Science fiction, fantasy, & horror - web design, graphic design, interactive media development by greententacles
'But most of all, I want to thanks the fans, because without them this wouldn't have been possible...'
We've all heard this statement before, but how often are the fans cared for in the manner in which they deserve? Fans are your first and best resource. Fans, or lack thereof, make or break movie, author, pubilcation, or television show. Having a strong healthy base of fans can support a person or organization for years to come, and yet there are very few people or organizations that tend to the needs of their fanbase with the enthusiasm that they deserve.
Aside from the goodwill that supporting your fans will create, it's good for the bottom line. Here's a simple truth, it costs between $20 and $26 USD to acquire a customer, but only $9 to maintain one. Why is this the case? Because it costs more money to make a potential fan aware of an author's books than to make an existing fan aware of the author's new books. Marketers chase after people to make sales, but once someone becomes a fan the shoe is on the other foot. The fan will begin to actively seek out information about the object of their fandom. What happens then, when the fan can't find any information?
'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'
This often paraphrased statement by Voltaire leads us right to the crux of the problem. When the fan's needs are left unsatisfied, they will look elsewhere to fill those needs. In a similar axiom from sociology: 'an element of society exists because it needs to.'
If the fans 'need' something, and they cannot find it through normal channels, it will be created. This is what happened with Napster and audio files, and what is soon to happen (even currently happening) with videos. This is the very reason that fan fiction exists. When fans look elsewhere they are more likely to gossip, to trade in copyrighted materials, and to engage in activities that could lead to the ill-treatment or demise of your property. They become less likely to buy your products.
So obviously the need to support your fans exists. If you support your fans then they will support you. What I'm talking about is (look out! here comes some dreaded marketing words) Customer Service and Customer Retention.
Here are some hard numbers to back that up. According to the Harvard Business Review, a 5% improvement in customer retention has the effect of boosting profits between 25% and 95%. That literally means it's cheaper to make a currently unsatisfied customer a satisfied one, than to try to get new people to buy something from you. These people are your fans - you know these people are already interested in what you have to offer - your job is half done.
If you can convince 5 people out of 100 to buy your second book rather than the first book of another author, or to continue playing your role-playing game system rather than switching to another, or, to go see your next movie rather than some other movie, essentially, if you can continually make someone into your fan, then you can make 25% more money (and that's the low figure). What would you be able to do with 25% more money?
A company that makes one million dollars a year in sales can make an additional $250,000 USD. A small publisher who makes $50,000 a year could make an additional $12,500 USD. This is just by encouraging their fans to continue buying their products (books, games, whatever). After all, customer retention, in plain English, means keeping the interest of your fans.
How then are you supposed to do that?
Fans are hungry for information - new releases, new developments, etc. Your fans want whatever information that you can give them. Newsletters, 'Celebrity' Gossip, Chat Zones, Bulletin Board Systems, E-mail, these are some examples of what you can give fans on a limited income.
New Line Cinema realized that Tolkien fans were as devoted as could be. They chose a number of websites to become the first place where fans could go for news and information. They paid careful attention to what the fans were saying and doing. Right from the start they decided that whatever trials or tribulations that the production would go through would be announced to their fans through this network of websites.
You don't have to be that extravagant.
Put up a website. Put up a good website (a bad website could be worse than no website at all). Think of this as an investment with actual returns, and not an expense. Remember, if your website is responsible for retaining 5% of your fans then that's a 25% increase in sales.
Then, after you've set up a website, put information on it. Warner Brothers does something as simple as providing a small faq for fans on their website that does a pretty good job of this. A nice touch is that their final question provides an e-mail address to customer support. You'd think Paramount would do at least as well, with how vocal their fans are known to be (StarTrek, Roswell, Buffy).
Roswell fans saved the show from cancellation. Twice. The first time in February of 2000 and then again a year later, when it was picked up by UPN. Roswell fans banded together to organize a 'Save Our Show' campaign that included taking out ad in the Daily Variety, sending thousands of letters and e-mails, along with 6,000 bottles of Tabasco sauce (12,000 bottle the second time) to Warner Brother executives.
As a token of appreciation Roswell (UPN) threw a group of 23 of their fans a party . The fans were able to visit the show's set and attend a cast party that included the show's main stars (Shiri Appleby, Brendan Fehr, Jason Behr, Katherine Heigl and Majandra Delfino) who signed autographs and posed with the fans for pictures. After such a party you can imagine that the fans will fight even harder should Roswell come up for cancellation a third time.
Newline Cinema has a similar philosophy when dealing with their fans - that is to treat them well. The worst mistake that you can make is to treat fans as outsiders to your company. Rather than create a new website for 'The Lord of the Rings' movie that would compete with the existing fan sites, and then risk the anger of their fans by issuing cease and desist orders, New Line Cinema choose 40 of the 400+ websites devoted to Tolkien and Tolkien themes and let the fans work with them to create a network of sites that helped to diseminate the information. New Line Cinema supplied the network with information (clips, sounds, stills, updates, press releases, etc.), sometimes on a daily basis. New Line Cinema actually flew some 'Lord of the Rings' fans to New Zealand to see the sets and visit with Peter Jackson. The reaction was lengthy and glowing reviews of the production.
Sure, throw them a party or fly them to New Zealand, but something as small as answering an e-mail personally may work just as well. Besides, a lavish party may be beyond the budget of someone who is not backed by a major studio, production house, or major corporation. A less expensive alternative to a party for a business would be to sponsor a convention in your local area. The fans would fly in to visit, and you would get to meet them one on one.
Maybe you don't even have the cash to sponsor a convention. Maybe you don't have enough diehard fans for a convention. Here's another alternative: host an online chat. There are a plenty of scifi/fantasy chats that are looking for speakers. Cybling is the one that immediatly comes to mind.
