This Site Owner's Perspective on the Whole LotRFF Debacle
I've registered my distaste with fandom-for-profit before, but as several folks have pointed out, one of the skeevier aspects of the whole LotRFF ownership change is that the site was established and maintained for many years as a not-for-profit site, and authors chose to post their work there under those terms. There are certainly fanfic sites that include ads--fanfiction.net probably being the most prominent example--but those sites have always been run in that way, and authors choose to post their work there, or not, depending on their comfort level with the site owners collecting ad revenues to support the site's upkeep and possible profit. Even Fanlib, for all its ickiness, made clear at the get-go their intentions at making a profit from the site, and fans voted with their feet, and as a result, Fanlib went the way of the dodo.
Of course, this isn't an option for the writers who have archived their work on LotRFF and are no longer active in the fandom, for whatever reason, and whose work is now going to make a profit for an unsavory fandom outsider.
Nor does it help those who have made this site their home over the years, who have spent their time posting their work and reviewing the work of other writers, or who have volunteered their time trying to build a website into a community; those who now find that community something very different than what they worked to build. In talking to members of the SWG over the years, sometimes they tell me that the SWG is their online home. Home. I find that a very telling choice of words. Home doesn't mean that you like everything or everyone between your four virtual walls. But you go there knowing what to expect. I feel terrible for those who discovered, without warning and overnight, that they had lost their online home.
Of course, the new owner, Keith Mander, is trying to sell himself and the change as something good for the members of the site. Everything from his offer to "chat" with site users to his chummy-and-grammatically-incorrect "I'll post more information about the plans real soon" has all the big-toothed, greasy-smiled appeal of a used-car salesman who tosses an arm over the shoulders of the customers he's about to fleece. Reminds me of the slipperiness of the early communications with the Fanlib people (who, ironically, initially showed their darker intentions on LotRFF).
Naturally, I bring my perspective as a site owner myself to this whole thing. Firstly, I will say that I do understand the pressures--financial and emotional--of running a fandom archive. Because the SWG is a rather niche community, for me, this has always been less a financial issue than one of time and energy. (And my comods are amazing women who have helped to keep me and the SWG afloat these past few months of RL craziness.) Certainly, I can understand why sites like HASA with operating costs of several hundred dollars each month--many times more than what I pay for a year of hosting the SWG--ask for donations or even host ads on the site. Yes, there are honestly times when the easiest thing to do would be to give up the whole endeavor. So I do not know and do not mean to judge the LotRFF owner for her choice to hand over the reins to a new owner.
But a couple of things bug me. First is that, from all reports I've heard to this point, neither the current nor former owner are responding to requests to delete accounts. This is bad news. I've had very few requests for account deletions on the SWG over the years, but when I receive one, I do it immediately, no questions asked. It really is a basic issue of trust that a site owner respect an author's right not to have her name associated with a site she's no longer interested in supporting.
Secondly is that I've heard from at least one site moderator saying that she was as clueless as everyone else about the change. Again, bad news. A site owner, of course, gets the final say on what happens on her site, even if (like the SWG) she typically requires a majority of moderators to agree on something before it becomes official. But comoderators--people who have devoted dozens or even hundreds of hours to helping build a site and grow a community--provide perspective that the owner may not always have. I can say that input from my SWG comods has nixed ideas that wouldn't work, brought to life ideas I never would have thought of myself (the Season of Writing Dangerously is a perfect example of that!), and turned scattered sparks of inspiration into something actually workable. Good comods tell you when you have egg all over your face before you stand in front of your members and tell them that ... you've just sold the site out from under them? That the moderators seem to have not been involved in any way in this troubles me and bodes poorly for Mander's intentions of maintaining a fan-friendly community. (Especially since Mander is an outsider who would likely learn much from consulting site moderators.)
I find myself very grateful that my LotRFF account was one of the accounts lost when they had that data loss a few years back. I'm really sorry to all who find the equivalent of their fandom living room has been turned into a sleazy casino. The SWG and Many Paths to Tread remain an open door for any and all who are interested.
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!