Friday, 10 March 2017

What does the future hold for ponyfic?

I am really enjoying The Great War channel on YouTube. Indy Neidell's week-by-week videos are easily the most accessible WW1 stuff I've seen.

Okay, on to the meat of today's post. As you'll see, it's tagged "musing" rather than "essays", as I deliberately haven't made much effort to be comprehensive. This is just a "what's on my mind" post. Off we go!

Our fandom is becoming less active, certainly in terms of publishing fanfics. This is not the cheeriest way to begin a post, but the evidence does seem to point one way. Fimfiction's statistics page tells a pretty clear story: once the site had got up to speed, around the end of Season Two, submissions stayed at a fairly consistent level of around 2,000 a month until the end of S4.

Since then, numbers have fallen to around half that figure, although the decline was at its steepest – perhaps unsurprisingly – during the 11-month hiatus between S4 and S5. Yes, we had Rainbow Rocks to keep us going, but the show itself was away for a long, long time, and that does seem to have made a substantial impression on the number of people submitting fics to Fimf. Some came back, but not all.

More of this rambling after the break!

The breakdown of story ratings tells a (to me) more depressing story: the number of Mature-rated fic submissions has remained steady since the early days, whereas Teen- and Everyone-rated story submissions just keep on declining. In fact, there have now been several weeks – the most recent in early January – when there have been more M-rated than E-rated fics added.

Fimfiction is the only sensible place to publish ponyfics these days. FanFiction.Net is almost ridiculously less pleasant to use, Archive Of Our Own is ugly and ship-obsessed, and publishing via GDocs is just weird now.* That being so, the prospect – even if still a fairly distant one – of Fimfiction becoming basically a clop-and-gore site bothers me.

* I originally mentioned Equestria Daily here too – but as Pascoite points out in the comments, EQD's fanfic section is a showcase, not a hosting site, and so doesn't really fit.

I'm aware that knighty wants to expand Fimfiction into a more general fanfic site.That doesn't seem likely to happen all that soon, though.

Anyone who's been following along will have noticed several big beasts of ponyfic leaving the scene for one reason or another: HoofBitingActionOverload and Obselescence to name but two. Many call time on their ponyfic so they can try their skills with original fiction – in some cases, even to have a go at writing professionally. The Royal Guard has shut up shop, too. More will doubtless follow.

There are also a couple of known unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld would have said. This autumn's movie is the big one: will that bring new blood? I have to be honest and say I'm sceptical, since I suspect most of the new fans will be actual kids rather than new bronies. Besides that spoiler, we also know even less than usual about the next season of the show, given the very thin info on S7 writers.

I think it's time for some optimism. The G4 fanfic scene will never actually die. There are still people out there writing G1 stories, and that generation hasn't had any new canon material since Tales went off the air almost a quarter of a century ago. Presumably there'll be a G4.5 or G5 at some point, too, and who knows how fanfic-friendly that show's setup may prove to be?

The internet being what it is, there'll also always be at least some people discovering Friendship is Magic or Equestria Girls for the first time and wanting to read about it. A minority of those people will also want to write about it. We don't know whether Fimfiction will still exist then, but creativity will find a way. It always does. So the scene will inevitably fade, but not to black.

As for me? I have no intention of going away for a good while yet. I'm still interested in the universe, and in what canon will bring us next. I still have plenty of ideas I'd like to try to turn into words. This blog and Ponyfic Roundup have lots of life left in them. I'm not particularly interested in writing original fiction. Yes, the ponyfic world is shrinking. But I still think it's worth being a citizen.


  1. Interesting musings. I agree the fandom will be around pretty much indefinitely, no matter what. Just look at and see what old properties people are still writing about. I'm also in it for the long haul. I don't know if I'll still be interested in writing ponyfics once the show ends, and of course the bulk of my reviewing duties will go away once Equestria Daily closes down. I've been an avid fan of other things with strong fanrfiction communities before, but this is the first one that actually inspired me to write, and I think the main reason is the vibrant, interesting world and characters. The latter is the key, and there are lots of well-developed ones. That's what baffles me a bit about how big the "Zootopia" (Sorry, you're a Brit. "Zootropolis.") scene is, because there are so few developed characters in it. There are maybe 4 or 5 developed characters in the movie, so you either drive those into the ground or have a fandom heavy on OCs. But I digress. I'm not particularly inspired to write original fiction, either, though I could pretty easily adapt some of my pony words as such. I just don't see feeling motivated to do original fiction, and there's not a ready audience for whatever I write, either, so it's a lot less reward for the same investment.