A $1 freebie can go along way towards providing goodwill - ordinarily we think of some of this stuff as junk, and it is. But to a true fan it's priceless junk. I normally throw out advertising specialties that I get from typical businesses - you know what I mean: bookmarks, money clips and similar multi-colored items - but I am much more inclined to keep 'stuff' that I like or that means something to me. Would I keep a Call of Cthulhu slide ruler or a Gary Gygax thermos that were given to me? You bet! Do I know why? Not a clue!
If the item were even useful, I would be likely to use it every day, and even show it to my friends. A pocket calculator with an RPG logo on it would be used everytime I play a game, regardless of what system I were playing that night.
It doesn't even have to be an expensive or even a typical freebie. An author who takes the time to send out a personally hand-written letter to a fan, in this day and age, would probably make them a fan for life.
Fan fiction doesn't have to be a threat to you. Do you think fan fiction, in its purest form, hurts the object of the fandom? No, not really. The bad fan fiction will be ignored, and the good fan fiction will enhance your work. It gives you more exposure than you could possibly ever generate, for free. Even better - if you are a publisher it gives you a testing ground for new talent.
One of the reasons that H.P.Lovecraft enjoys his current level of noteriety is this - if another author liked Lovecraft's characters, places, and/or ideas - they were allowed to use them. This, in essence, created a professional fan-fiction circle. After Lovecraft's death his fans actually formed a publishing house to collect Lovecraft's stories and publish a volume.
For a more modern example, Wizards of the Coast, realizing that they had a hot property with the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, opened the world up to the fans with the Open Gaming License. It now became possible for the fans to publish the worlds that they had created while playing the game. This gave the fans license to make money with their own fan fiction. These individual fan run d20 publishing houses are now carrying the burden (at least some of it) of acquiring customers, while Wizards of the Coast only has to retain them.
For another example of fan fiction that supports the original object of its fandom you can look at the massive amounts of 'fan fiction' (stories, artwork, and movies) that the StarWars universe has initiated, such as Duality and the even more notorious the Phantom Edit.
When fan fiction oversteps its bounds, however, then it may become a problem. A true fan will know when to take a step back. After 'The Phantom Edit' became a hot property online, and some people were reported to be selling it (in violation of copyright laws), The Phantom Edit creator had this to say...
'This project began as a personal endeavor when I watched 'The Phantom Menace' as an audience, analyzed it with the care and attention of a Lucas team member, and carefully re-edited it, concentrating on creating the storytelling style that Lucas originally made famous. ... Although I definitely appreciate all the unexpected attention and support, I also respect and understand the discontentment of Lucasfilm Ltd.
'For the record, I am not now nor have I ever sold copies of 'The Phantom Edit,' and I DO NOT support this. I do not want my name associated with these kinds of activities. ... I sincerely apologize to George Lucas, Lucasfilm Ltd. and the loyal 'Star Wars' fans around the world for my well-intentioned editing demonstration that escalated out of my control.'
There's no doubt in my mind though that The Phantom Edit increased interest in the phenomena of StarWars. It also increased awareness of copyright issues among the StarWars fans.
As a side note: another facet of seemingly illegal behavior that may be good for your comapny would be hacks (I compare this to fan fiction for products, which essentially means taking a product and hacking into its hardware or software to give it additional uses unintended by the manufacturer). Examples of this come from Furby, Lego Mindstorms, and the countless video game console add-ons that give your character unlimited ammo, supplies, and lives. They may be making use of a company's proprietary software and hardware, but in order to use these hacks - you must buy the product.
The Magnum Opus of any person or organization should be to have a fan group formed. This could be anything from an online club or a local community group. The best reason to form a fan group? The group becomes the impetus through which to drive all of the previous methods to support your fans.
Although forming an official organization is frowned upon in gaming (role-playing) circles, since the so-called D&D suicide of Dallas Egbert, (he didn't) forming a group could be a great way to form a devout following.
Forming an organization requires more work, but the rewards can be even greater. Once a group of fans become obsessed enough to form a local group, the burden of much of your marketing shifts. They can do much of work that you need done, such as finding people who may be interested in what you do, and they can supply you with information that you may need to run your business better. After all, devout fans are nothing, if not vocal.
They can help inform people through a grass-roots effort. They may man a booth at local conventions. They may even start their own local convention to support you or your product, as the case may be.
The intangible benefits of supporting your fans: They will help foster a greater respect for you and/or your company. Tolkien fans respect his work, evidenced by the notable lack of a fan produced electronic text version of his books (If anyone has a copy, then let me know).
The benefits of supporting your fans like this are that they will be less likely to rob you blind... They may even police your work for you. Wouldn't it be great to have a hundred extra sets of eyes wandering the web and educating other fans about what a great person you are, and how if they aren't careful you'll stop doing whatever it is that your doing that they want you to do, because you can't make money at it any more?
It may be necessary to give them stuff. You may have to let them have an inside look into your life. And it might even be necessary to travel out to visit their group. But all of this is far less work than if you had to do it on your own - with out their help. A single person or company can't possibly attend every convention to support their work - but having a group of fans do it in their stead is the next best thing.
The downside is that there may be some liability if some of the members of the club are 'unstable'. Look at the litigation initiated after the Columbine shooting against the computer gaming industry, simply because the shooters played a first person shooter computer game. Imagine if they had been actual members of a first person shooter game club.
The possible liability alone could be enough to keep most people or organizations from helping to form a fan club, but the potential profits make this tempting. And even though Dungeons and Dragons was negatively attached to suicides , some speculate that it wouldn't have been such a phenomena in the early 80's if it hadn't have happened.
The pros outweigh the possible problems by far. Your fans would like your support. And you need to support your fans in every way possible.