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In this guest post, Nancy Baym of Online Fandom offers her thoughts – and MidemNet slides – on how “the internet has superpowered fans.” enjoy!

Bruce Houghton recently wrote on this blog that for all the talk of moving from control to collaboration at MidemNet, too many in the music business still seem focused on control. As an outsider who’s focused on the fans, not the business, it was clear to me at MidemNet that for all the many exciting things discussed, the dominant discourse still represents online music consumers as thieves or (marginally less insultingly) as revenue sources to be “monetised,” rather than as people who love music and who use the internet to engage in and build the kind of passion that the industry ought to crave.

Control is a real issue, but like it or not, those who used to have all of it aren’t going to get it back. The internet has superpowered fans and all the legislation and lawsuits in the world won’t put that genie back in the bottle. Collaboration with music audiences on the internet is not just nice rhetoric, it’s the only vision of the future that offers hope to the business of music. Fans are going to do what fans do. You can work with them or against them.

Ted Cohen wrote here that “we need to creative sustainable partnerships & deliver services that address fan behaviour.” True collaboration doesn’t just mean accepting the loss of control, it also means understanding what it is that drives fans to organise and what they do when they interact amongst themselves. When you understand fan behaviour, you can work with those practices to facilitate fans’ attachments to one another and to the bands they’ve gathered to discuss.

My talk at MIDEMNet, Making The Most of Online Fandom, which I am delighted to offer again here, explains online fan behaviour. It’s a topic on which I’ve been conducting academic research since 1991. In the talk, I identified the core practices of music fans online and off, explained how the internet has empowered fans, and suggested guidelines for how artists and those who represent them can foster symbiotic relationships with fans that benefit all.

Focus on the money, and you’ll drive away the fans. Focus on nurturing musicians’ relationship with them and their relationships with one another and, as presenters such as Jill Sobule, Mike Masnick, and Mark Kelly showed, the money will follow.


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