Fan Content Creates New Fans! (& Other Important Things To Consider)

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By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting


If you have been on our Instagram or Twitter lately, you might have seen the notice that I will be presenting a panel examining how fan-created content leads to a cycle and influx of new fans to fandom as well as provide a brief introduction to intellectual property rights and what this means for creators of fan content tomorrow at ANIME Impulse San Diego 2023. The title of the presentation, “How Fan Content Creates New Fans & Other Important Information,” is definitely a long one but the presentation itself and this coorisponging blog post are a relatively short introduction to the ideas I touch on in the panel. 

Below is a revised copy of my script for a blog-post format (sorry if it reads a little strange… I’m kind of sleep deprived as I rewrite parts of this and I’m preparing to speak plus have a lot of work right now). I hope those of you reading can enjoy this version since I’m not sure if or when we’d be able to attempt recording this as a video. Thank you for reading!


Fan content seems to be almost everywhere in online communities and at in-person events like conventions. As a fan myself and someone who studies fan culture, I find it fascinating how media cultural production engages fans and contributes to the consumption of more content. 

Mass media also likes to explore this topic of fandom and content creation but tends to focus on the legality of the content made or on how that fan content changes when being officially re-published as “orginal” fiction (think, for example, “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare, which started as a Harry Potter fanfiction or “Fifty Shades” by E. L. James, which was a Twilight fanfiction. 

Certainly, the legality of it and how the content changes after it goes from fanfiction to something new are important topics, and we will touch on those later in this post. However, we must also consider how fan content has become a new and successful industry on its own. An industry that is supported by the community of fans who foster both new and established creators on a more personal level, in addition to massively influencing the sales of the source materials. 

I believe that creators and consumers, the audience members of the media if you will, should be able to understand how we play into the growth or diminishing interest of a project during its industry life cycle. Especially because these ideas are topics often examined for exploitative purposes by marketers and publicity departments to make more sales or wrack up engagement.

Source Materials

Now, when we are looking at fandom and the industry life cycle, we almost always begin the introduction of the product or source materials to the market

When I refer to source materials, I am generally talking about content that is officially licensed and/or published which has been distributed to a wider audience. This includes the anime or manga but also the marketing and promotional materials, such as trailers, posters, social media posts, etc. Essentially, my definition refers to all of the official content. You don’t have to include promotional materials in the definition of source materials–and some don’t–but I do since this content is meant to directly engage an audience, to draw potential fans in, and since these materials tie into the perception of the original content

Original Marketing

The primary goals of marketing materials are to get people talking about the product and to drive action among audiences. 

A potential example of this could include the initial appearance of Sonic in Paramount’s trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. The one with tiny eyes and uncomfortably human teeth. Spectators suggested that Paramount deliberately designed Sonic in this way to provoke discussion and generate interest. Of course, Paramount claims otherwise, but regardless of whether this was intentional or not, the resulting buzz helped to boost the film’s sales significantly. So much so that many fans and non-fans were engaged in the movie’s final release–blowing sales out of the park for what was probably going to be a mid-tier movie for the year since it came out at the same time as Emma, Birds of Prey 2, and the Ride Your Wave movie.

Word of mouth is still the best way to gain attention, after all, and once a marketer has that attention, the focus can be directed on turning interest into sales, which–in marketing terms–is typically referred to as giving audiences a “reason to act.” This reason to act could have the goal of getting someone to buy a product, subscribe to a service, or engage in a particular project or event.

For content creators, generating engagement may involve encouraging viewers or readers to hit “like” or “subscribe” buttons or leave comments. 

Marketers often compel these sort of actions by creating a sense of value proposition that motivates consumers to take action immediately, rather than waiting. This could involve limited-time offers or exclusive access to content or events. With YouTubers, as an example, by asking you to subscribe, like, and comment, the perceived value for audience could be that said audience will gain greater access to the creator’s content, or that they will be able to interact with the creator directly. 

