Sherlockology and Fan sites as gifts or exploited labor?

Bertha Chin

London, United Kingdom

[0.1] Abstract—Current scholarship on fandom has been preoccupied with examining the changing relationship between media industry professionals and fans. Media producers, celebrities, and industry insiders are increasingly establishing contact with fans, bypassing traditional media entertainment outlets to provide them with information directly. This contact is facilitated by social media networks. Fans serve as grassroots campaigners, promoters, and sometimes even public relations officers, acting as liaisons between media producers, celebrities, or industry insiders and fandom in general. In doing so, they take on roles traditionally fulfilled by professional PR and marketing personnel, and they do it for free, resulting in accusations that they are being exploited for their labor. However, fans do not necessarily view themselves as being exploited. We need to consider the possibility that they may regard their contributions as a service—or gift—to fandom. In examining the roles played by two popular fan sites, Sherlockology and, I propose to examine how fan labor may be considered an act of gift giving in fandom.

[0.2] Keywords—Battlestar Galactica; Fan labor; Gift culture; Sherlock; TV

Chin, Bertha. 2014. "Sherlockology and Fan Sites as Gifts or Exploited Labor?" In "Fandom and/as Labor," edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15.

1. Introduction

[1.1] When fans blog about or discuss their favorite media texts, they are performing labor, generating word-of-mouth promotion for TV shows, films, books, celebrities, musicians, and bands. More than that, fans also manage Web sites, Facebook pages, Tumblrs, and Twitter accounts, sometimes collaborating with celebrities and their management team to provide news and information to their fandoms. These practices have raised concerns that fans, in their roles as promoters and publicists, can be exploited. In consuming and producing media content, fans are performing labor that benefits the media industry in some way, whether by delivering audience numbers or by utilizing their contacts in fandom to promote a text; and they are providing this labor without any form of compensation from the media industry. Banks and Humphreys talk of the "need to move beyond commentary that frames user-created content that becomes commercially valuable as a marker of exploited labour" (2008, 402). They argue that this content is often messier, and that its creation is driven by a different set of motivations, than is normally assumed, and they emphasize the need to take into account fan voices and fans' motivations. On that note, I want to consider the gift economy framework as an alternative viewpoint from which to explore the notion of fan labor.

[1.2] Fan studies scholars have, in recent years, started to engage with the theory of the gift economy (Hyde 1999; Mauss 1954). This provides an alternative approach to seeing fans as poachers, a concept that Henry Jenkins (1992) used to describe how fans appropriate characters and universes, inserting their own meanings into TV shows, films, literature, comics, and other texts as a way of resisting the multinational corporations that own the copyright on these texts. Within the context of fandom's gift economy, these creative fan cultural productions—artefacts that include not just fan fiction and fan art, but also essays, fan Web sites, and wikis that serve as repositories of knowledge for the fandom—are exchanged and circulated as gifts among fans and within fan communities. Lewis Hyde maintains that "when gifts circulate within a group, their commerce leaves a series of interconnected relationships in its wake" (1999, xiv). In fandom, the "gift economy [certainly] builds social bonds" (Booth 2010, 24).

[1.3] The gifts exchanged in fandom earn status and reputation both for the individual and for the community—or the fan site—the individual is associated with. The worth of a gift is determined by its quality, by fans' expertise in both the technology used to create it (such as the software used to create Web sites) and the cultural text(s) it references, and by the reading of the text(s) agreed upon by members of the fan community (such as specific shipper groups). Offering gifts enables fan creators, such as authors, vidders, gamers, Web site owners, and so on, to build on and elevate their status in their respective fan communities.

[1.4] Some of these fans who have attained skills and a good reputation within fandom occasionally go on to collaborate with media producers, participating in (and sometimes even organizing) grassroots marketing campaigns or assisting in the production of extra fan materials, such as contributions to official wikis and the production of extra DVD or Blu-ray specials (note 1). Derek Johnson (2007), however, reminds us not to "uncritically accept this shift as evidence of growing audience power" (73), as the proximity that arises from these collaborations often produces conflicts. Johnson also warns that the supposed empowerment of fans is ambiguous, a point that Henry Jenkins (2006) concedes when he comments on the perfunctory mixed signals sent out by a media industry that is unable to decide what kind of relationship it wants to have with its audience. In the eyes of the industry, Johnson warns, fans are more like "domestic help, invited in so as to perform labour" (2007, 78), than guests.

