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Web3 is pushing fans to be the new creators

On TikTok I follow this great account run by a woman called Coco Mocoe (close to 900k followers). Coco is a trend predictor, talent scout and data analyst and her videos are set up in a super clever format usually starting with the title “what I predict will happen, a year from now…” and cover topics like ‘influencer culture’, ‘the music industry’ and ‘TikTok engagement’. She is so forward thinking and often her thoughts juxtapose current trends as she uses data to look at the past – usually depicting a pendulum swing in culture – to predict the near future. 

One topic I haven’t seen her cover, however, is Web3 which is what inspired me to write this article. Web3 is one of the most exciting but frustrating areas to predict. Unlike TikTok and social media there really isn’t a past – nor in some ways a present as we sit in a Web2.5 limbo- to base predictions off.  

In the world of Web3 we are seeing a re-imagining of fandom: the blurring of lines between fan and creator, between canon and “fanon,” and how fan labour is funded and rewarded. 

This trend is best encapsulated by two major shifts: 

  • The divide between fans and creators is disappearing. Fans are exerting significant influence or even co-creating the original work (casting into question what “original” even means)
  • Fans are employing new business models & funding sources to create derivative projects, where previously these had been nonexistent

The end result is an expansion of what creativity on the internet can look like, with greater access, financial upside, collaboration, and fulfilment. This is what the Web3 community means when we talk about decentralisation – a common buzzword in Twitter spaces. 

What’s so special about Web3 and artist NFTs is that creators are recognizing that fans have value to add to the creative process, and making their works more permissive for derivative usage from the start. For example, releasing rare visuals to songs or specific parts from songs that offer royalty percentages and/or other benefits upon purchase. 

Many creators are also producing NFTs which enable holders to vote on and influence the plot of each subsequent NFT (this could be chapters in a film or book or future music single releases), earning tokens that represent a share in the final product. That tight coupling of fan feedback into the creative process erodes the distinction between fan vs. creator.

A great example is Jenkins the Valet, a Bored Ape NFT that was named and conceived of by its owner, Tally Labs. Jenkins’ entire persona can be thought of as an extended fanfic — but one that has become so prominent that it has been signed to CAA and is now the basis of entirely new worlds and roadmaps. Shared IP ownership has resulted in a single derivative work of BAYC sparking a new creative universe.

In the Web1 and Web2 worlds and even prior to the web area in general, fanworks sat historically in a legal grey area with respect to monetisation due to copyright law. Since they’re using content and characters from copyrighted works, most fanfic creators have been relegated to hobbyists creating without a business model. Various initiatives have attempted to address this — like Amazon’s Kindle Worlds — but come with their own limitations.

In web3 creative projects, underlying ownership of tokens gives fans a built-in business model and incentivizes derivative creation. In contrast to web2 fans doing work for free, in web3, fan-owners have exposure to the success of their labour through tokens: as the digitally scarce thing they hold becomes more well-known, its value increases. By propagating Jenkins the Valet through additional media projects, the price of the Jenkins NFT (and other NFTs in the BAYC universe) grows, allowing both fans and original creators to capture value. 

For those still struggling to grasp the concept, imagine if J. K. Rowling was to take some of her earnings to fund fanfiction authors that were using her characters — unheard of in the traditional media world. The theory is that underlying scarcity of the original collection of NFTs can allow it to capture value with growing recognition and popularity of their character universe.

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