“Reason to Act” Results

Once the source materials (so, the marketing materials and the actual show/movie/etc.) are released, the publishers of that content are hoping to inspire social buzz and sales but are typically NOT looking for fan content creation which they feel violates copyright. 

Of course, there are always exceptions. Some creators do think of their fans’ content creation and will make efforts to share their appreciation of it either in the work or publically. For example, in the indie-animation space Vivziepop the creator of Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel, has publicly told fans that making and sharing fan art and pairings from Helluva Boss is alright.

However, whether the creators have intended there to be fan content or not, such content is an outcome that can and does occur regularly–even more so now on public, online social platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Blogs. 

A Fan Is Made & Pushed To Act

It may not be a surprise to those that regularly pick up new works or interests as a result of seeing someone they followed, for one thing, start to produce art or fiction relating to another, but in academia, this is an emerging field of study, particularly with regards to how it affects public perception of older, once-obscure works. 

Fans and fan content, fan studies seem to find, increase interest in the existing fan base and by attracting those outside of the fanbase to enter, which feeds into that industry’s life cycle and sometimes creates significant trends.

Take Attack on Titan for example. AoT was one of the first big anime hits on Netflix and became a super popular series.  Anime fans that weren’t watching the series had at least heard about it enough to know the gist of its early season plot points and contents, and AoT cosplayers were some of the most common costume choices at convention spaces. Moreover, the merchandise seemed to be at almost every place that carried anime/manga-related products. 

However, the impact of this series went beyond the anime community, as regular watchers of the Netflix streaming service started seeing the anime pop-up in their recommendations as a result of so many fans engaging with it’s Netflix release. Non-anime fans were now entering the community–watching the same content, having conversations about it online, and sometimes making memes or references to the show in casual spaces. 

In a similar way, we’re seeing this occur with My Hero Academia. A series that has grown massively over the last few years, with a wide cast of characters and even wider fanbase. Lots of whom are making content themselves, like art, fanfiction, music, videos, and more.

Action > Content > Exposure

By engaging and exciting existing fans into sharing the content/making their own or by sharing your initial piece to an audience not as familiar with the work, fans can lead to a wave of new or renewed interest in the source materials and in the consumption of other fan-made content. 

This content can go beyond that initial fan base and take casual fans of the work and bring them further into the fandom. In a relatively short amount of time, this new content being shared in a digital community or at an in-person community event, can spark interest from non-fans via exposure.

Increasing Interest

Understand that most fan content is created through an appreciative and rose-colored lens, making the content incredibly attractive and attention-grabbing to those who view it. Fans often explore characters and storylines in greater depth and detail than even the original source material, resulting in emotionally connected and empowered content.

For instance, some fanfiction writers who enjoy Harry Potter like to explore Draco Malfoy’s interpersonal relationships and the pressure of familial traditions and norms. These are ideas and themes that resonate with audiences who have felt similar pressures to conform to their parents ideologies. 

While readers may not excuse Draco’s actions, depending on how a fan creator writes a story bridging the ending to the epilogue, such exploration can allow for redemption. 

This is something that the original author, JK Rowling, couldn’t seem to find the appeal in or understand the resonance that some fans found in the character’s development when this was first brought to her attention.

The emotional appeal and passion of fandom can be of great appeal to those outside the fandom and generates interest in non-fans to consume the source material and seek out what other may have found or missed. 

Additionally, fan creators sometimes have a wider audience than the original source material or bring in new audiences who may not have been previously familiar with the fandom.

This is especially true for indie projects that have limited promotional output and must rely on word of mouth to gain interest–particularly if mass media has not shown interest in their work. 

YouTubers like PewdiePie, Markiplier, and shows like Game Theory Playthroughs, for example, have been able to reach audiences for small games that may not have gained traction without fan creators shedding light on these obscure titles. The same is true for most webcomics, self-published novels, and other smaller works that lack the backing of corporations and publications.

In our industry life cycle model, this is where we often see a significant upturn of interest and sales, called the Growth Stage.

More & More Fans!