[1.5] But are these forms of fan labor exploitative? Fans who participate in these collaborations or run the fan sites may consider their work not exploitative but a service to fandom. Their Web sites provide a repository for knowledge and information, sometimes gathered firsthand from their relationships with the media producers or other industry insiders. The importance of fan voices in examining the complexities of fan labor is crucial here. Baym and Burnett note how little we know about "how fans perceive their own contributions or how they reconcile this tension between empowerment and exploitation in their own lives" (2009, 435). Here I will look at fan labor by examining the roles played by the fan Web sites Sherlockology (, dedicated to BBC's Sherlock (2010–present), and (, dedicated to the original (1978–79) and reimagined (2004–9) series of Battlestar Galactica. I propose to examine how fan labor, although seen by some scholars as potentially exploitative, may be considered an act of gift giving by those involved in the fandom, serving not only to build social relationships but also to enable the fans giving these gifts to acquire status and build a reputation within their fandoms.

2. Methodology

[2.1] As a fan of both BBC's Sherlock and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, I also consider myself a consumer of both fan sites. I have interacted with Sherlockology on various social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and have tirelessly read the in-depth convention reports and interviews posted and conducted by over the years. In the course of preparing this paper, I contacted Sherlockology, asking for permission to speak to its owners and maintainers about their successful Web site. An e-mail interview was organized and conducted in October 2012. My questions focused on the site and on how things have changed for the four team members—Leif, Emma, Jules, and David—who run the site from the time Sherlockology was first launched to its current popularity and the reputation it has garnered within Sherlock fandom. One of the questions specifically asked the members about their views of labor in fandom, and whether they consider it exploitative. Additionally, as part of my PhD dissertation research, mutual acquaintances put me in touch with Marcel Damen, the cocreator of, in December 2008. In e-mails between December 2008 and March 2009 we discussed both his work on the Web site and Battlestar Galactica fandom in general. While the term fan labor did not come up in our conversations, Damen touched on the work and effort that went into creating the fan site, explaining how he and his Web site partner had carefully built and maintained relationships with various cast and crew members who worked on the show in the course of Battlestar Galactica's long broadcast history.

[2.2] I chose these two Web sites to study because of their unique positions within their respective fandoms. Neither Sherlockology nor are official Web sites, especially since the latter show ended its television run in 2009. Yet the owners of both Web sites maintain connections to the media producers and actors of both franchises, despite remaining independent. Unlike Supernatural fandom's popular resource, the Supernatural Wiki (, which invites fans to contribute to the site and collectively amass information, both Sherlockology and are run and managed by a set group of fans. Therefore, contact with the industry remains within the core group, and their labor appears more intensive, even as these fans maintain close contact with their respective fandoms (Sherlockology via various social media networks, and via direct interaction with fans during conventions). This allows us a more complex view of fan labor; these groups of fans are not being co-opted into collaborating with media producers, but are themselves attaining connections with the producers and building a reputation as a result of their hard work and dedication.

3. Fandom's gift economy, capitalization, and exploitation

[3.1] Marcel Mauss, an anthropologist whose book The Gift forms the foundation of all subsequent work on the gift economy, argues that gifts contain power: "the material purposes of the contracts, the things exchanged in them,…possess a special intrinsic power, which causes them to be given and above all to be reciprocated" (1954, 49). The basic tenets of a gift economy are to give, to receive, and to reciprocate; when these are completed, a social relationship between the gift-giver and receiver is established (Cheal 1988; Booth 2010). Lewis Hyde extrapolates that "gift exchange tends to be an economy of small groups, of extended families, small villages, close-knit communities, brotherhoods and, of course, of tribes" (1999, xvi) parallels that can be extended to fan communities (note 2).

