Friday, 18 March 2011

Fan Fiction Demographics in 2010: Age, Sex, Country


There is an evident vacuum when it comes to information about online fiction writers and readers. Forget trying to find data on who these people are via Google or Bing. You can’t set your expectations high even if you have access to subscription-based academic databases such as EBSCO or Emerald Insight: the content You need is missing. Several researchers I have come in contact with ceased their attempts to find reliable data on the internet, citing a poor information environment. A reasonable choice. It is far easier to work with enthusiasts of other activities, such as sports, as the information is present in ample amounts. Fan fiction is a different story.

What I’ve found in secondary sources? Limited traffic statistics with no raw numbers (credits to Alexa), literary fannings about modern culture and summary demographics about Major League Baseball fans. For contrast, there was a three-page essay from The Gay & Lesbian Review by Marianne MacDonald about Harry Potter fan fiction, a broad complaint on limited success with samples no greater than 10 people. Oddly enough, the article’s author attempted to draw conclusions from such data. The closest to fan fiction I’ve gotten from aca-fen (academics as fans) was a series of essays entitled Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. No empirics there.

In retrospect, the only available information was qualitative, limited to a small community or plain useless for a more general study. Ergo, FFN Research needed to befriend the DIY framework. The result of this choice has been a 20 MB Excel spreadsheet with numeric and non-numeric data.

To preserve time and space, the study will be presented in parts. This also gives you, dear readers, an opportunity to comment and make suggestions for the next part. Your opportunities are practically limitless at this point. If at least half the variables undergo regression analysis, there will be no less than three parts in total.

Take your time.

End Preamble


The goal of this release is to provide empiric data and analysis on fan demographics and interests on the fan fiction writing site, FanFiction.Net. The research deals with basic demographic data such as age, sex and country of residence of registered FanFiction.Net members in relation to their public writing activities in 2010. Based on a quantitative approach, the research should provide guidelines for future studies.


FanFiction.Net user profiles are the main source of empiric data in this research. With nearly three-million registered users, FanFiction.Net is the largest hub for fan fiction writing communities, the largest archive of fan fiction with an excess of 6,600,000 registered titles as of  March, 2011, and a trend-setter for fan fiction as a phenomenon. In addition, it is a site that challenges Facebook in the amount of time spent browsing within the domain.

95,313 public profiles of registered members created in the year 2010 were analysed. A yearly study was the most feasible choice in current-day unlike anything dedicated to a larger period of time with progressive scarcity of chronological data. Fieldwork took place from January 27, 2011 till February 11, 2011 and empiric data reflects the state of public member profiles between those dates.

The said profiles were chosen from the total of 443,400 accounts created in the year 2010 as clusters. Accounts created between the first and the seventh day of every month are present in the analysis. This was a preventative measure taken to mitigate seasonal fluctuations (see picture 1) and assure every seven-day period is all-inclusive in relation to heterogeneity within a cluster. Please note that the chosen periods reflect weekly fluctuation cycles, each representing the whole cycle. 

Picture 1. Aggregated pageviews on FanFiction.Net, September 2010-March 2011
The sample of 95,313 is further explained by uncertainty and a lack of prior empiric studies. Smaller samples of 1100, sufficient for error margins as low as 3% would have provided inaccurate data upon splicing into categories. As it was impossible to find comparisons, a safer approach retains. The current conditions, verified by Raosoft, allow for a 0.37% margin of error at a 99% confidence level. 

Acknowledging possible difficulties in attaining the necessary information via surveying or other applicable means, data mining was chosen as the only feasible collection method. Quantitative data later underwent a 5% reduction on extremes to mitigate outliers. This also dodged factual inaccuracies such as account holder ages reportedly being 1000 or two. A detailed explanation of variables is included in the definitions part.

Descriptive statistics are a cornerstone of this research.


The following factors are provisions for analysis. Each is defined below. In addition, we explain other terminology unique to this research. 