Fans ultimately end up building a niche community that cycles through more content creation, more exposure, more interest, and more new fans who are drawn to the sense of belonging and shared enthusiasm while also exciting the current fanbase into continuing the cycle. 

At each point in the cycle thus far, we see people responding to the interest of the content via action, which is typically what leads to the further “sale” of the original source. Once you have a cycle established, you typically have a trend that is easy to latch onto for marketing purposes and one that could go viral digitally.

As the fandom grows, we see an eventual “shakeout” and “maturity” level before a decline. The shakeout stage generally means that the growth rate of cash flows and profit towards original content and fan content has start slowing down, and at full maturity is when we start to see a level of engagement diminishing or stagnate. This is when we usually see companies introduce new content.

So trailers are released for a second movie, a new season comes out next fall, or a new book is being released this week–that sort of thing. 

Because now that the interest has begun to fade and its profits are going down, producers of the content can re-engage the fan base and go back into that growth phase by giving something new for fans to think over. 

Of course, core fans will always remain, but the majority will move on to new things without continued canonical content to motivate action and interest. 

With that said, fans seem to do a lot for the industry cycle of this kind of media. The word of mouth kind of carries in the mass growth of the industry for a while after the source content stops.

Copyrights/Intellectual Property Rights

Despite how much fan content leads to new fans and ultimately to higher sales of the original source materials, it is always at risk of swift removal and legal repercussions due to copyright which has led to a lot of problems for fan in the field of content creation. This is something that even blog writers, like us at The Anime View, worry about since–at any moment–we could receive a take-down notice or cease-and-desist requests over the use of marketing images released by original publishers.

There are a lot of nuances to copyright laws in the US and abroad, but companies generally seem to avoid taking legal action against big and small creators for the use of images in reviews, summaries, and the like. 

However, fan artists (and I’ll include all fan content creators in the use of that term) are not neccessarily afforded that same leniency, particularly and most often if those fan artists are trying to make money from the creation of such content. 

This is because the content made via fan artists is taking the characters and story (those images and texts) and, in a way, claiming them as the fan-creator’s own, original, creations. 

Even if the fan artists are claiming otherwise by adding disclaimers of fair use and proper ownership of the source materials–the use of such characters in their new works is a sort of theft. 

A theft that intellectual property rights–copyrights–are attempting to prevent. Some market spaces are alright with this sort of use. 

In the international space, particularly in Japan, a lot of creators started off making and selling their own doujinshi. So, to such creators, selling work inspired by their media in Artist Alley or online is overlooked. It is still a potential copyright violation, but one that many are willing to let go of so long as it doesn’t harm the original source material’s image or cause a negative effect the sale of the source materials in the mass market.

However, this sort of excused use is not true of all market spaces. It is especially untrue in the Western market, like here in the US, where we place a lot of significance on plagiarism in academia and copyrights in traditional publishing. 

Rather, what makes some fan content get overlooked here is the invested worth of fighting it.

So, for example, a professor wants to use a textbook but feels like the students shouldn’t have to pay for it. They assign the book and put a free-to-download PDF copy on the school’s website for students to use in their class. 

They are now violating the copyrights of the writer and publisher of that book. The professor may believe that this qualifies as fair use of the document since they plan to have students read it for academic purposes, but it they have distributed this book publicly online, without liscense to do so, and that means that–if brought up in a court of law–the professor would probably lose that fight. 

The publisher sends out several “Cease and Desist” notices to a professor who is sharing a PDF, but the professor ignores the notices. 

The professor is definitely violating copyright, but the cost to fight the professor and the unauthorized distribution in court is going to cost the publisher and author a lot more money than the loss of a few book sales to the handful of students that will read this version. 

Even if you add up the people who google search for a copy, and manage to get the PDF online from the school’s website, it would still not be enough missed sales to warrant the cost of fighting the professor in court for publicly sharing the book.

So, the publishers/liscense holders don’t. 