[3.2] In the context of fandom, gifts appear in the form of artworks, fan fiction, podcasts, and videos, as well as fan fiction archives, picture galleries, Web sites, wikis, forums, Tumblrs, and Facebook pages, created and maintained on a voluntary basis. Rachael Sabotini (1999) declares them to be the "centerpiece of the fandom," taking skill, dedication, and effort to create. "The gift economy articulates the establishment of relationships among its participants, the formation of a community" (Booth 2010, 130). Hellekson (2009) argues that the adoption of the gift economy within fandom can also be seen as a form of legal and social protection. Because fans are often making use of copyrighted material, remixing content from various intellectual properties, defining fan cultural exchange as a gift economy protects fans from media conglomerates' often trigger-happy legal departments.

[3.3] Tanya Cochran, for example, observed how Universal Pictures capitalized on the enthusiasm of fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002–3) in the months leading up to the 2005 release of the movie tie-in Serenity. Universal Pictures constructed a "members-only online community that awarded points and eventually products (tshirts, hats, movie tickets, etc.) to those able to recruit more members" (Cochran 2008, 246). Members of the online community were encouraged to promote the film via word of mouth as well as to create merchandise, such as bumper stickers, to accompany the DVD release of the film and series. Simone Murray argues that incorporating fans into marketing strategies is beneficial to film studios and TV networks by enabling them to "capitalise on elaborate extant fan networks to distribute project publicity more rapidly and cost effectively than could conceivably be achieved through traditional film marketing channels" (2004, 8). However, soon after the DVD release of Serenity, Universal Pictures sent out cease-and-desist letters to the Firefly fan communities, demanding retroactive licensing fees for fans' use of copyrighted materials and licensed images, leaving many fans who had participated in the viral marketing campaign feeling exploited by the studio. Baym and Burnett point out that "the concept of exploitation implies that there is a cost to its victims" (2009, 442). In this case, Firefly fans were courted by the studio to generate word-of-mouth promotions for the film, and the cost of this was the legal threats and demands for fees.

[3.4] Murray sees this as a worrying trend as media companies "conflate highly conditional granting of fan access to media properties with a legally enforceable right to comment creatively" (2004, 21). Scholars such as Henry Jenkins (2007), Abigail De Kosnik (2009), and Karen Hellekson (2009) have also commented on the ways in which commercial culture has encroached into fan culture, bringing the risk that fans will be exploited for their (creative) labor. All three scholars referenced FanLib, which was established in 2007 and closed down a year later in 2008, as an example of this attempt at monetizing fan cultural production, particularly fan fiction. In the case of FanLib (which failed), fan fiction authors were sought and encouraged to upload their written fiction to the site with the promise of compensation in the form of prizes, e-book publication, and the opportunity to collaborate with participating media producers (such as those of The L Word [2004–9]). Various fan communities across different fandoms and platforms were quick to denounce the site, seeing the actions of its creators as attempts to profit from the fruits of fans' labor, which fans considered to be produced out of love or as gifts for fellow community members. As Hellekson summarizes, the "FanLib debacle illustrates that attempts to encroach on the meaning of the gift and to perform a new kind of (commerce-based) transaction with fan-created items will not be tolerated" (2009, 117) (note 3).

[3.5] Fans' reluctance to participate in FanLib recalls Hellekson's earlier point about social protection. If adopting the gift economy in fandom is a form of social protection, it can also be seen as a form of protection from exploitation. Further, it can also function as a form of exclusion, as a way for fan communities to preserve their "own autonomy while simultaneously solidifying the group" (Hellekson 2009, 117). In viewing fandom this way, however, we overlook the complexity of fan labor and risk positioning fans within the strict dichotomy of resistance and complicity. We are still left with the assumption that all the various fan communities, with their varied interpretations of the text and their support for various characters and relationships, present a united front against a perceived external threat: that of commercial culture. This renders null and void hierarchies within fan communities and between fandoms, where fans' positions and roles depend on the status they have accumulated from creating, for example, an exemplary work of fiction or art, or a popular Web site. As Jenkins, Ford, and Green propose, we need to consider the complexity of fans' labor as it "may be exploited for the profit of the 'owners,' even as fans also benefit from what they create. Such is the nature of collaboration in the belly of the beast" (2013, 175).