    Clop. Hm. I'm not surprised so much, because I expect those people to be more attached to what they're writing, and with readership in general declining, more people may be moving to that as a reliable way to keep getting eyes on their stories. Plus the fandom is aging, so people who wouldn't have been comfortable writing clop a few years ago might be okay with it now. I do think some segments of the fandom aren't as accessible to bringing in new fans and the bottom end of the age spectrum, and fanfiction is probably one of the worst. The show in general doesn't seem to be attracting new viewers as well anyway, and it's easier for kids to get into the art and gaming segments, for example, and a lot of the resources, like WRITE and ponychan's review threads, that could help develop new writers have gone away. We had an amazing and, so I hear, unprecedented support structure for new writers back in the S1-S3 days, but it's gone now.

    An aside about ponyfic sites and recommendations—Equestria Daily isn't a ponyfic hosting site. It just spotlights stories that pass a threshold of quality, so it's a different thing from FiMFiction. Yeah, all the stories are pretty much on FiMFic these days, but the point of EqD's fanfiction features is to help you find the good ones. It's not at all a surprise that TRG went under. It lasted longer than I thought it would, but they had an obviously unsustainable process from the start, and I gave the group's founder a little advice on what from my experience the speed bumps would be. For that matter, I don't think FiMFic is doing the Round Robin Reviews anymore, since Seattle's Angels and Paul Asaran are basically the only participants doing regular reviews anymore.

    As another site, I'll add Wattpad. I didn't like them at first, because their site was cumbersome, but they've eased up on it, and stories get a surprising number of views there. Well, they count views differently than FimFic; they total the views of all chapters instead of giving the largest single-chapter view count, so it's doing a ton of double bookkeeping. But the site has improved enough to the point I've considered posting my stuff there, too, especially if it looks like FiMFic will ever shut down.

    1. Thanks very much for the interesting reply! I've edited the post slightly to correct my error regarding EQD. I knew that, of course, but—oh, who am I kidding? It was brainfade. :D

      Just look at and see what old properties people are still writing about.

      Indeed. Out of curiosity, I had a look at the Watership Down section, and found that there'd been 27 new stories posted in the last year. A tiny number compared with MLP, to be sure, but it does show there's still some interest.

      the bulk of my reviewing duties will go away once Equestria Daily closes down

      On the plus side, if you do still retain an interest, you'll have a chance to read stories purely for fun, which I can't imagine you get to do much/any of at the moment.

      The show in general doesn't seem to be attracting new viewers as well anyway

      I wonder whether the demise of the Hub Network has something to do with that. Their advertising and promotion for the show was far more interesting and imaginative than anything Discovery Family has put out. Here in the UK, the last couple of years have brought us free-to-air coverage of the show, but Tiny Pop is very much a kids' channel and I imagine almost all new viewers are from the target demographic.

      We had an amazing and, so I hear, unprecedented support structure for new writers back in the S1-S3 days, but it's gone now.

      A shame, but inevitable, I suppose. I do remember the likes of WRITE, and I wish I'd made more use of them in my early days. I was knocked sideways by my sister's death midway through S3, though, and it took me a long time to feel like full engagement with the fandom again. I don't think I went back to reading and commenting on EQD regularly until about Rainbow Rocks time.

      As another site, I'll add Wattpad.

      Thanks for the reminder! We had a speaker at UK PonyCon last year who wrote there, but the story she read didn't interest me (it was pretty by-the-numbers FlutterCord stuff) and I rather forgot about it. Looking at it again now, Wattpad does rather suffer by comparison with Fimfiction, but then what hosting site doesn't? I might upload something and see how it goes.

    2. One of the things about the show that makes it so engaging yet probably hinders its appeal to new viewers is all the continuity. So many cartoons, even modern ones, can be picked up at any point in the series without losing anything, but I can imagine someone tuning into S6 without having seen MLP before would be missing a lot of context. In the target demo, they're as likely to watch it just because it's colorful animation more than any merits it might possess, but then at least those folks will grow with it and be the next batch of fan content contributors. I hope so, at least. Though with modern television the way it is, is this hypothetical new viewer feels lost, she can easily binge the whole thing on Netflix, so it's not nearly the obstacle it would have been only 10 years ago.

