In an idealized version of the capitalist system, a producer creates and distributes a product. The consumer then makes it possible for the producer to continue to make product.

When we talk about fandom, sometimes we talk about how the observer takes ownership of the text, and as a result, no longer becomes a passive observer. Can you say, then, that the consumer changes into a producer? And if so, what does that say about the relationship between consumers and producers in fan media?

With the line between producer and consumer blurred, can capitalism apply? For the capitalist system to work, the producer has to provide goods or services needed by a society of consumers. The consumers pay for those goods and services, and allow the consumer to continue to create their product. A media company creates a story, a movie, a book, something that the fan community consumes. If they continue to appreciate the product, the producers create more content…continued seasons of a television show, books and comics that expand the fictional universe from the original movie, additional books in a series, or spin-off TV shows, for example. The producer responds to the consumers’ needs, and is able to do so because the consumer has purchased books, movie tickets, or contributed monetarily to the property. As long as the consumers see a profit for their efforts, they can continue to release more media product.

However, can you still apply capitalism if there is no money being exchanged? If I design a game, and distribute it freely, what do I have to gain? Does it matter what a community of consumers thinks about my work? I’d argue that fan response to freely produced work is just as important as a consumerist response.

I distribute a product. The consumers, people who receive my game and play it, will tell their friends about it. They will discuss the game at their friendly local game stores, and will spread the word about the game on their favored social media platforms. What is the value of good press?

Good press is social capital, something intangible that could, eventually, lead to tangible wealth. If people have fun and talk about the fun they had, those kind words make my product more valuable. “His games are fun. Try them.” The more good word spreads, the more “valuable” my work becomes to the community. I may become known as a designer who creates good games, interesting settings, or fun rules. Instead of earning money, I earn positive reputation.

And there are other ways of earning positive reputation. I can answer my fan’s questions in a prompt and respectful manner. I can listen to criticism and learn to design a better product based upon it. Other producers may decide that I’m a person worth working with. Good reputation becomes the currency.

Check out this video from Escapist Expo of the panel discussion, “How to run a small gaming business.” A group of game industry professionals discuss, among other things, the value of social capital in the game industry. The video is around an hour long, but its a valuable take on how a fan culture has an effect on the creative community.

Written with StackEdit.


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About mikewgoodman

I am a renaissance-swordfighting enthusiast and I enjoy historical reenactments (where I focus my attention on Elizabethan culture, historical swordfighting, and the London Masters of Defense). I'm an avid roleplaying gamer, have done some game design, and I write. I share my home with a son who loves games, a wife who loves her garden, and a pack of mercenary cats.


fan activity, fandom, participatory culture, social media