[3.6] Furthermore, Hellekson also concedes that "social cohesion may not be the only goal" (2009, 116) in the gift economy of fandom. Sabotini argues that "all participants vie for status" in the process of the gift exchange. This is similar to Claude Lévi-Strauss's argument on the "besting" of reciprocity in the cycle of gift giving, where the motives behind the act are not always conscious:

[3.7] Goods are not only economic commodities but vehicles and instruments for realities of another order: influence, power, sympathy, status, emotion; and the skilful game of exchange consists of a complex totality of manoeuvres, conscious or unconscious, in order to gain security and to fortify one's self against risks incurred through alliances and rivalry. (1996, 19)

[3.8] In other words, fans are constantly, perhaps even unconsciously, vying for status within their fandoms. Fan fiction, artworks, and videos reflect on the skills and talents of their creators, so the more shares, reblogs, recommendations, feedback, and likes the work receives, the higher the status of the creator. Similarly, a professional-looking fan Web site whose creator has garnered a reputation for reporting accurate information or having access to a media producer, celebrity, or industry insider and thus being able to provide exclusive interviews and information will be deemed authentic and granted higher status in fandom. This relative positioning results from the various forms of labor fans perform. As media producers and celebrities become more able to reach out directly to their fans (reducing fans' dependence on fan sites for such access), and as fans become more public about playing the role of promoter, public relations officer, or sometimes even financier, questions about exploitation rise into prominence: Are fans being exploited by the media industry, providing free labor when they should be compensated? Or is access the reward for fans who have labored diligently and built a solid reputation in their fannish community?

[3.9] Suzanne Scott remains cynical of this development, particularly since the media industry has started to make use of the shared symbolic technological space to invite fans into collaborating on viral marketing and promotional campaigns (note 4). Scott (2009) argues that the media industry has a narrowly defined and contained version of fandom. The industry carefully cultivates a parallel fan space that exists alongside grassroots fandom, selling it to the unsuspecting general audience, co-opting them into commercialization with the promise of participation: "Media producers, primarily through the lure of 'gifted' ancillary content aimed at fans through official Web sites, are rapidly perfecting a mixed economy that obscures its commercial imperatives through a calculated adoption of fandom's gift economy, its sense of community, and the promise of participation" (Scott 2009, ¶1.5). The desire to collaborate puts fans in a vulnerable position, where they might be exploited by the media industry into performing labor for free (note 5).

[3.10] However, Baym and Burnett also remind us that "fans articulate a complex system of costs, rewards and relational interpretations that motivate their continued engagement in voluntary practices that provide economic value for others" (2009, 445). In other words, we need to take into account notions of fan agency, or fan choice in participating or providing labor, even if we remain skeptical about the media industry's stakes in fandom. We must not disregard the possibility that fans might even be aware of the rhetoric on fan exploitation, but disagree with it, choosing to continue providing the service or the labor anyway. Might we not be able to consider that fan sites like Sherlockology and are created not merely out of love for the source texts but also as a service—a gift—to the fandoms of Sherlock and Battlestar Galactica, especially for fans who are seeking the specific types of information provided by these sites?

4. Fans as knowledge workers

[4.1] Tiziana Terranova (2003) argues that "free labor is not necessarily exploited labor," because compensation is often "willingly conceded in exchange for the pleasures of communication and exchange." Jenkins, Ford, and Green speak of the morally complex nature of collaboration, arguing that it is "crucial to move beyond seeing the relations between producers and their audiences as a zero-sum game" (2013, 174). Indeed, in my e-mail interview, the four friends who run and maintain the Sherlockology Web site explained to me,

[4.2] At the end of the day, no one asked us to do this, and certainly no one pays us to so we can stop whenever we want. It is true Sherlockology has grown far larger than any of us dreamt was possible when we began it, and the time and financial commitment is enormous, but we continue of our own accord because we enjoy it and do not have the limitations imposed on us that we do in our daily jobs. (e-mail, 2012)

