLib's "new and improved" advertisement campaign? Makes me wanna hurl.
And I just realized what I hate about Chris Williams posts. He's the CEO of a multi-million dollar business addressing the people whom he wants to contribute the content of his site and yet he sounds like a whiny 6-year old. Now if I'm talking to somebody about a business proposal (no matter how one-sided) and that somebody has neither a personal relationship with me nor with the community I belong to, I expect a certain formality. After all we are talking business not pleasure. So Mr. William's , imo well calculated, lack of formality in his posts to , for example, telesilla
reads as a profound lack of respect to me.
I agree with you. I can't imagine a CEO would sound like such a child unless he was trying to "come down to our level."
The ad campaign is going to amuse my advertising family to no end. I've added a new section. FanLib thinks their audience is a bunch of Trekker guys in Klingon masks! They have no clue.
Thank you for posting this summary of the whole issue. I've been suspicious of any site which has a media connection encouraging fanfiction (like the L Word and Ghost Whisperer contests). I myself write Gilmore Girls and did get an email from this outfit around March encouraging me to come on. But I still have a bad taste in my mouth from other sites which sprung up after certain ff.net bans launched (ff.com and n-fiction) and used my email address to spam me to join. To even contemplate giving up my creative rights for this site borders on lunacy, and worse might end up as censorship of my content if it's construed as offensive to the community (since I write femslash about the show).
I'm not within the target audience of the site at all, being 27, male, and working every day for an honest buck, and one of my energies at the end of the day is writing Paris and Rory as I see them. I would never want that taken away just for a t-shirt, and I'm angry that a site like this would take advantage of the FF community by making people join a site with a TOS that has little wiggle room for the writers. I thank God that I decided to ignore this email and keep my fic at familiar and well-loved sites, and was able to keep my personal info out of their hands.
I thought about you, copperbadge
, and other male writers I know, and even though a lot of writers brought up the dominance of women in fandom (especially among the Stargate Atlantis writers where there's a strong feminist element) -- so it's important to report -- I've never been comfortable with the gendered argument. I made some changes to the summary to reflect that.
I don't think I fit their target audience either. I'm 39, female, returning to college to finish my degree, and I write a lot of slash. Maybe they'll accept my stories in the beginning when they need to pad their archive, but once they have the traffic they want, they'll boot us out.
If I wanted to needle them I suppose I could post my most controversial story, just to see what they'd do.
Thanks for stopping by. I think it's great that fans from Gilmore Girls, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Stargate Atlantis, are all talking to each other.