Information is Key

As mentioned, fan artists are not typically afforded that same leniency of use, particularly and most often, if those artists and fanfiction writers are trying to make money from the creation of such content. 

The reasons as to why this is are varied, but with certainty, I can tell you that many fan artists they can get away with use of copyrighted materials and avoiding legal action by making claims for “Fair Use.”

However, “Fair Use” is difficult to argue in a court of law. This is something that, from a fan content-creating perspective, one should attempt to be aware of, particularly as large websites like AO3 and fight to protect the rights of fan-related content creators in the legal realm. 

“Fair Use”

For those of you who are not yet familiar with Fair Use, here are four factors that make up the concept:

Factor 1: The Purpose and Character of the Use

Factor 2: The Nature of the Copyrighted Work

Factor 3: The Amount or Substantiality of the Portion Used

& Factor 4: The Effect of the Use on the Potential Market for/or Value of the Work

That is a lot of words, and not all of them are very clear, bringing to mind the question: what does this mean to current and future fan content creators?

General Rules of Use

Well, Factor 1, “The Purpose and Character of the Use,” carries the understanding that you can generally be alright if you are using the content for nonprofit, educational purposes. This also applies to works that are transformative in nature, so reviews and critiques, for example. 

Factor 2, “The Nature of the Copyrighted Work” applies to several factors of extenuating circumstances. For example, is the proposed copyrighted material factual in nature or creative? If factual, such as the details of a crime investigation, then the law will probably weigh in favor of fair use because facts about how the investigation was done do not change. Even if four people wrote a book about the same case, one could likely not claim copyright over the presentation of the facts since this would be available and set factors of the case. 

Factor 3, “The Amount or Substantiality of the Portion Used,” Means you cannot use a lot of the original work in your writing. The consensus seems to be that use of under 10% of the original work is fine. For example, lots of YouTubers use only a handful of clips or stills as visual aids to help avoid getting Take-Down notices.

Factor 4, “The Effect of the Use on the Potential Market for/or Value of the Work,”means that what you are making should not have an adverse sales or image effect on the original source. 

Most fan content finds its defense in the transformative use of Factor 1. 

However, just because you can argue fair use does not mean that you are totally protected. Even free-made, non-profit fan artists that try to uphold fair use rules face serious potential risk as a result of copyright violation.

This is why I would like to provide you all with some editorial advice regarding the use of copyrighted works. 

Now, before I continue – I AM NOT A LAWYER, AND THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. THIS IS MY ADVICE FROM AN EDITORIAL/ACADEMIC PERSPECTIVE. I feel like I need to clarify this as I have worked as an editor and often been asked legal questions about the use of copyrighted materials by authors. I can only speak from my experiences, and cannot offer a legal perspective.

Flourishing Artists

To prevent trouble, your best options are to meet the standards of fair use as much as possible, even more so if you are going to try and make an income related to the fan content you’ve produced. 

One way may be to aim for income that is not directly from use of the original source 

For example, crowdfunding your income–meaning tips, Patreon, view counts, etc.

If you want to sell your work directly, as many do, another way to protect yourself would be to try to gain or find permission from the license holder. Essentially, ask for permission to use the source materials in your work. In the US, keep in mind that many times the publisher has claimed the rights of use for the copyrighted work, so you may want to reach out to them for permission too.

Sometimes they will allow it free of charge; sometimes, they’ll ask for a licensing fee; sometimes, they’ll say absolutely not. But, gaining permission in writing is definitely going be the best way to protect yourself as a fan content creator. 


I hope you have enjoyed this short introduction to fans making fans and some other important information! If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend doing some cursory research online as both of these topics are highly interesting fields of study. 

Here are some suggested starting points:

Fan Studies

Defining the Academic Field

Fan Studies Community/Sources

How Some Creators Feel About Fan Content Of Their Work

A short selection of creator commentary on the subject

Publishing/Copyright Holder Perspectives

Fanfiction/Fan Content Legality:

Thomas Jefferson University Library          


Fair Use Explained Wikipedia (not the most academically credible source, but a good summary)

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