Fandom and the economy: How passion = profit, but who’s fronting the cost?

Written by

Rosie Aiston

Published on

June 27, 2024
Time to read: 4 minutes

If you’ve tried to grab a drink at The Black Dog in Vauxhall recently, then I am sure you are more than aware that Taylor Swift’s power knows no bounds, as the pub has been inundated with Swifties, following its mention on Taylor’s most recent album. The pub itself was incredibly happy with the business, even adding Taylor Swift themed items to its menu. They expect to be even busier now that The Eras Tour is hitting the UK.

The Black Dog is just a very small piece of a very large pie when it comes to potential profits made by Swift’s Eras Tour, which is estimated to bring an additional £1 billion to the UK economy. This potential economic impact has even been given its own name – Swiftonomics – and demonstrates “how a high-profile artist with her unique influence and business decisions can create substantial economic ripple effects.” 

Whilst this kind of money will have astronomically positive impacts on the UK economy (and indeed on Swift’s own personal earnings), it relies on fans who are willing to spend the money, and it’s estimated that over the UK leg of Taylor’s tour, each fan will spend on average £848.

This begs the question of: how accessible it is to really be a superfan in a modern age? 

Superfandom is something that we at Hook are fascinated by.  Last year we hosted a panel at the Children’s Media Conference about the power of young superfandom, and the important place that this can hold in young people’s lives. However, childrens worlds are small places, and at the age of 7 or 8 you are likely to be content with any merchandise made available to you, whether that’s one item or ten. 

However, as these young superfans turn into teenagers, their worlds expand and social media begins to infiltrate their lives. This is when the expectation of spending money to keep up with peers becomes ever prevalent, and this is no different in fan communities. Young people feel the need to buy everything related to their fandom, partially to support the person or brand that they love, but also so they can brandish these wares and highlight how this fandom is a part of their own identity. And this isn’t something that leaves fans in the younger years of their life, it tends to follow them into adulthood. 

The issue is that now brands and stars are aware of this, there is a growing tendency to release masses of merchandise, which can lead to the encouragement of overconsumption within fan communities. Taylor Swift has been criticised for creating a consumer culture amongst her fans, with her most recent album being no different. Swift has released four different versions of her album, all which need to be purchased separately in order to gain additional tracks. Is this necessary? No. Will fans spend large amounts of money to ensure they have every version available to them? Absolutely they will. 

Taylor Swift’s merchandise stand at her Eras Tour.

Beyond the issue of overconsumption, and the expectation of fans to spend money on their favourite stars, the avid fan communities that exist online have also raised the issue around the free labour that fans carry out for their faves. Stylist recently published an article about superfans who have been able to make a career out of their celebrity obsessions. These careers emerged from fan accounts created on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter), that over time has resulted in profits for the fan in question. 

However, first and foremost, these accounts were made as a way for fans to express their support for the star in question, and require hours of work, over several years, before the account owner could make a single penny. For example, one account mentioned in the article details how Sam, now 23, created his Beyoncé fan account at the age of 14, and during the Renaissance World Tour, he would often stay up until the early hours of the morning waiting for pictures to drop. Sam even sold over £250K worth of tour tickets through his affiliate links, seeing £7K in profit from this.

The work and dedication behind these fan accounts are no joke, and neither is the impact that they are making. Lauren Beeching, founder of social media and crisis management agency Honest London was quoted as saying “online fan accounts are now responsible for significantly amplifying the reach of celebrities, keeping them constantly in the public eye and maintaining their relevance to younger audiences. They’re like unofficial social media or marketing managers for their favourite artists.” The word ‘unofficial’ is important here, as whilst a select few like Sam can profit from their fan accounts, many put in hours of work with no financial benefit. Whilst it is of course their choice to do this, stars could not exist (or profit) in the same way without them, so is this creating positive fan communities, or exploitative free labour?

Ultimately, fan communities at their core, exist because people have found something or someone that they love and want to support. And that is certainly something that should be celebrated, especially when 80% of consumers say that being part of a fandom brings them joy. These fandoms are also very much here to stay – 56% of those in a fandom say they have been in one for over a decade and 63% have said they are unlikely to stop supporting the thing they love. However, as we look towards a future where sustainability is (hopefully) becoming more of a priority for many, it is important to recognise the way that celebrities encourage over consumption, and profit from free labour, which maybe we as a society, shouldn’t be such fans of?

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