FanFiction.Net – the largest fan fiction writing website in the world. Also referred to as FF.Net and FFN, the site, the domain.

Fan – any FanFiction.Net account holder.

Fandom – any series, TV show or title present as a category for fan fiction uploads on FFN. Also, a group of FanFiction.Net account holders, who uploaded fan fiction to FFN.

ID – unique public member profile and account identification number, assigned to every 
FanFiction.Net user upon signing up. The number of accounts a user may create is not limited by the domain’s ToS.

Pen name – a pseudonym taken by the account holder. Every account holder is required to have an unique pseudonym upon signing up.

Country – the country of residence/access during a browsing session on FanFiction.Net reported by the account holder’s ISP or proxy at the time of data collection. Users have the ability to disable public display of their country.

Age – self-identified account holder’s age displayed in English on the public profile. Users are not provided any extra facilities to display their age, nor does FanFiction.Net collect specific age data upon signing up. Internet users wishing to hold an account on the site only stipulate they are aged 13 or older. 

Sex – self-identified account holder’s sex (gender) displayed in English on the public profile. Users are not provided any extra facilities to display their sex, nor does FanFiction.Net collect any data about sex.

Avatar – graphic uploading service, which allows registered users to be associated with one picture in three square formats: 150x, 75x and 50x. 

Profile length – cumulative size of a public profile starting from below the space reserved for the account’s pen name to the end of the profile table’s space. Does not include lists such as “Favorite Stories”. 

Beta Reader – an account with a qualified Beta Reader portfolio. Beta Readers provide editorial services to fan fiction content before it is made public.

Story count – the number of separate public fan fiction uploads made by an account holder.

Fandom count – the number of separate fan fiction categories with at least one fan fiction title made public by the account holder.



In 2010, accounts on FanFiction.Net have been made and accessed by people in at least 173 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia. A full list of countries is available here. The figure may, in reality, be larger as the domain uses a self-served set of definitions for a country and recognizes non-standard internet service properties as separate countries. These include:

-Satellite Connection Providers “Satellite Provider” – direct device to commercial satellite connections impossible to trace to any specific country. Common in the Middle East. Falsely recognized as a country with a flag of its own.

-Encrypted Anonymous Proxies “Anonymous Proxy”. Falsely recognized as a country with a flag (“Jolly Roger”) of its own.

-The country of Europe “Europe” – government institutions and their encrypted networks, not reporting to belong to a specific EU country. Falsely recognized as a country with a flag (EU flag) of its own.

-“Asia/Pacific Region” – umbrella term for any of the small islands not recognized by FFN’s technology and other territories applicable. Falsely recognized as a country with a flag of its own.

Satellite Providers, Anonymous Proxies and Europe (country) do not participate in further analysis, effectively reducing the sample to 95,219 accounts. Asia/Pacific Region remains, as it behaves like a legitimate umbrella zone. In years prior to 2010, there were reports of registered fan fiction writers or readers hailing from Antarctica.

However, the biggest issue in establishing sense in the quantitative data is the fact 25,297 accounts in the sample did not have a publicly specified country. FFN’s system was not allowed to disclose such information. This translates into 110k of accounts not having permitted access to the data or 24.8% of accounts made in 2010. It may explain why certain countries, such as North Korea, are not present in the study. Regardless, 75.2% of all accounts holders joining in 2010 allowed the site to display their country of access.

To make results readable, FFN Research decided to put forward a 0.5% threshold. For a country to be included in the analysis, at least half of a percent of all accounts with a specified country had to originate from it. This translated into 0.5% of 69,500.