[4.3] Ryan Milner (2009) argues similarly, noting that work on fan labor is missing an important criterion: that of fans' own perception of their labor contribution or collaboration with the media producers, the celebrities, and the media industry. As the statement above indicates, fans derive pleasure from the labors they perform in building Web sites, just as fans do from writing fan fiction or creating fan art or fan videos. Similarly, Marcel Damen, who co-runs the Web site, enjoys the stories that actors and crew members share with him, and it was this enjoyment that prompted him to archive those stories digitally, a move that signaled the beginnings of It can also be argued that the creators of both Sherlockology and created the Web sites because they saw a lack in their respective fandoms and thus wanted to provide a service for fans. As Damen clarifies, his idea for was born out of discontent with fans of the original series:

[4.4] Many original series fans…order people around…because they've been a fan for three decades and feel people should respect them because of it. They're sitting high upon their thrones, but don't do anything. was born out of discontent for this group of fans who deleted the new series part of their forum because they feel the new BSG is GINO (Galactica In Name Only). They feel better than this new group of fans and now made rules in their original series fan group that the new series can't be discussed. If you do, you get warned and then banned. (e-mail, 2008)

[4.5] The Sherlockology team, on the other hand, discovered that they could not find much information on BBC's Sherlock, nor was there a central hub for information on the show that the official BBC Web site did not provide, particularly about the show's filming sites. Londoners themselves, they wanted to visit filming locations but discovered that no information on them was provided to the show's fans. Therefore, they told me, by "following media reports, fan sightings and the use of Google Maps…[they] decided to create a 'small website' to document the locations [they] found" (e-mail, 2012).

Screen shot of Sherlockology Web site, reading 'Sherlockology: The Ultimate Guide for any BBC Sherlock fan.' Navigation links are Characters, Episodes, Behind the Scenes, News and Events, Shop, Downloads and Extras, and Help. Main image is of star Benedit Cumberbatch standing on a bridge in London. Text at the bottom reads 'Shorty Awards.'

Figure 1. Sherlockology screenshot. [View larger image.]

[4.6] Milner identifies fans as "knowledge workers" and calls for the use of a new paradigm to explore producer-audience interaction in the current technological age. He makes use of the concept of the New Organization, which "emphasizes the specialized labor of self-motivated 'knowledge workers'" (Milner 2009, 492); Damen and the Sherlockology team had specific motivations for building their fan sites. In this New Organization, fans have the potential to be "developer, public-relations specialist, focus group, technical support, journalist, and consultant all in one" (Milner 2009, 497). For instance, Damen talks of how he established the reputation of by approaching not only the main cast of both the original and reimagined series for interviews, but also guest actors and crew members:

[4.7] No one ever thought of talking to them, so they all were honoured and agreed to doing interviews the minute we contacted them. The number of interviews we did later got us the reputation [as] a serious interview site and…[the] main cast (especially their agents) were impressed by that…Our reputation and number of interviews was noticed by [convention] organisers who asked us…to get them certain actors that they themselves were not in contact with…Sometimes agents e-mail us since they think their client will benefit from an interview on our website. (e-mail, 2008)

Screen shot of Web site. Banner at top reads Navigation at left provides links under the headings Main,, Battlestar Galactica 1978, Galactica 1980, and Battlestar Galactica 2003. The main image, dated November 2011 with text identifying the subject as Carl Aldana, is a black-and-white drawing of a person in a spacesuit from behind, viewing a space ship out of the window. The back of the helmet reads Galactica. Underneath this image, cut off, under the heading Articles, are three more drawings, all of ships, with the heads Storyboards Part 1, Storyboards Part 2, and Storyboards Part 2 [sic].

Figure 2. screenshot. [View larger image.]

[4.8] The discontent that urged Damen to create and the motivation to create a fan site that emphasizes in-depth interviews with both major and minor cast and crew members of all versions of Battlestar Galactica have earned him a high status in fandom, particularly among those who regularly visit his Web site and those who attend Battlestar Galactica conventions. Damen recalls the pleasure of attending conventions as a representative of the site, there to report on the event as well as to interview the guests: "At this point," he explains, "it's just about seeing friends again (who happened to be actors I admired at first but became friends through meeting them all the time)" (e-mail, 2008).

