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Thoughts on measuring the "furry economy”

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Fuchston the fox and Mochi in the CaliFur Dealers Den, by OmiSurveying furries for psych and demographic research is a well established interest. Canada recently gave out a $75,000 grant for it. But has anyone ever tried to measure the "furry economy"? I'm talking about spending by fans, companies and creators that serve them, and markets for their work.

I think the data could make interesting news, help creators and professionals, and it already has notable indicators calling for attention. Consider the strong growth in con attendance for over a decade, and the Furry interest that brought surprise success to adult crowdfunding site Offbeatr. I'm drawn to furry by fursuiting, and I've noticed a leap in quality over time that shows development of that specialized craft. On the other hand, some have seen a big decline in spending at con art shows that points to changing times. In the interest of informing the "Furrysphere" (is it a hairball?), here's a few thoughts on measuring the "furry economy".

Treat this as a sketchy list of ideas from someone who has nothing to do with real research.

Who: Fans and creators

  • The total size of furry fandom
  • Timeline and growth of furry fandom from the 80's to now
  • Comparison to other fandoms (size, growth and longevity)
  • Demographics- what do they say about spending?
  • Who are the active core fans, peripheral or overlap groups, or those “loved by” but not part of Furry?
  • Fan participation levels: high amount of creating, not just consuming
  • Audiences- casual vs. cult devotion
  • Prominent creators, “furry celebrities” and their audiences
  • Who has furry fandom launched into mainstream success, and do they claim it or not?
  • Definitions are difficult. (Capital-F Furry vs. general anthropomorphism.) Give credit for influence, but don't be over-inclusive for actual data, so it doesn't get diluted.

The industry of fandom

  • Cons and their growth- the reason organized furry fandom started.
  • The size of the “furry industry”: there's a handful of big fish in a small pond, some small indie businesses with a few employees, partnerships, and many self-employed creators. (Are the biggest presences worth six figures, like Anthrocon's $450,000 budget?)
  • Creators making a living from love, "the Long Tail" and “1000 true fans”
  • Business and Nonprofit are loose goals on a personal level. Fans do it for socializing and creativity as much as profit or charity.
  • The power of fandom: compare two movies as Gateway vs. Grassroots. The Lion King (a Gateway) was the height of animation blockbusters of it's time, an original creation of Disney's empire that they haven't yet marched. The Last Unicorn (Grassroots) was a low budget, left field movie from a beloved book, which grew audience organically for many years, even while the author's career died then was reborn through fan interest. (Author Peter Beagle has been a beloved Guest of Honor at many furry cons.)

Spending totals

Properties

  • Largest internet sites- their values and users
  • Size of furry companies and sellers of goods like clothes, books and comics
  • Values of notable movies, books, MMO's, etc.
  • Sales by furry publishers
  • TV or internet viewership

The shadow market

  • Visible spending vs. private adult goods spending - separate activities?
  • A point of separation- Bad Dragon vs. Anthrocon (two big presences in furry)
  • Bitcoin for furries: a proposal to make digital business easier and more anonymous
  • Piracy (a counterpart to TV or internet viewership)
  • Offbeatr's success- an indicator of demand for stuff that may be hard to track

Value of the furry dollar

  • How Anthrocon earned its welcome in Pittsburgh by bringing in tourist spending
  • Are young, creative furries over-burdened by debt? (The Art Institute of Pittsburgh gives America's worst investment for cost of education.)
  • How much do individual fans spend on furry stuff, and what do they get?
  • Who are casual hobby/leisure spenders, vs. dedicated supporters and patrons
  • The low value of furry art: Art as investment, vs. personal enjoyment through custom commissioning and using
  • How many furries have fursuits, what do fursuiters spend, and how much use do they get? Does fursuiter involvement say something about an event, considering their conspicuous spending and the dedication shown by commissioning and using them?

Tracking the “furry economy” for the future

  • Cons reporting in
  • Companies answering surveys
  • Measuring auctions
  • Artists reporting to a professional association that can collect data (consider the proposed American Furry Association)
  • Challenge: establish an active association for professionals who cater to furry fans

Have I missed anything? Please share your information and ideas!

Comments

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A nice idea, sounds like something I'd start trying then get bored of in a few weeks. The trouble is, though, where would you find an unbiased sample to question? people that are active enough on websites or events to bother responding to questions are only a portion of the community, as are people that would refuse to answer some questions.