As a result of the entry limit, the number of accounts involved slid by 11% to 62,559 with 22 countries involved. You can see it in picture 2. This is an accurate portrayal of an informal 90/10 rule of thumb with 90% of accounts being accessed/created within 10% of all countries listed. Only one out of ten accounts is created/accessed outside the regions drawn in picture 2.
Picture 2.
57% of the 62,559 or 35,361 user accounts were reported as being from the USA, the only country to score more than 10,000. The second biggest contributor of accounts is the UK with 9.2% (5739) originating from the country. Canadian users are third in the rank with 5.6% (3513). This is supported traffic-wise by FFN’s partnerships with large ad networks, which require at least 50% of site traffic to come from the USA, UK and Canada. For readers interested in accurate portrayal of accounts of non-US users, look below for picture 3. The percentage in picture 3 is displayed as a part of 27,198, which we get upon subtracting USA accounts. 

Picture 3. FanFiction.Net Member Composition by Country, no USA

For your convenience, there is a list of countries, excluding the USA, ranked by how many accounts originate from the country in question.

1. UK
2. Canada
3. Australia
4. Philippines
5. France
6. Mexico
7. Indonesia
8. Brazil
9. India
10. Germany


Obtaining information about the account holder’s sex (gender) was more difficult than that of their country. Since the site does not encourage users to disclose such data, only those, who make the explicit choice of doing it, are included in this analysis.

Furthermore, users, who did publicly reveal their sex on the profile, did so in various means and different languages. While the first is a technical issue possible to alleviate with the use of a specially-crafted regex, the latter is a serious obstruction. FFN Research did not have the resources to include gender specifications in languages other than English. Using online translation tools could have had uncontrollable accuracy faults. This, fortunately, was not necessary due to country data already discussed.

Since users access their accounts from the USA (57%), UK (9.2%), Canada (5.6%) and Australia (4%), the cumulative majority (75,8%) of registered users is assumed to be English-speaking. Whether the language is a mother tongue or a foreign one does not matter in this research. The possibility of having non-English profiles (for example, Spanish) created by users from the aforementioned countries would make the figure of analysable content smaller. However, the effect should be compensated by profiles written in English by members hailing from other countries.

The result was 9544 user profiles with gender identity disclosed. For 2010, this means that 10% of FanFiction.Net members reveal their sex in the profile. This called for a 1.1% (1.3% for 50/50) margin of error at a 99% confidence level.

This data was initially broken into two uneven parts (5005 and 4539) to spot any structural differences between accounts created in the first and second half of 2010. The disclosure rate in the second half of the year was lower than that of older accounts, and the difference was statistically significant (2.4%).  FFN Research offers a reasonable experience-driven explanation: there is a time lapse between creating an account on the site, writing a profile and putting one’s personal details on the profile. The explanation is supported by the fact FanFiction.Net enforces time thresholds for when a new registered member may start using a particular service.

Gender distribution, on the other hand, did not have a statistically significant difference in both parts of our sample. The female/male ratio was stable in our sample and stayed remarkably close to rumours that 80% of the site’s users are female.

The sample revealed that 78% of FanFiction.Net members are female, provided they joined in 2010. The remaining 22% self-identify as male. Picture 4 illustrates these. In addition, here is a gender ratio graph.

Picture 4. FanFiction.Net Members in 2010 by Sex (Gender)

Age statistics on FanFiction.Net were the most challenging to attain. Less registered members disclosed their age publicly. 6410 people appeared to have included the precise information in our sample.

There were incidents of users reporting to be one year of age, and ninety-nine years old. A small part of those, who discussed their age on the public profile included unreal ages, guessing challenges or offered an age range as wide as 20. Such data points are disqualified from the research.

2230 members with the account holder’s age present on the profile have only identified themselves as teenagers or teens. On assumption that registered members define “teens” as ages 13-17, FFN Research distributed the 2230 proportionally among relevant ages. For reference, you may view the age distribution prior to this choice, with a smaller sample. Note that ages beyond 55, all with single instances, are cut from the graph to make it more compact.

Picture 5. Age distribution on FanFiction.Net in 2010, post-processing with percentages

Looking at picture 5, we see that 80% of those, who have revealed their age, are between 13 and 17 years old. In a normal large population, this allows us to expand onto the entirety of people registering as members in 2010.