  2. A fascinating post to read, albeit a melancholy one at times. :(

    I have to admit my reaction to the decline is a bit mixed. On the one hand, quantity of stories doesn't bother me too much, and Sturgeon's Law is going to hit whatever numbers come up (unless the number really shrinks, but then statistics and probability become insanely unreliable with a small sample). Thanks to sites like Equestria Daily and the network of reviewers and critics on Fimfiction, I think the quality of the "classics" has improved greatly. If this network continues or grows, I like to think the ambition and scope of the fandom will match it. This subculture at least gives me hope.

    After all, we already have an immense library to be proud of even if we exclude the inevitable 90% of low-quality material. And with enough writers, connectivity, diversification, and adaptability, I think there's a way for the fanfic side of MLP:FiM to not only survive but to positively thrive. Maybe even at least one kind of grand vision or unifying philosophy will give the movement the drive and ambition to outlast the show itself.

    On the other hand, I have an admittedly biased premonition that the show - the backbone of the fandom - has passed its prime. At some point, and unless the plug is pulled, it's going to end up the way The Simpsons did; a way that concludes when you remember the old classics fondly and wish the show would just end so you could continue to remember it even more fondly. As much as the fandom has its own momentum, it's still anchored to the show, and that gloomy future could be a major setback.

    Moreover, the large number of contributors might ironically be an impediment, as so much good material gets lost and Sturgeon's Law makes it harder to rediscover, or to discover at all. Yet without a strong or regular supply of tinkerers, explorers, serendipitous hobbyists, or trendsetters, the fandom could easily shrink, and so too could its potential.

    I'm guessing, of course, and not without some inevitable lopsided thinking. Basically, I think it could go either way, and I'm not sure what kind of future can reliably be extrapolated from the current data. If nothing else, the future of this fandom could be anywhere from a couple of years to several decades, and maybe (if improbably) even longer. I personally want the core attractions of the show to last.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I'm actually more optimistic about the future than it may appear. There's another post in the works talking about the wider fandom's future, and it won't be especially gloomy. It will be looking at things primarily from a British perspective, and so will point up some significant differences from the American fandom.

      unless the number really shrinks

      Though even if it does, it depends who stays on longest. It might be still-committed writers with interesting ideas, it might be people who just write essentially the same clopfic again and again.

      we already have an immense library to be proud of

      Oh, indeed – and as Pascoite mentioned above, even if Fimfiction disappears that doesn't mean the stories themselves have to. Ponyfic will live on somewhere, no matter what. :)

      I have an admittedly biased premonition that the show - the backbone of the fandom - has passed its prime.

      Bearing in mind that I liked S6 more than you did, I'm not sure what I feel on that one. If you'd asked me after S3, I'd have said that we'd already seen the best of MLP – but fast forward two years and S5 provided a number of wonderful episodes. On the other hand, like you I don't want the show to overstay its welcome and peter out sadly. I did say a long time ago that I felt five seasons would be the right length, and we're well past that now. We'll see, I guess.

      the large number of contributors might ironically be an impediment, as so much good material gets lost

      Hence the pressing need for reviewers! :D But I think we'll be all right as long as EQD is around, since it does generally do a good job in picking out stuff worth seeing. (Though why the fandom want to see quite so many Fluttershy Plays... videos is beyond me!) And for writing in particular, Fimfiction as well.

      the future of this fandom could be anywhere from a couple of years to several decades, and maybe (if improbably) even longer

      I think that depends how you define "fandom", which is a case of ask ten people and you'll get eleven answers. There's actually a UK-specific dimension here as well, which I'll cover when I write that post I mentioned.

  3. I can't help but wonder what the effect will be when the current target demographic gets old enough to register on Fimfic and some of them start writing.

    1. I've thought about that – and I touched on it when I mentioned the movie – but I'm sceptical that it will have a significant effect. Not many of the long-term active writers in the fandom now were kids in 2010. We generally started as teens or adults, and were bronies from the start.

    2. Just remember, we're in the process of actively ruining these peoples' childhoods! :V