Should fan clubs be free?

Having just heard the news of Metallica’s fan club dropping their annual $60 fee to become free, as of yesterday, two thoughts crossed my mind:

Is this the future of fan clubs? Should other (paid) fan clubs follow Metallica’s example and go free too?

Will Metallica regret their change and revert back to fees again?

Now, I’ve been a member of a few fan clubs over the years, both official ones and unofficial ones. I’ve actually been a member of five official band fan clubs:

  • Bon Jovi — “Backstage With Jon Bon Jovi” 16 years, from 1995 to 2011. No longer a member.
  • Bon Jovi — “American XS Platinum” a year, from 2004 until 2005. The club closed in 2005 and all members were fully refunded (it started as a free club in 2002, and only started charging in 2004).
  • Nickelback — “Fan Club” 2 years, 2007/2008. No longer a member.
  • Goo Goo Dolls — “Inner Machine” just a year, 2006. No longer a member.
  • Cherry Suede — “Cherry Suede Brigade” since early 2015. Active member. (Cherry Suede have only had a paid fan club for around a year.)

Why did I willingly pay to join all of these fan clubs, and why did I leave the ones I’ve left? I originally joined/renewed them all for the following reasons:

  • To support the band.
  • To participate in the fan community.
  • To obtain early entry at general admission shows/pre-sale tickets.
  • To get the latest news as soon as possible.
  • In the case of the Goo Goo Dolls’ fan club, to enter meet-and-greet competitions, knowing there was a high chance of winning one.

Whilst I did buy exclusive merchandise from the majority of these fan clubs, it wasn’t a primary reason for joining.

As for leaving the three clubs I chose to leave… my reasons varied.

One fan club blatantly miss-sold memberships, making major promises which weren’t delivered. Another one also didn’t deliver everything they’d promised, but it was mostly the “lesser” perks of membership (photos, videos, that kind of thing) which were missing. Only one of the three did deliver everything which they’d promised.

All three of the fan clubs lost their fan communities, partly due to other members’ behaviour on the message boards and chat rooms in question, but it was mostly down to social media (Facebook!) taking over the world and making most message boards and chat rooms redundant. And by “lost” I don’t mean that the message boards and chat rooms were removed, it was just that hardly anyone ever posted or logged in to chat.

I ended up being a member of the Bon Jovi/Nickelback/Goo Goo Dolls fan clubs only for the concert perks (pre-sales, early entry for general admission shows), and when I wasn’t able or wasn’t willing to go to their shows any more, I didn’t see the point in remaining a member of those fan clubs, because I wasn’t getting anything I valued in return.

The sole fan club I’m still a member of, “Cherry Suede Brigade”, I’m a member of due to their regular live concerts streamed online for members, and, you guessed it, the concert perks. 🙂 Plus the fan community as well of course!

Now, to go back to whether or not fan clubs should be free…

If you make them all free then you make it more difficult for fans to get the concert perks on offer, and easier for anyone who wants to just make money off selling tickets to get the best seats. You also increase the number of people taking advantage of early entry when that’s offered, which can be a crowd control headache, depending on the numbers. Plus, the more fans you have showing up for early entry, the earlier and earlier fans will queue in order to get to the front of the queue, especially for general admission shows. Trust me! When I first started going to Bon Jovi shows it was almost unheard of for people to literally camp out overnight. Now fans do so regularly, with tents, and I know some fans who’ve camped out for three nights in order to be first in line. I am not joking! (And no, it wasn’t me — I have camped out, but not for that length of time.)

If there are competitions then the odds of any one fan winning drop. Some of the bigger fan clubs have tens of thousands of members now, and that’s those who’re willing to pay. When anyone can join for free, what do those numbers go up to, hundreds of thousands? Millions?

In terms of getting the latest news first, with social media how it is now, it can’t really be considered a perk of a fan club any more. Any news/information can be shared on social media in seconds, so it relies on an “honour” system to keep it private to fan club members… which might work some of the time, but not all of the time. For very small fan clubs of a few hundred members it might work, but when it comes to clubs the size of Bon Jovi’s… it will be all over the internet in a flash.

Fan communities can go either way. My personal opinion is that they’re better off being public now because it encourages more fans to participate. It’s not 2005 when we didn’t have social media, and restricted-access message boards and chat rooms would be super busy every day. However, when message boards and chat rooms are free you also get more trolls — and that requires someone, or several someones, to act as a moderator otherwise things can get very unpleasant, very quickly.

Merchandise… well this still can be “exclusive” even when fan clubs are free, just by only being available to purchase via a single website, and numbers could be limited compared to other merchandise. I don’t see this as an issue at all.

And as for supporting a band just simply by being a paid member of their fan club, well, there are other ways in which to support them if the fan club switches to a free model. Simply spending what you would have spent on membership on merchandise of some description being perhaps the most obvious way.

So… what do I think? Should fan clubs be free? In terms of concert perks (pre-sales and early entry) I prefer them to be for paid members only, for purely selfish reasons. It limits the numbers and means I have a better chance at a better seat/spot at a show without having to pay silly money or buy a “package” (that’s a rant for another day). For everything else though, I’m happy for it to be free, or pay-on-demand for things like web streams.

What do you think? Let me know, I’m curious. 🙂