Your rating: None

Well, surveying individual people is probably less important and easier to leave as rough estimation, than stuff like figuring out gross sales by companies. (And numbers might be easier to measure than beliefs!)

For clues about artist and client business, ideally, a professional association could make an incentive for members to pool knowledge. And some plain numbers aren't hard to figure out, like con budgets.

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Ooh, I missed mentioning Furstarter!

Thanks for a perfect visual from Greenreaper :)

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this may be a little off topic but
It seems there is a new generation that cares mostly about fursuits, and an older one more into literature and art.
I wonder if this is true, it's just something I think I'm noticing every once in a while.

Is anybody studying this division?
Or are there any sites/pages which are good sources for info on these changes?

Thanks,
-QC

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I have noticed it, too, and I am preparing an article on this division.

Fred Patten

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Ooh, Fred just got serious.

I don't know what your theories are but my theory is that early media representation was biased for fursuiting and other costuming, partially for the visual factors, partially because furries were and still are terrible at getting anything across to anyone, especially the media. I believe a lot of early reporters attended furry conventions and came out completely unaware that there was any art or literature, because nobody pointed it out to them. And then we didn't like the articles, so we banned the reporters, who then never really had a chance to correct their mistakes.

Nowadays, furries do try and highlight the art and stuff, but it's too little, too late; to the mainstream, furries don't mean "anthropomorphic animal fans." Furries means "those guys who wear fursuits (and maybe have sex in them, but that's off point)." So, new kids are coming in believing that's what furry is. They're sold on fursuits, not art.

Okay, getting back on Patch's topic (before he gets rightfully pissed we've all derailed the discussion he wanted to have with something else), I would like to point out, approximately 100% of my furry spending is outside the fandom; i.e. movie tickets, DVD/Blu-Rays, rentals, comic books and some collectibles. This is partially due to a general apathy for the fandom's products, partially due to when something does catch my interest, it's already free, anyway.

I'm guessing that there are other furries who are not contributing to the furry economy, even when, like me, we're at least contributing to the culture, as it were. An interesting question might be "How are furries contributing to the economy outside the fandom?"

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I know my first sight of the fandom was fursuit videos, and it was only by chance that I also happened to like a lot of the art and literature and the whole community. We get a disappointing number of people joining the UKfur forum thinking they need a suit right away, or at least before they can go to a meet.
Still, that's only the most visible part of the fandom, I'm sure there's a lot of other sales going on, particularly art and graphic novels. Would be interested to see the data from a survey like this, shame we don't have anything empirical to compare it to from earlier years.

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Have to agree with you there, I've run into new furs whove said the same thing

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The way I see it, on the one hand, fursuits are going to be more noticeable than someone reading a book or looking up pictures online, whilst on the other hand, seeing the cute fluffy suiters is going to be attracting a lot of new people to the fandom, hence many more newer members being interested in that side. I've noticed a lot of new suit makers around, and yet often hear complaints that they're fully booked.

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A worthy topic! Looking forward to Fred's take :)

Here's my opinions:

Why people care about fursuits:

- Fursuiting is the MOST furry activity. Immersive animal role-playing costuming seems to have created it's own wholly original path out of sci-fi fandom. Mascot performance is it's own thing, but as far as I know it has to do with sports and commercials mostly not done for a hobby. I think it's hard to call fursuiting anything BUT furry... not so true for other activities furries do, like making funny animal comics, fantasy writing or liking animated movies that tons of people who aren't furry like.

- Fursuiting steals the show. Art and writing takes a lot of invested attention to experience, but fursuits put thousands of dollars of show value right there in your face. Fursuiting is getting to play with the characters instead of reading about them.

- Fursuits take very specialized craft, that has generally developed from inside furry fandom. Art and writing are specialized crafts too, but it's way harder to get recognized for the talents by applying them to furry stuff, when most writing and art doesn't. Maybe a good fursuit maker can be considered relatively more special than a good furry writer? The article says "I'm drawn to furry by fursuiting", well... I love books too... I just prefer to read all kinds instead of one genre.

- Fursuiting craft just wasn't developed in earlier days of fandom, so of course it wasn't very common.

- Fursuits are so personal. You can commission art but it's not as personal to share with people socially. This is art you wear and use.

