Fan Fiction Defense

  Alternate Universes


How much fan fiction is there on the web? How many fans? Who are they?

Good questions! Here are some attempts at answers.

By far the largest fan fiction archive is fanfiction.net. FFN passed half a million items in the summer of 2002, and I expect it to pass one million in the summer of 2003. Details are on my Fanfiction.net Statistics page.

For a paper on the early history of Star Trek fan fiction, I've tried to estimate the sex ratio in science fiction zine publishing during the 1960s, and the sex ratio in early Trek zine fandom:

SF Fanzine Publishers of the 1960s: about 17% female

Star Trek Zine Fans: 1967-71: about 83% female

I wonder why? If you have any ideas, email me or post to the Fanfic Critics Association or to Fanthropology.

I am also looking for attendence numbers for the early Trek cons, and sex ratio at cons for Trek or science fiction.

I gave a paper on The Fan Fiction Universe: Some Statistical Approaches at the Carnegie Mellon conference, One Hundred Years of Mass Culture, September 30, 2000.

How much fan fiction is there?

One way to address this is to look at the major fanfic archives, the sum of which is a lower bound on the total amount of fanfic.

The first time I did this survey, in June 2000, I came up with a total of more than 80,000 stories and estimated that there were at least 250,000 pieces of fanfic online. By late September 2000 my total was over 130,000 stories, so I figured 500,000 stories is a deeply conservative estimate for the total at the time. Probably the true total then was more like one million. Staggering, eh?

Which source material (series, movie, comic, etc.) do fans use most?

To estimate the relative abundances of various fandoms, I have looked at sites listed on Karen Nicholas' "Fan Fiction on the Net" site. Karen's site is of course incomplete, but it is the most comprehensive set of fanfic links in cyberspace. Here are links to tables of data sorted in various ways:

Data as of 10/22/99:

alphabetical by fandom
ranked by gen popularity
ranked by slash popularity

Because Nicholas' "TV, etc." (assumed equivalent to gen), "slash", and "adult" categories can overlap, simply summing the numbers of sites won't do. These figures just give a rough basis for comparison -- a start, at least.

Summary: The shows with the most general fanfic sites at this time were: X-Files; Star Trek (led by Voyager); then a closely ranked group of Highlander, General Hospital, Xena, Buffy; then another rank of The Sentinel, Babylon 5, and Forever Knight. It is very striking that GH is the only fanfic-heavy show that is not fantasy or science fiction. I am eager to hear from anyone with an idea of what sets GH apart from other soap operas in the fanfic realm.

In the slash rankings, Sentinel, Highlander, and Xena were the leaders -- all shows with (apparently) much more slash than gen -- then X-Files and Star Trek, then a substantial gap to reach Due South, Hercules, and Star Wars. When I talked about these data at Friscon 1999 I called DS a highly-popular show that has no fantastic element, and the audience burst into laughter. They then informed me that a distinctively-uniformed man with a deaf, lip-reading wolf counts as a superhero. That being the case, The Professionals and Homicide: Life on the Street are the most popular non-fantastic shows.

It appears from these statistics that very roughly half of the fanfic sites on the Web include slash. I think that is likely to be an overestimate.

Googling for fanfic

When it became clear that Karen Nicholas' site was not being updated and was probably not going to be updated for a long time or maybe ever, I decided to collect comparative data from a source stable enough to do longitudinal studies. I picked Google!. Data as of 9/26/00:

fandoms with more than 1000 hits
fandoms with more than 200 slash hits
all other fandoms I searched

My paper, The Fan Fiction Universe, discusses a few of the patterns in this data, especially the explosive growth of anime/manga/game fandoms, music group fandoms, and Harry Potter.

I originally planned to re-run these searches, to collect data over time. But there are some problems.


by Mary Ellen, "Doctor Science, MA"


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updated March 17, 2003

all material on these pages copyright 1999-2002 Mary Ellen Curtin, except where otherwise noted