FIGs or fan investment groups are the "new" crowdfunding trend, allowing individuals to contribute relatively small amounts of money (for venture capital investing) towards a production company, specific artist, or project for a share of the profits in return. We tend to think of anything related to digital funding to be innovative and fresh, but there is a clear historical precedent for fan financed and owned organizations, most notably there are professional sports teams and clubs around the world that are fan owned.
However, it wasn’t until 2015 that U.S. laws adapted to allow for online crowdfunding to become an investment opportunity, selling securities instead of promotional items in order to garner funding. With the JOBS Act (and changes in SEC rules 146 and 504) a new classification of investment became available: equity crowdfunding. By creating a new regulation group, the door has opened for smaller start-ups to gather hundreds of smaller financial backers, instead of more traditional investment systems: venture capitalists, angel investors, and silent partners.
Several media companies have since begun to utilize this new categorization to create a variety of “fan owned” or “fan investment” opportunities, with varying levels of success. Legion M is a geek media production company that bills itself as “fan owned,” with fans investing in the company. Whereas, FIG: Community Publishing, fans can either choose traditional crowdfunding with promotional incentives or invest with dividends in specific videogame projects. TapTape is a funding platform for music fans to invest in specific artists, albums, or tours for a profit share. Finally, the Royalty Exchange allows music fans to buy shares of their favorite artists’ royalty back-catalog–allowing fans of established artists to purchase a piece of the artist, but to earn a return on investment.
Fan investment groups or equity crowdfunding joins micropatronage and traditional crowdfunding as options for fan financing independent media, but at what cost? What will fandom look like as we move away from a gift or hybrid economy and towards a more commercial economy? How will fan-creator interactions change with direct sponsorship? What kinds of media will we have when creators are fiscally responsible the audience who is the sponsor?