So... is there a division between fursuit lovers and people who are more into literature and art?

I would say no, not a conscious one. I think there is a generational division though, that reflects changing times. Literature and art aren't what they were at the beginning of this fandom, so younger people are using it differently. (Look at how the music business has changed... it's not because people stopped caring about music.)

I think there's so much more saturation of new kinds of media, investing a lot of time to read a book or appreciate art now competes with a whole bunch of other things... gaming especially. And it's so much easier to get art free on the internet, or order books direct from Amazon without ever browsing a book store... this has profound effects on how people make and use this stuff.

Fursuiting is an experience you can't download. That's why I called it "The theatrical soul of furrydom", last time I wrote about street fursuiting. (Only a fraction of furries wear costumes, but surveys say tons want to... so I think it's fair to say. :)

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I would say there is one, I'm kind of one stuck in the middle when it comes to these two generations. Basically the media started with "They're all about sex", and we were like "NO". Then they were like, "They're all about costuming as animals." and many were like "meh, alright at least it's better than the exclusively sexual angle."

And it is. Yes, it means we get an influx of people who care about fursuiting and see suiting as tied more with being a furry then it actually is in reality.

That turning point was sometime in late June and early July of 2009. The reason I remember it was I ran across a Rachael Maddow thing about Rocky Mountain Furcon and it was (comparatively) a positive segment and I showed it to my roommate, and older fur. He complained because they put too much emphasis on fursuiting.

Once again, where there's a split I remain somewhere in the middle. I do have plans to acquire a suit, but ONLY a partial for many practical reasons:
1) Partials are cheaper
2) Partials are easier to put on
3) Partials are not as effected by changes in body like fulls are. (Like if you get fatter or thinner)
4) Partials allow for more freedom to change costume via how one dresses.
5) Not as hot

However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to be doing other things as well, such as writing.

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I think the interest has always been there, but Fursuits have not been affordable until recently.

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I would be interested in this data, mainly with regards to just how much money flows. Furries seem all too willing to pour out money on things - it astounds me the amount of cash people spend on commissions, fursuits, etc.

Obviously the places to start would be the bigger furry businesses. The furry publishers - (Shanda Fantasy Arts, the folks that produce Genus, FurPlanet/SofaWolf/RV Comics), Bad Dragon, pay sites (Club Stripes, Sexyfur, etc). Once you've went there, then start working your way down to individual dealers/artists/etc.

Another interesting avenue would be to look at the amount of money that the Furry Economy brings to non-furry businesses. Air travel, hotel expenditures, con-adjacent restaurants - I remember reading a recent article about how Anthrocon generates $5 million dollars for the Pittsburgh economy. And of course art supplies.

Don't forget cross-fandom expenditures, of furries spending money furry-Like items. For instance, the last study by the Canadian psychologists found that 1/4th of furries are Bronies. You can't walk through a con's dealer's room without finding MLP material. So I imagine that they have generated a lot of sales for Hasbro.

What I ultimately would be interested to learn how much your average con attendee spends at a con, and what percentage of that is on furry material as opposed to travel expenses. Additionally I'd be curious to learn how much your average furry spends on furry materials for the year (so not just at cons, but also commissions and things purchased online).

A few asides. First, in terms of economics, Fandom artists charge a lot less than other artists in either other fandoms or in mainstream art. Only the big names charge things along those lines.

When discussing expenditures and the economy, it's worth noting that the motivations for many of your sellers isn't profit in and of itself. For instance, the furry publishers have expressed that they generate enough profit to simply afford running the business - going to conventions and printing. So they do it to do it, as opposed to desiring to gain extra money.

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I was always a little suspicious of those economic figures; then I ordered $150 of fliers from the Kinkos next door . . .

I'm still not entirely convinced that fans spend $1000 on average while they're in Pittsburgh, even if you include getting there - and, of course, $5 million in spending may lead to far less in profit depending on what that spending is. Restaurants live on notoriously tight budgets. But clearly there are economic benefits.

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If AC's budget is $450,000 then that's close to half a million dollars right there.

But really, it's super easy to spend a thousand dollars. Plane ticket + hotel room for 3 days, the lowest estimation is $700. Spending $300 in food and dealer's room expenditures? EASY.

