Once upon a time in the Dot-Com Boom people planned to make a lot of money selling things on the internet. Those not named Jeff Bezos largely failed. The speculative bubble reached its limit on March 10, 2000 as the NASDAQ hit 5132.52. Values soon plummeted, hitting bottom in 2001. Nobody recognized right away when the market entered its fatal decline. Not even the founder of Fandom.com, Mark Young, who had once been Vice-President of Sales and Trading at Morgan Stanley.
Young established Fandom.com in 1999 as an e-commerce website with a catalog of 7,000 genre products, staffed by customer service representatives who knew the merchandise intimately. Young aimed to take fannish consumers away from poorly-stocked brick-and-mortar stores run by unspecialized clerks.
Trufans naturally found the idea of Fandom.com just as disgusting as WSFS Inc.. They turned up their noses at the firm’s patronizing publicity:
“Fandom’s core audience is comprised mainly of well-educated, affluent, early adapters who demonstrate a passion and loyalty for science fiction, horror and fantasy entertainment similar to that of sports fans,” said Chip Meyers, president of Fandom. “They are fervent consumers and represent a lucrative e-commerce opportunity since they have the willingness and discretionary income to indulge their passions.”
The “president of Fandom” no less!
Harry Warner Jr., declared himself immune to the whole idea — despite living in a house stuffed with his own science fiction collection. (It consisted of actual science fiction, however, not Batman and Robin bobbleheads):
I see I’m not a member of fandom’s core audience as described in the Fandom.com press release. I’m not affluent. I’m not well-educated if the release referred to college experience, and I’m not an “early adapter” if that means people who jump on the bandwagon to be the first to change from something satisfactory to something that is less satisfactory but newer. I’m too tired to be fervent about anything and I don’t have enough passions to indulge.
When Joseph T. Major browsed Fandom.com to test the faannishness of its search engine, it failed.
I entered ‘Chicon’ and got….nothing. Then I entered ‘Heinlein’ and got…nothing. However, had I been interested in comics, or movies, it would have been quite a different matter. It looks as if someone knows where the money is.
Or so everyone believed. Fandom.com was an immediate hit in the takes-money-to-lose-money world of securities attorneys blissfully unaware that NASDAQ had already figuratively struck the iceberg. Lawyers paid $35 a head to get into the Caltech/MIT Enterprise Forum on May 16, 2000 and listen to a discussion of “the evolution of Fandom.com, an early-stage new media venture, including its financing activities” delivered by Chip Meyers, Chairman of the Board of Fandom, Inc., “the number one information resource and commerce web site for fanatics of science fiction, fantasy and horror entertainment.”
In fact, Fandom.com spent the rest of the year 2000 empire-building, confident another multi-million dollar infusion of debt was on the way. It bought the company that published Cinescape and owned Cinescape.com. In December, Fandom.com bought Creation Entertainment, which had produced over a thousand gate shows since its founding in 1971, and had its own licensed merchandise based on “Star Trek,” “The Sopranos,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Farscape,” “Charmed” and “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
“With the acquisition of Creation Entertainment, we will bring our audience an exciting new dimension to the Fandom experience,” Mark Young said. Gary Berman of Creation Entertainment agreed, “Fandom and Creation are a perfect match because our products and services appeal to the same passionate demographic, which has the power to make and extend the life of hit properties.”
Extending the life of hit properties also required ending the life of competing marketers, if possible. Fandom.com’s attorneys, Troop, Steuber, Pasich, Reddick and Tobey, sent a letter to Carol Burrell, owner of the Fandom.tv site demanding the “unconditional surrender and transfer of the Infringing Domain Name.” They also accused her of violating the Anti-Cybersquatting Act, punishable by fines up to $100,000 per domain name. But just to show there were no hard feelings they threw her a bone, offering to pay $250 if she agreed to abandon the domain name immediately. Burrell successfully fought their efforts to take away her Fandom.tv domain name.
By then Mark Young had enjoyed his last hurrah. His company was sinking rapidly. He was tossed overboard in January 2001 and Debra Streicker-Fine became Fandom.com’s new CEO. She had been working as an advisor to the company during its expansion phase and now was expected to move the company to profitability. Instead, she presided over its demise.
Streicker-Fine announced on April 2, 2001 that the company was shutting down its online operations. Fandom.com filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creation Entertainment, acquired by Fandom only four months earlier, was sold back to its founders Gary Berman and Adam Malin. Cinescape Magazine and the website Cinescape.com were taken over by Mania Entertainment – the magazine lasted three more years, while the domain name now just points to another Mania site.
In the end, those who simply wanted to see a bullying economic monolith go out of business were more pleased than eofans who harkened back to a fan culture where any attempt to exploit fandom as a money-making enterprise was anathema. The demise of Fandom.com merely opened the way for others to run the same kind of business in a slicker, nicer way.
[Thanks to Michael J. Walsh for giving me an excuse to write the story…]