[4.9] Although the Sherlockology team cites the long hours and significant personal expenses as drawbacks to running the site, they maintain that the perks far outweigh the disadvantages. The reputation that Sherlockology has gained has allowed them to "apply for press passes to some events" (e-mail, 2012). The members had met the creators of Sherlock when the site first launched and had begun building a relationship with the production company as well as the BBC. Despite running an unofficial fan site, they are endorsed by the producers, who have used it to clarify rumors about BBC air dates and relay information to fans about London location shooting for season 3. Still, its members insist that

[4.10] Sherlockology is an independent website, neither run nor financed by the makers of Sherlock. [We] do work closely with them to ensure all information on our website is accurate. Therefore the wardrobe, jewellery [sic] and accessory information has been supplied to us by Sherlock Costume Designer Sarah Arthur, similarly the props listed are from the Production Designer Arwel Wyn Jones. Although we could contact the locations manager, we do in fact source all the filming locations ourselves, wishing to bother the crew as little as possible. (e-mail, 2012)

[4.11] This insistence complicates the notion that fans are vulnerable to exploitation as soon as they start performing labor for media producers. Fans also use their relationships with industry insiders to their advantage, obtaining information and disseminating it to the fandom. As Baym and Burnett contend,

[4.12] To argue this is exploitation, one must assume that the rewards that fans attain are less valuable than those they deserve, and that the fans' perceptions of their practices are evidence that they have been seduced by the power dynamic that exploits them…To claim that these people are exploited is to ignore how much these other forms of capital matter…and to deny the capacity of these individuals to stop doing what they do. (2009, 446)

[4.13] Furthermore, it is also important to note that they must remain professional and maintain the quality of their coverage to preserve their relationships with the media producers. Elsewhere, I have argued that while fan sites like—which came into existence in 2008, in the postseries fandom of The X-Files (1993–2002)—frequently collaborate with the show's former producers, cast, and crew members, they occupy an in-between position; the fans who run these sites similarly maintain close ties to the fandom but must also demonstrate the professionalism required and expected by the media industry in order to sustain their connection to the producers, cast, and crew members. Their contact with the media industry, particularly the producers and cast of The X-Files, also means that other fans view them as intermediaries between fandom and the industry. The team at Sherlockology reveals that they constantly receive inquiries from fans about "filming schedules and locations, and contact details for the casting director…cast fanmail, twitter accounts and appearances" (e-mail, 2012). Similarly, Damen says that receives many e-mails asking for help getting in touch with the actors. Acting as gatekeepers controlling access to the producers and celebrities, these fan collaborators "obtain a certain status in their fan communities" (Chin 2013, 97), a status that derives from their roles in running and maintaining popular fan Web sites that have caught the attention and trust of media producers (note 6).

[4.14] Therefore, rather than merely performing labor for the industry, these fans are also acting as intermediaries for other fans who wish to gain access to producers, or who want to know filming locations. In other words, the labor is continual and intensive, but that does not necessarily mean that it is exploitative, or that these fans consider it so. Milner reminds us that media producers maintain interest in fans because fans work for the text rather than the (media) industry at large, and all forms of productivity, no matter how unofficial, build the brand of the text.

[4.15] While it might be slightly utopian to claim that fan labor always comes from or results in fan pleasure (Terranova herself points out that it does not), creative consumption very naturally leads to a degree of production, and the goals of this production (implicit ownership, status, esteem, community, social capital, etc.) are often outside the realm of monetary gain. (Milner 2009, 494)

5. Fan sites as products of free labor

[5.1] Milner's research into fans of the video game Fallout (Interplay Entertainment, 1997) leads him to conclude that fans' allegiance is to an ideal of what the text can be and what it can achieve. It is not to the corporations that own their favorite texts. Damen's extensive interviews with actors on his Web site, for instance, often concentrate on the craft of acting and on how each actor approaches his or her role, suggesting that it is important for fans to know that these actors are building on the quality of the text. In performing the labor of creating the fan sites, these fans see themselves as providing a service to their fandoms by offering information. More importantly, they are also providing a service that is traditionally fulfilled by third-party institutions of the entertainment media that, unlike fans, may not be interested in franchises that are no longer on the air, or, worse, may be more interested in idle gossip, which will not benefit the brand. However, coverage, whether by word of mouth or otherwise, by those who are motivated by love and integrity will benefit it. As Will Brooker declares, "fandom is built around love" (2002, 52).

