Anthrocon requests solutions as unscrupulous dealers become an increasing issue in the dens
A few weeks ago, con chairman Samuel Conway wrote a Twitter thread about how a customer was stiffed by a seller in the Dealer's Den at Anthrocon.
OK, I just deleted a long thread where I detailed how an unscrupulous fursuit maker made Anthrocon look bad in the eyes of our friends in Pittsburgh. I intended to demonstrate that the whole "well, that's just how furries do business" affects ALL of us, not just one or two.
— Uncle Kage (@Unclekage) June 18, 2021
Bad business practices have been an ongoing issue in furry fandom. Taking the money and running is not only detrimental from a financial angle; it erodes trust in our fellow fans, and embitters the dreams of getting fursuits and art commissions. Since this frustrating problem has now reached a level where it's occurring within our Dealer's Dens, it also threatens to harm the reputations of the entrepreneurs who call those marketplaces home. If the fandom wants to secure the economic integrity of its spaces, new solutions will need to be developed to protect the honest exchange of goods and services.
Today we go over the harm that these situations cause, the extent and mitigation that furry fandom has committed already, and finally present a baseline of discussion for solutions to bring a sense of security back to the furry buyer.
The harms of broken deals
One of the most common crimes in furry fandom is the same as it is in the outside world. Stories of transaction fraud have been around for the entire two decades that I've been in the fandom. Ranging from an artist who takes a client's money and provides nothing in return, to clients who take a finished product and don't pay the creator who worked so hard to make it for them. In the Wild West of the Internet, it feels that these horror stories are but a mouse-click away.
I know of two incidents a decade apart that involved friends of mine. Both were swindled by someone promising to make a fursuit, who ended up not producing a thing, leaving them hundreds of dollars poorer. It is important to note that one of them had commissioned a maker who was in MidWest FurFest's dealer's room in 2018, so this is not just an Anthrocon issue. My friend was not alone in being burned by that particular person that year, as another one of their customers posted a Buyer's Beware with a similar story.
There are emotional side effects to this, and not just financial ones. In both cases afterwards, my friends seemed to look less upon fursuiting as a fun activity. So if you've ever heard someone get angry about the fandom's emphasis on fursuiting, understand it could be possible they were defrauded or had other negative experiences trying to afford or acquire one.
Swindling can also stifle economic activity within the fandom, as it makes it harder to trust independent creators to produce the product that's being paid for. Victims might decide to avoid the furry economy entirely, or focus on a small handful of trusted creators, rather than spending more diversely or giving new artists a try. Some may prefer to do business in person at a convention's Dealer's Den, to ensure that they can see the person and lower the risk of fraud. This assumes that without the anonymity of the Internet, that in-person business behavior is more reliable. However, with this latest news from Anthrocon, and the examples from MidWest FurFest above, it's obvious that even these transactions aren't any safer, so our conventions may also suffer the same risks of buyer hesitancy.
A worst-case scenario would be that if fraud became too prevalent, a Dealer's Den could shut out any products that aren't sold and acquired at the convention itself. This would make it difficult to begin the fursuit process in person at a convention, or to create anything that would require more than a weekend's worth of tools and time. Presumably it would still be possible to commission goods ahead of the convention, and pick them up there. However, they may have to be paid on-site, as the hosting municipality may want their sales taxes generated locally.
Current Community ways to deal with a Pernicious Problem
While Samuel is encouraging a discussion about what we can do as a community to prevent this problem, it's not as if the fandom hasn't been trying. We haven't been taking this situation lying down, it's that the scattered nature of furry makes it difficult to unite collectively. People in our fandom have taken action to try and mitigate these issues. Two major ones have been sharing knowledge of bad actors, and payment processing by a third party as a means of protection.
One of the earliest groups who used social media to cover these kinds of situations is "Artists Beware", who in 2019 moved to its own website after originating on LiveJournal in 2003. The initial premise of the community was for artists to discuss problematic customers who would take their art and run, or exhibit other problematic and abusive behavior towards artists. As time went on, it expanded to bring attention to the reverse situation, customers being taken advantage of by unscrupulous artists. Given that such behavior can harm the reputation the artist community in general, it made sense to draw attention to it. Its new site has an ad for Artconomy, an art commissioning service that states that it has "buyer protection guaranteed".