The average age is 15.8. The median age is 15, and the mode is 14 years of age. The graph’s shape is a good explanation for why these three values are different. The highest point (modal) does not endure symmetrical surroundings, but both arms of the parabolic shape have bumps at the side, corresponding to ages 10 and 19. From a descriptive statistics perspective, these are anomalous and can be interpreted as missing data.

It is particularly acute on the left end of the spectrum with younger people. No doubt, there are children below the minimum allowed age of 13 on FanFiction.Net. They make up a very small portion of the community, and seem to have an understanding that they should not make their age public. Eleven-year-olds appear to be the most knowledgeable in this respect. Aged 12, it is plausible they see the legal margin approaching, so there is no perceived harm in a premature disclosure. Had all the users disclosed their data, the point at 11 would have allowed for an opposite shape, not a dip.

No doubt, with all reputable sources repeating the notion, FanFiction.Net itself stipulating various services should be “suitable for teens”, the site is less appealing to older users. It is, therefore, natural to consider a much lower registration rate among adults. The downward trend acts as expected, save for a few small waves further on the right. These, interestingly, have a period of 5 years minimum, with an apex at 35 and 45. From a purely human perspective, understanding middle-aged people on FanFiction.Net have interests in fiction, fan or otherwise, FFN Research suggests a quote by Lady Bracknell from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest: “35 is a very attractive age. London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.” Among greater privacy concerns, the increase in certain ages could be explained with one’s social policy.

With regards to age distribution among sexes, 2240 account holders have provided such information on one user profile. 79% of accounts with the data made available were female. This leads to the conclusion that disclosure is proportional to the size of a population. The site’s usage among teenagers and adults, considering either gender separately, was similar to the cumulative distribution. Ergo: no matter the age, teenage or adult, the male/female proportion stays the same as in the general population.

For pre-teens, the composition is 81.5% female, 18.5% male, which is the most extreme proportion for any age group, but there is no statistically significant deviation from the general 78%.


In the sample of 95,313, there were 560 users with a beta reader profile, which makes up 0.6% of the sample. In a website with under 50,000 beta readers, this would translate into 2608 beta readers with an account created in 2010. Those joining in 2010 make up approximately 5% of all beta readers. The majority of beta readers have stayed on FanFiction.Net longer than a year.

419 (75%) of beta readers joining in 2010 have revealed their sex. 345 were female, which accounts for 82% of those, who made the disclosure public. There is no statistically significant difference between the gender distributions of beta readers in relation to the general population of those joining in 2010 at a 99% confidence level.

79% of all beta readers are users aged 13-17. The modal beta reader age is 14 while the average and median ages are 15.


In our sample, there were 64,484 stories submitted (300,500 in the total pop.). The average number of stories submitted by a user with at least one story was 2.9 with 22,023 accounts containing stories. Interestingly, the maximum number of stories was higher among those, who joined in the second half of the year, 88. At the time of writing, the number of stories written by the user in question has gone up to 94. The person wrote for 22 fandoms in 2010, and was most attracted to Everybody Loves Raymond, Hannah Montana and iCarly.

Among users with a disclosed gender, 78% of all stories were written by females. This shows that there is no gender influence to the number of stories written on FanFiction.Net among users, who joined in 2010.

Age, however, portrays a differentiation in the average number of stories per age group, For teenagers, the average number of stories written, for accounts with at least one story, is 4. The highest number is among those aged 20-30, up to 12 stories as an average.


FFN Research welcomes your views and comments.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Upcoming FFN Research Update

FFN Research is getting ready for the greatest update yet. For the first time in the history of FanFiction.Net you will see a full picture of fandom demographics with an error margin as low as 0.3% site-wide.

It has been a while since the first petitions to provide this information have reached FFN Research, but the data is present, and only post-processing remains.

Stay tuned!