Bare in mind that every transaction in the Dealer's room is also generating sales tax. That adds up.

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It's easy to be suspicious of the figures if you're an armchair economist. Fortunately there are people whose job it is to figure things like this out, and the number they came up with is $6.2 million. More than $758,000 was spent on hotels alone.

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That is super cool info! Can you tell us how to find out more? Who came up with it?

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Before my stroke, I used to spend a fortune on Furry books. I bought every book that I could find out about that had anthropomorphic animals (or characters; this included Thomas Disch's original "The Brave Little Toaster" novel). Before the foreign Amazon.coms, this meant conducting correspondences with Australian or Irish or New Zealand bookshops that required payment in their own currencies, which meant paying for expensive foreign money orders that often cost more than the books. I mail-ordered a copy of Van Genechten's 1941 highly anti-Semitic "Van den vos Reynaerde" from a Dutch antiquarian bookshop, even though I can't read Dutch. One of the main reasons that I review Furry books today is that it justifies my requesting free review copies of so many Furry books.

Fred Patten

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No, it's true that at the first dozen or so Furry conventions, say from 1989 to 1999, they were like the s-f conventions in having a main emphasis on the literature with the dealers' rooms dominated by tables selling Furry fanzines, funny-animal comic books (especially Critters, Fusion, Xanadu, the titles of MU Press, Antarctic Press, Jim Groat, Mike Kazaleh, the TMNT rip-offs, etc.), and s-f books especially with aliens; and the attendees having only a few Fursuiters and those pretty amateurish. Since roughly 2000, the Fursuiters have become a growing percentage of the attendance; the Fursuits have become more elaborate and professional-looking; and the con programming has become more devoted to them with Fursuit Parades, photo sessions, panels on how to build and maintain a Fursuit, etc. At the same time, the dealers' rooms have become almost barren of literature except for the tables of the Furry specialty publishers like FurPlanet, Rabbit Valley, and Sofawolf. This is largely due to the disappearance of Furry fanzines and comic books. Today's dealers rooms are dominated by tables selling Fursuit accoutrements, artists selling prints, and jewelry.

The Art Shows have also evolved, from selling mostly original works and with more variety of subject matter, to selling more prints and with original paintings marked Not For Sale; the original paintings and prints being more imitative of what has sold best in the past; and of artists just repeating themselves over and over. I have not been able to get to conventions besides CaliFurs since my stroke in 2005, but from what I have heard, I theorize that this is mostly due to the proliferation of Furry conventions. Before the late 1990s, the ConFurences were the only Furry conventions there were, so all of the artists exhibited their best works there, and the art collectors came because they knew the best art would be for sale there. Today there are dozens of conventions splitting the artists and the buyers. Individual conventions, except for maybe Anthrocon, Further Confusion, and one or two others like Midwest FurFest and RainFurrest, do not attract either the artists or the big buyers any more.

Fred Patten

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"Fursuiting is the MOST furry activity."
It's the activity that is most exclusive to the fandom. I'm skeptical that it is, as of yet, the most furry thing. (hmm. "In Search of the Most Furry Thing" oh god, am I old already?)

" Fursuiting is getting to play with the characters instead of reading about them."
Hm, some of the acting is good. But I'd rather know a character, an actual character, not a costume. (yes I know there is some fursuit character development out there)
I guess it's a little bit like playing with a live-action Disney character at Disneyland, versus watching the movie.

"I would say no, not a conscious one. I think there is a generational division though, that reflects changing times. "
Of course, things can, and will change. Maybe they will change towards a more balanced, sophisticated, and fun fandom for all.

"I don't know what your theories are but my theory is that early media representation was biased for fursuiting[etc.]" Interesting. makes sense!

Thanks for all the info folks!

-QC

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Conan, what is best in furry?

To dress up your fandom - See them fursuit before you, and to hear the scritching of their huggers!

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The idea is interesting but as it is presented here it sounds a bit overkill. Most of the data would be very hard to elaborate and would only be interesting for the organizers of the biggest conventions and for a very small number of fans.

