FurAffinity’s new ownership makes a turning point. Should fans fear commercialization?
by Patch O'Furr
A comment from 8Chan:
The furry community is loaded with cash compared to other niche internet communities and it’s been exploding in popularity over the last decade. Nowadays it’s becoming more apparent with kickstarter and patreon making the figures public and internet companies are starting to move in on their turf to get a cut before it really goes mainstream.
And for those doubting that it’s about to enter the mainstream just wait until “Zootopia” from Disney comes out in 2016. Even Marvel giving prominent roles to a furry character in their recent major Hollywood movie would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, people who study the furry phenomenon are expecting it to explode soon. Universities and marketing groups are preforming surveys and studies on the fandom, this is considered a legitimate field of study.
A series of three articles:
- About the FurAffinity sale, and the issue of trade-offs.
- IMVU does a Q&A with me.
- Community > Commodity, and the Value of WTF. Long live furries.
It’s silly to throw sooper-serious ideas at a fun hobby… but indulge me. Keep these terms in mind:
- Tribal subculture: modern micro-groups who gather around interests that cut across social categories. (Like heavy metal, or magic ponies.)
- “Big Furry”: Big Business has power like the government. Fans seem to run themselves (but who runs the Strategic Knot Reserve?)
- “Fursploitation”: Trashy exploitation movies pushed limits. They empowered overlooked audiences. In the 70’s they had funk and afros. (Now fursuits?)
- Disneyfication: New York’s Mayor Giuliani took credit for cleaning trash, crime and porn out of Times Square in the 90’s. (But that was the reason to go!)
- Gentrification: The displacement of culture by moneyed interests. (Like people who can afford better fursuits than yours.)
The conclusion brings it all back to commercialization. I’ve reporting this for a while: Measuring the Furry Economy. – Mainstream advertising: “More and more, Furries are being hinted at in marketing media!” – And the recent $11,575 record fursuit sale and $17,500 top price. Also try: Furry, not an obscure little fandom any more.
I often say that the thriving growth of this subculture is built on awesome WTF weirdness that can’t be digested by the mainstream. Will that stay true?
1) The FurAffinity Sale and trade-offs.
Can you have freedom and stability at the same time? Would you trade something you own, for something that works better? Would you rather rent a place, instead of owning it with responsibility to maintain it? Will the new landlords fix the broken windows, or evict you and turn it into a casino? That’s a fear going around, real or not. Fans seem sensitive to a problematic past and uncertain future for their biggest hub, FurAffinity. New owners IMVU say they will be hands-off to let the site run itself. I’m curious to see how they present their intentions, in their answers to my Q&A for Part 2.
Flayrah reported all the key info about the sale (so I don’t have to.) Get the story here, and don’t miss great insights in the comments.
(Details to add: Dragoneer got heat for taking months to announce the sale, but public reception does take major effort to prepare. He supposedly advertised for venture capital a while ago. Reddit gave business sense about IMVU’s $55 million worth, and how the sale may have balanced debts to run the site rather than being a big pay day.)
In January, I reported IMVU’s appearance at Fur Con. The timing was interesting because now we know the sale happened. A few haters called me a sucker for reporting it. That’s not fair: It made a contact and record of what they were doing that proves valuable now. I purposely didn’t endorse their product, and held back opinion for readers to make. The reason it was news was in the first line – few companies have treated Furries as a real audience before.
Greenreaper had his finger on the pulse all the way back in 2006, when he noticed overtures by IMVU. This week, he told me:
I’m a little surprised that Dragoneer managed to swing such a deal. But not much, because I hear money is just washing around in Silicon Valley right now (as usual), and clearly IMVU needs to do something to encourage growth – plus it was probably relatively cheap, all things considered. (Even if there wasn’t all that much “goodwill” involved.)
“Going corporate” was the most feasible solution to FA’s ongoing problems – I said to Dragoneer myself, not too long ago, that FA needed to bite the bullet and hire people. I don’t think it’s a perfect match; but if they just put a bunch of ads on the site and nag about people getting premium subscriptions, it could be worse.
Heck, he even managed to turn running a furry website into a paid full-time job. Which is how a lot of acquisitions go, although they usually don’t work out so well for either the acquired site/product or the employee. For the sake of the community, I hope it does work.
I asked to share that, and he added:
For what it’s worth, IMVU has some interesting reviews. They sure have a lot of engineers on LinkedIn, past and present. As for revenue, one mentioned that background music licensing was users’ second-biggest use of purchased credits, so it’s not just people buying possibly-pirated art to hang on their walls. (Or, let’s be honest, naked avatars to lounge around in.)
Problems? What problems? Read Greenreaper’s linked comments and see what you think.
FurAffinity’s shaky operation was a topic forever. When there was drama, I always said that if people wanted change, they needed to PAY FOR IT. The fact that many volunteer fan-sites haven’t compelled users to switch, is a clue that better operation needs to be someone’s real job. That was in my comments on a previous topic about Furaffinity problems:
… there’s one thing more fundamental than others, that doesn’t allow alternatives to ad-hoc organizations, that are mostly vanity projects served by loose commitment at best. It’s barriers to real business organization.
One barrier stood out before leadership. It was the stigma of adult content, but limit-pushing freedom that comes with it. Would the site be more sellable if it was restricted? Did supporting it say something about Dragoneer’s allegience?
No organization is ideal- collab and volunteer projects and hippie collectives are full of trade offs. People work with “who you know” if they can’t buy “the best”. Big business is all about efficiency but sucks for culture. Group volunteerism craps out whatever it can get done, the way people want (who wants to scrub toilets or take out the trash?) It calls for low expectations, but keeping high aspirations. With the right chemistry fans can make magic.
Management wasn’t the only problem. Fan ownership wasn’t necessarily the solution. And complaints weren’t exactly free from hints of entitlement.
Who else stepped up with solid funding… with a real business model to keep it going? IMVU isn’t just taking a step in business nobody has done before – you could call it something of a bold PR risk, and a situation where keeping users happy can be literally “herding cats”. If they truly allow artists to keep doing what they want, shouldn’t users be grateful for their risk?
TL;DR: The sky isn’t falling.
- FurAffinity wasn’t working like a real business or job. You get what you pay for.
- You can criticize Dragoneer’s previous management, but then ask: would you depend on charity from someone you didn’t trust?
- Whatever the intentions of the new owners, if it’s a choice between two evils – at least this one has good resources.
- If the site sinks in a whirlpool of ads, there’s plenty of alternatives waiting to take refugees.
I may be wrong about some of this. For example, I don’t know a lot about hidden ownership of the huge adult media industry by mainstream companies (perhaps making the sale less unusual). The WTF fringe of furry art is hardly related to anything mainstream even in adult media, though.
Call it a moot argument, because the FurAffinity site doesn’t really matter. The fans do. If the new owners manage it well, that’s good for fans. If they don’t, that’s good for other fan sites.
I say don’t fear; let IMVU have a license to fail. Maybe you’ll just get a better site.
Quick impressions of IMVU as a company.
Along with interesting reviews about them shared by Greenreaper:
A Q&A with CEO Brett Durrett was just posted on FurAffinity. He promises:
We really believe that FA knows what is best for the FA community, so we have committed support both financially and through other resources. We want to let it run independently and see it thrive.
Does his opinion here say something positive about the company’s culture?
Foster creativity by giving employees legal ownership of their side projects! http://t.co/Q2HuplGzH0— Brett "votes by mail" Durrett (@bdurrett) June 7, 2014
He just posted this about IMVU’s ad technology partner: