An interesting new on-line journal launched this month, Live 2.0, which focuses on the changing face of live entertainment: sports, music, theater, etc. The premier edition pointed out how, in our current technological age, so much of where entertainment consumers spend their money and how they spend their money has changed. Stewart Copeland, drummer of The Police, is interviewed in a fascinating look into how the ‘record album’ (or these days more likely the compact disc) has become so inconsequential as compared to the live concert as far as a musician earning his keep. The concert promoter now trumps the record executive. As Copeland points out,
“The idea of a concert as a catalyst for selling a CD is bass-awkward now. You make a CD and go through all that hassle and give it away, as Madonna has done her deal with not Universal, but Live Nation, and as Prince gave away his album, and as Radiohead [has done]; it’s the other way around now.
Let’s just make a record so that people will like us and come to the show.”
The future for a musician is much more in finding a niche market, for the big, big names like U2 are much fewer and far between, and marketing must embrace not just advertising in a few music papers but the internet, television, radio, and even “making sure you get your tune onto Rock Band or Guitar Hero”.
Russ Stanley, VP of Ticket Service and Client Relations for the San Francisco Giants, is also interviewed and talks about how the team has stayed on top of current trends to successfully market the team and grow ticket sales. “Embrace creative ideas” and “Think Technology” are the first two points raised, showing how simply doing things as had been done in the past no longer works.
So what does any of this have to do with fandom? Well, think about it. For a very long time, one of the long-standing models of live, in-person fan interaction and communication was the convention. Fans would travel the state, the country, even the world to meet other fans in person to discuss their favorite books, movies, television series, or simply be able to spend a few days with people who shared their interests in parts of fandom, be it slash, fur, science fiction, etc. Beyond these conventions, many of these fans had few ways of interacting beyond letter- and/or fan-zine communications, fanclubs, and other mail-based activities. Conventions have thrived for most of a century, beginning (arguably?) with Philcon in 1936, with few alterations in their models for content, marketing, attendance, and organization.
And yet, I believe few today would argue with me that the convention as modeled in the past is dying. Hotel costs have skyrocketed, and many such facilities are no longer interested in the business of renting out all of their meeting rooms at a low rate for an entire weekend to a convention when they can fit in 3 or 4 shorter events, weddings, church groups, or what-have-you over the same amount of time, get large catering contracts and other extras out of the deal. The internet has made communicating with other fans of shared interests much simpler and faster, and possible from the comfort of one’s own living room. There’s no need to trek to MediaWest every year to buy the newest fanzines to get your fan-fiction or art fix; there are more stories than anyone could possibly read in a lifetime available on-line. Convention dealers face lower profits due to the availability of much genre merchandise on-line and often at discount prices via ebay, Amazon, and other large vendors. Many smaller, local conventions find themselves suffering and dying out, or at least facing dwindling attendance numbers where only the largest events that offer wide varieties of programming seem to thrive and continue, such as DragonCon or highly commercial events such as those put on by Creation Entertainment. Cosplay and gaming may continue to give members of those fandom interests reasons to continue attending live events, but they are but two parts of a wide spectrum of fandom interests.
So perhaps it is time for fandom to look towards other models of live interactions and events, such as the BarCamp. Much more interactively generated by “users” (ie, attendees), the BarCamp breaks with the more rigid convention model, can take place in a wider variety of venues (utilizing, say, university facilities or business spaces), and looks for corporate sponsorship to cover costs instead of asking for membership fees from attendees. BarCamps embrace Web 2.0 ideas and technology to stay on top of current trends instead of lagging behind them and clinging to outdated models of interaction. Anyone can start up a BarCamp, and without the high financial burdens or risks involved in even organizing a small convention where hotel blocks must be guaranteed, meeting rooms booked, other conventions attended in order to promote your event, or even guests contracted.
This is part of why I will be very interested in seeing how Camp Fandom comes together for this year, as a fandom-specific event taking place utilizing the BarCamp model. Will other fandom camps follow, perhaps specific to certain fandoms, genres and interests, just as conventions in the past did? It will be interesting to see.
What other impacts will the “2.0″ world we live in have on fandom, and how fans consume and interact with our canon sources, be it movies, television, music, sports, etc? These are interesting questions to consider, and I’d be curious to continue this discussion and see what others think. I think we’ve already seen the “niche” market affect media fandom in the sense that we are no longer a world where only Star Trek, Star Wars, and a few other large name fandoms rule fandom-generated content. There are “niche” fandoms for virtually everything these days, and communities for sharing works about them. Even within each individual fandom, like say Harry Potter, there are communities, mailing lists, and fanworks for every sub-interest imaginable: genficcer-only, slash and het pairings of all kinds, AUs, any kink imaginable…you name it. And those involved in large-scale fandom activities such as running multi-fandom archives, conventions, etc, need to be aware of the wide variety of users that are potentially out there beyond what they might be familiar with inside of their own niche, and decide who they wish to serve: only those within their special interest, or the ever-wider world of fandom out there today.