[5.2] Thus it can be argued that, although maintaining these sites can be seen as preserving the integrity of the brand, it can also be interpreted as a gift from fans like Damen and the team at Sherlockology to their respective fandoms. As Booth suggests, "instead of reciprocity, what the gift in the digital age requires for 'membership' into the fan community, is merely an obligation to reply" (2010, 134). Thus, in building a fan site that aims to include fans from all generations of a franchise or in building a central hub where episode guides and information about filming locations and props can be accessed, fans like Damen and the Sherlockology members are offering a gift to their fandoms, where reciprocity means interacting with these fans on social media or via e-mail, thus making their labor for the fandom (and for the text) worthwhile.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] My intention has been to explore the concept of fan labor through the context of the gift economy, in the process complicating the notion of exploitation that is often assumed. I argue that rather than merely assuming that fans are exploited by the media industry when collaborating with media producers, it is important to acknowledge their voice in this collaboration, and that there may be other motivations at play. As Baym and Burnett note, "rewards are undervalued in the rhetoric of exploitation and labour" (2009, 444), but as we take into account fans' own explanations of why they perform labor, we must also concede that other rewards, such as status and recognition, are also important to fans.

[6.2] Milner's criticism of the lack of fan voices is essential. Not only is it relevant in the context of fan labor, it also helps us understand how fans view their cultural production and their concept of gifts to the community. In thinking of fan labor, we should also remember that fans are allegiant to the text rather than to the industry; remembering this may help us take seriously the notion of pleasure, which is so often absent in fan studies. The notion of fan voice within the context of fan labor is clearly exemplified in the two case studies here, where the fans, while noting their sacrifices in time and money, stress that they choose to create and maintain their fan sites. Their voices caution us not to assume that fans performing labor are always being exploited by the media industry. It is vital that we acknowledge that fans often perform labor because there is something beyond monetary gain to be achieved: something like status and access to the media industry.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] I am grateful to Leif, Emma, Jules, and David of Sherlockology and to Marcel Damen of, who generously consented to be interviewed via e-mail. A version of this essay was presented at the Internet Research 13 conference organized by the Association of Internet Researchers held at the University of Salford, United Kingdom, October 18–21, 2012.

8. Notes

1. For example, in the Blu-ray edition of Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception, there is a special documentary on dreams produced collaboratively by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's production company, HitRecord, and his fans. Gordon-Levitt frequently collaborates with his supporters through HitRecord, producing short films, animation, music, and other creative works. Artists are compensated if their materials are used in these productions.

2. While the permeation of fandom by blogs and social media networks has, as Busse and Hellekson declare, made it "harder to get a comprehensive sense of a fandom and harder still to build a truly inclusive sense of community" (2006, 15), it is also important not to rule out fan spaces such as forums and LiveJournal communities. While Tumblr may seem to be the most common choice in fandom today, there is still a sense that interaction between fans occurs among a core group of people whose relationship may have been established elsewhere or who have moved beyond Tumblr to other social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

3. In June 2013, Amazon launched a publishing venture called Kindle Worlds (, which looks to be another attempt at monetizing fan fiction. Fan fiction writers are invited to submit their stories, and the authors of the original work will earn royalties on sales of the fan fiction for it. Amazon Publishing began by establishing licensing deals with three popular television series belonging to Warner Bros. Television's Alloy Entertainment: Gossip Girl (2007–12), The Vampire Diaries (2009–present), and Pretty Little Liars (2010–present), which have since been joined by other properties. It remains to be seen whether Kindle Worlds will be successful or will suffer the same fate as FanLib.

4. See, for example, Tanya Cochran's (2008) work on Firefly fans and the promotion of the follow-up film Serenity.

5. The concern about fan exploitation is particularly poignant after the success of the Kickstarter campaign in March 2013 to create a film sequel to the TV show Veronica Mars (2004–7). The campaign met its $2 million target in less than 24 hours, and it went on to raise $5.7 million from fans. The film is slated for release in 2014.

6. Sometimes this reputation extends beyond fandom to the mainstream as well. Sherlockology won the Shorty Award for best fan site in 2012 and 2013.

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