Hello again, everyone. June was a long and annoying month, during which I was unable to type for several weeks. Fortunately, after surgery to put a plate and screw in, I have the use of my left hand again, and I can appreciate the ability to type like I never could before. (Sweet, sweet WPM.)
For my first post of July, I am going to take a look at a fan-phenomenon that has been sweeping the Internet over the last few months, and suggest some lessons that e-book publishers ought to take from it, and some ways that those behind the phenomenon could themselves benefit from e-books. That phenomenon, as you have undoubtedly already guessed from the subject line and image, is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Ostensibly a show meant for little girls, Friendship is Magic began gaining a greater following late last year after a cartoon blog posted a grumpy article about how showrunner Lauren Faust, who had previously worked on Power Puff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, was selling out by doing a half-hour advertisement show for a toy company. Someone linked this article in a post on Internet meme and cat macro factory website 4chan, and a number of the 4chan regulars decided to watch the show so they could laugh at how bad it was.
However, to everyone’s surprise (even, perhaps, Lauren Faust’s), the show turned out to be good enough to charm so many 4chan regulars that pony discussion all but took over the forum, and eventually 4chan’s administrators tried (unsuccessfully) to ban pony discussion outright. (For anyone who knows anything about what kind of place 4chan is, for so many of its regulars to go head-over-heels for a show about pastel-colored ponies is an unexpected development, to say the least.) In retrospect, given Lauren Faust’s writing chops, and her desire to make a girls’ cartoon that would be at least tolerable for the girls’ parents to watch with them without succumbing to the saccharine seen in girls’ shows of her era, perhaps the only really surprising thing is that it worked so much better than she had hoped.
From there, the meme spread to the rest of the Internet (as do so many memes launched on 4chan), and now it appears that the biggest demographic watching the show is 17- to 24-year-old males (though these are by no means the oldest members of the show’s non-traditional fan community). These non-traditional fans have adopted the fan community nickname “bronies” (for “bro ponies”, though the nickname has been adopted by female fans as well), and have been attracting astonished or bemused attention in various news sources and blogs.
(The fact that older men like the show has gotten so much coverage that at least one feminist has lamented that the news coverage focuses on men to the exclusion of women—frequently, female bronies are heard to grumble that women enjoy the show as well, thank you very much. But it’s really not so strange that news outlets would choose to focus on the most surprising, “man bites dog” aspect of the story, because the idea that older men can love a little girls’ show seems to strike at the heart of everything we “know” about gender socialization.)
There are quite a lot of these fans, too. One of the most popular Friendship is Magic fan blogs, Equestria Daily, was started in January and will have reached over 15,000,000 page views by the time this article is posted. At this point, it is adding another million hits every few days.
And Hasbro has, to some fans’ surprise, been quick to embrace this fan community—in little ways, such as by not demanding that videos of all 26 episodes be pulled down from YouTube (they’ve been there for months), and in larger ways such as by mentioning some fan-coined terms like “bronies” in a TV promotional spot (which was set to a parody of a song far too raunchy for the show’s little-girl target audience to have heard).
Although Hasbro’s My Little Pony toy line is aimed at little girls, the company is starting to license merchandise suitable for older fans. Rather than trying to refocus tighter on the little-girl audience to the exclusion of the “brony” demographic, Hasbro seems to be saying, “We’re surprised, but we’re glad you like what we’re doing and we’re going to try to cater to you, too.”
Though looking at it cynically, perhaps it’s not as big a surprise as it seems: bronies do have more disposable income than little girls, and no company in its right mind is going to turn down an unexpected crowd of people who come up and say, “Please let us give you our money.”
Except…funny thing, that’s just what the publishing industry has been doing, to fans who want to buy e-books in areas where they aren’t available. I’ve harped on geographic restrictions enough already that I’m not going to go into it in great detail here, but isn’t it remarkable to see a company who actually gets that a non-traditional audience is something to be nurtured and supported?
But lest it seem like I’m just reaching for reasons to write about some non-e-book-related subject on an e-book blog, the brony craze has a bigger connection to e-books than that, in the form of a thriving fanfic-writing community. We humans are hardwired with the impulse to create our own stories about the stories we see, and this show is by no means an exception.
A lot of Friendship is Magic fanfic-writers (myself included) post their works to Fanfiction.net—including some long, multi-chapter epics that are fully e-novels in their own right. And thanks to the fanfiction downloader web app (which I previously wrote about here), syncing any of these works to an e-book reader need only take a few seconds.
As with any self-published e-books, there is plenty of dross—but there is also an amazing amount of really good stuff. Which is good, because bronies still need ways to get their pony fix in the several months before season 2 comes out. And even when there are more episodes to watch, the non-arc-based story format of the show (Hasbro wants something that can be shown in any order) limits the length and intricacy of “official” stories that can be told. On the other hand, novel-length fanfics such as Moonbeam or Half the Day is Night can show how the characters might act if they could be given a longer story.
Though it’s never going to happen, in a perfect world I think Hasbro should take some notice of these fanfic writers. The company should cherrypick the best works and offer their writers a tie-in novel publishing deal: professional editing, publication, and royalties. It’s a win-win situation: the fans get recognition and money, and Hasbro gets more tie-in merchandise whose covers can serve to promote the show (and hence the toys).
Of course, the fly in the ointment is the legal reason that authors and companies have to refuse to have anything to do with fanfic now—the fear that some fanfic writer might sue them for using similar ideas to those used in the story. If Hasbro were to consider publishing fanfics, and should down the road coincidentally use some similar idea to something in one of the rejected titles, the company might be open to legal action. But perhaps Hasbro could get around this problem by contracting the selection process out to some outside company that has nothing to do with the show’s production process, and not looking at any fanfics apart from those actually selected for publication (which would include licensing rights to use ideas from it in the show as a condition of the publishing contract).
At any rate, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a great cartoon, suitable for all ages and both genders whether you’re inclined to buy any of the toys or not. It has a thriving fan community and fanfic writing community of which it is fun to be a part. And it has plenty of great fan-written e-book material to extend enjoyment of the show after the episodes are over. Traditional e-book publishers could learn a lesson about expanding their market from the way Hasbro has moved to embrace brony fandom, but it would be nice if Hasbro would find a way to publish some of those fan works itself.
i luv you mlp fim
I just found this article. It is now 2012 and we still don’t have actual adult novels of My Little Pony for sale in ebook or hardcover. The novel “Past Sins” has been published in hardcover by fans using POD services but the author doesn’t get paid for his hard work that way. I find this situation very frustrating. Hasbro needs to take notice of the author community and start granting licenses. Kkat just finished the EPIC “Fallout: Equestria” which weighs in at over 2000 pages. Unfortunately that masterpiece of story telling has two licenses that it has to get, one from Hasbro and one from the IP holder of Fallout. I think that Fan Fic should be watched more closely by the publishing industry now that we are seeing pro quality books being produced.