Fraud protection has become a growing demand on sites that process payments. Some are very buyer-centric, to the point where it can be abused by customers, such as Paypal. (Discussed in a previous article.) However, some art sites have also been trying to work as artist-friendly intermediaries. Artconomy, Furry Network, and Commiss.io have all designed security-deposit style accounts where buyers put their money into the system, which holds the funds in escrow until the scope of the work has been completed by the artist.
A Flayrah article from a few years ago describes how these types of sites try to mitigate financial fraud. In short, they provide a platform for a buyer to interact with an artist, centralizing the business transaction to a site where the money they intend to spend is stored. The artist is protected because the buyer must pay in advance, and the buyer is protected because their money isn't passed on to the artist until the final product has been delivered.
However, even these kind of communities can't prevent all circumstances of abuse. A customer might not think of searching communities like Artists Beware until after becoming a victim, and the vigilant attention and engagement required ahead of time might be too overwhelming. In an online fandom where many of us go by fursona names, it's far too easy for a bad actor to change their alias or represent themselves through a deceitful guise. And the sites that implement secure payments won't make much of a difference until a majority of furry artists and buyers insist on using them - except there's the drawback of maintenance issues and extra third-party fees. And none of these help if someone is offline.
But perhaps there are solutions that would allow for better trust between buyers and sellers in our in-person dens. A type of contract that could provide security for the buyer, that would have consequences at the convention for the seller, should the terms be neglected.
Dealer's Den Defense
While we can try to continue to address this at the community level, as these issues start to seep into our physical markets, conventions are going to have to find ways to deal with the problem. For people shopping in the Dealer's Den, these marketplaces may be their first impression of the fandom and of purchasing items from furries, along with assumptions of a higher level of buyer safety than the Internet. It may become more essential for conventions to vet those who want table space, perhaps scanning artist-beware type communities for any signs of trouble to start.
One of the more obvious solutions is to cut off bad dealers when they show their true colors. The seller that Mr. Conway alluded to on Twitter is probably no longer welcome to sell their wares at Anthrocon. However, fixing things after problems occur doesn't help protect people before it happens. So how do you ensure consumer confidence, that if they pre-order a product while at a convention, that they'll receive what they paid for in a reasonable amount of time? And how do we do so without putting up barriers that keep out new or part-time artists that may be looking for a chance to sell their wares, who haven't built up a network of credibility?
The convention itself could require that pre-orders include a quick form; information that would help identify the buyer, the seller, the convention and year, the amount paid, what was ordered, and an estimated time of completion. An example can be seen here.
This could have protections and enforcement behind it, such as being banned from the following year's Dealer's Den for failing to fulfill order(s). However, it would require some protection for sellers as well, so that they wouldn't be targeted by trolls or by competitors vying for space.
Another possibility could involve the Dealer's Den handling payments for commissions extending past the event, using the same escrow-style transactions that some third-party sites have already implemented.
Three things to keep in mind that are important before something based on this could be implemented:
- It would take extra time and volunteer resources for the convention. It should also have some means for the customer to follow-up, to ensure that pre-orders get fulfilled. These may be resources that small or fledgling conventions might not have.
- I'm neither a lawyer nor a contract law expert. Some kind of authority would need to be brought in to fully assess what acts a convention could take, with the added difficulty of the multiple possible jurisdictions these events take place in.
- Even if you disagree with any of these ideas, it's meant to inspire conversations towards something that could lead to a working foundation. There are certainly more technologically advanced ways that could track sales information than printed-out sheets of paper, turned in and catalogued manually. When it comes to what methods and technology could be used, be sure to remember point (2) of this list.
The possibility of malfeasance by those who take payments for art or fursuits has become an increasing issue in furry fandom. As conventions now seem more eager to discuss these situations within our community, now is a great time to continue to explore these conversations to help protect our fellow fluffs from financial fixes.
One thing is clear however. Until our conventions see these bad actors as harmful to our group's reputation, as much as those who happen to sell "items of a distinctly adult nature whose primary purpose is functional rather than artistic", then there will be little hope of improvement.
So let's do what we can to address this issue. Because we do not want to see our Dealer's Den become a Stealer's Den.