Transmedia Offers Great Possibilities for Fans to Get Involved
“It’s the time that you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important.”
– The wolf in Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince
I know that fan engagement is still a double-edged sword for many authors and entertainment executives. On the one hand, you want loyal fans who are deeply invested in your storyworld, and you probably also like the fact that they carry your story on to different media and through time with their fan art, fan videos, fan fiction, etc. What you don’t like is the fact that the moment fans get involved, you “lose control”, not only over your intellectual property but also over your carefully crafted brand and the distribution (i.e. monetization) of your content. While the rules of fan engagement are still unclear and tested frequently, there is one thing content creators of this day age must understand: Regardless of legal frameworks, you have lost control a long time ago. (For a more detailed explanation, I recommend Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, or Jean Burgess et al.‘s YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture)
No matter how many cease-and-desist letters you send out or how many fans you sue for breaching the copyright of your IP*, fans will never stop appropriating your material and remixing, reshaping, and extending it. There is no stopping it, and what’s more, consumers are now demanding the right to be involved. They have grown up in a world where they were the center of attention, where everything from their clothes to their PCs and smart phones could be personalized, and where they were able to influence and shape what they were consuming at all times. They want to be in control and they want influence what they are consuming.
While this may sound a little daunting, the advantage is the same as earlier: a high return on fans’ emotional and temporal investment. Once they have taken part in the development of ‘their’ storyworld, it is very hard to just abandon it. Instead of just taking in whatever they can get, fan engagement is a form of giving, and as we all have learned in kindergarten already, giving and taking leads to relationships. Thus, fan engagement creates relationships between fans and your storyworld, and also, between fans and the original author. And as we also know since kindergarten, deep and meaningful relationships are extremely hard to let go of, simply because of the emotional attachment involved, and the amount of time invested in the creation of it in the first place. So even if you don’t want to welcome fan engagement, don’t fight it unless it seriously endangers your enterprise.
*By the way, and I’m with Henry Jenkins’ and Jeff Gomez’ on this one: Don’t sue your fans. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Ignore it, but don’t condemn or restrict it on a large scale. Why are you drawing up a transmedia universe if you don’t want fans to relate to it?