What about focusing just on the data which would be immediately interesting for a lot of fans? I think it boils down to:

- Con budget sizes, art auction prices, and charity earnings
- Internet auction prices (e.g. FurBuy and The Dealers Den, or furry sales on eBay and Etsy)
- Kickstarter and crowdfunding successes

This is what an artist wants to know when he or she is making plans to sell stuff at the Dealer's Den, or deciding what to bring at an Art Show, or deciding whether or not to try the crowdfounding route for a comic or another large project. It's also what a collector of original pieces wants to know when planning the budget for the next few conventions. It would especially useful for artists who are just starting to sell their works because it can be quite hard to understand how the different venues venues work and what they can expect from them.

But most important it's data which could be gathered relatively easily even by a single person by contacting the people in charge of auctions and conventions, and it could immediately make an impact. If the goal is helping creators and professionals then giving them a handy quick reference to prepare for the next cons is much better than giving them a complex analisys spanning many years.

Data about private commissions would be interesting too but again it sounds too hard to gather. Many artists and commissioners want to keep it private for good reasons, and then the prices of commissions depend on many different factors, like the artist's perceived popularity and availability, subject matter, personal style etc., se I don't think analyzing the prices set by an artist for commissions is very useful for other artists.

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Yeah, I totally threw in the kitchen sink here.

"Most of the data would be very hard to elaborate and would only be interesting for the organizers of the biggest conventions and for a very small number of fans."

Yes, hard to elaborate, but people are still extremely interested in tracking other kinds of informal economies, and they do it. Hard doesn't = impossible.

Look at any artist wondering how to charge for a commission, and you see someone who can really use this data... any you can get about artists themselves, not just con budget sizes. I've done professional animation freelancing... which is much harder to budget than simple visual art... this info is necessary but so hard to figure out sometimes, (I won't tell you some of the crafty and espionage-like stuff I did to get better at budgeting.) Giving artist guidance would really further fandom.

Canada's grant-makers saw $75,000 worth of value in furry demographic data... so think big. :)

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I'd say, think big but start small. :-) I'm an artist doing commissions and art shows myself and I would pay right now for a detailed report of sales at the major conventions (both art shows and dealer dens), whereas reading a big research about the fandom economy would be interesting on the long term but could come later.

Better yet - what about making a poll to see what artists and small businesses would like to know? It could be simply the list you posted in the article with one of those grids where they can rate the importance of each bullet point from "vey important" to "not important".

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Thats the kind of thinking i posted this for :)

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We'd be very interested in this kind of data. Actually, having been in business publishing and distribution lots of furry art, books, comics, CDs, DVDs, fanzines, games hats, magazines, novels, posters, software, tee shirts, underwear, and more... since 1997 we have a lot of data at our fingertips. But much of this data is company confidential. I suspect that many of the businesses in the fandom will also feel that the statistics are company confidential.

What I can say is that the Fox of Rabbit Valley® Comics http://www.rabbitvalley.com works for Rabbit Valley full time. We ship orders five to six days per week. We ship monthly to a number of countries greater than thirty... but average order size, age demographics, books ordered are all company confidential.

That said, if such a survey of the fandom is conducted, we would be very interested in the data.

--
Rabbit Valley Customer Service

Rabbit Valley Comics
5130 S Fort Apache
STE 215 PMB 172
Las Vegas, Nevada 89148

Phone: 702-291-8286 (Orders 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM EST)
Website: http://www.rabbitvalley.com/
Email: customerservice@rabbitvalley.com

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A forum recently asked, how many furries are there? People must think about this, like survey people... to pull numbers out my butt, I guessed six figures worldwide.

Con attendees seem like the tip of the iceberg, the most committed fans. I'd guess 5000 at the biggest con could be a small percent of those who would go to cons, if they were free and nearby. (Total con attendance everywhere each year is much bigger according to Wikifur, but counts multiple visits.) Project 5000 as a small percent to get some six figure number.

Active online presence is another number- guess 5 figures of people with active profiles across the largest websites. (See also daily hits, and ask admin opinions.) Consider that there's probably a fuzzy mass of closet, lurking or very casually involved people into games, comics and so forth, without a lot of visible presence.

Demographics about spending could help. Crunch how much the average furry reports spending, with active furry businesses and their grosses. It could be measurable because businesses advertise, and care about maintaining a level beyond hobby. Consider an average furry fan spending $100 per year, times 6 figures of fans, and that would indicate a "furry economy" in tens of millions. Analyze in reverse by business grosses and individual spending, to estimate how many furries are involved.

Who does this for a living? It could be fun :)

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