There's a scene in Sharon McCrumb's comic mystery story Bimbos of the Death Sun (which takes place at a science fiction convention) where one of the characters looks at all the creative effort being put into fanart and cosplay and so forth and wishes that all those people would turn their obvious talents towards "real world" fashion design, commercial art, etc., and earn a better living.
It isn't an uncommon thought. There are two flaws in it. One is that fandom is a small pond; being able to write well enough to get a fanfic following is not the same as being publishable in the wider world. And ditto for all the other skills of fabrication and industrial design on display.
The other is that fans are not blind to the advantages of money. There are many ways fans attempt to make a little cash from their work, ranging from getting paid by other fans to help them with their sewing, to monetizing click-throughs at the host sites where they put their creations.
I woke up realizing I am an active member at three sites dependent on user-generated traffic; Instructables, Fanfiction dot net, and DeviantArt. Out of these, only Instructables has returned "real world" value for the effort -- in the form of a t-shirt and an electronics kit (which I gave to a niece).
Contrast to this, I don't supply that much "content" directly to the Replica Props Forum (I post a few pictures, but I don't do any work specifically for the needs of that site), but I have made significant cash through my activity there. What little I have in the bank right now is basically my payment from the last set of machined Aliens grenade props.
It is sobering. But then, there is more to life than making money. Much of what we spent effort and money on is gaining social status, contacts, learning new things, seeing new places, learning new skills; everything beyond the lower steps of Maslow's pyramid of human needs (aka food and shelter).
And the online world is no more unreal than the outside world. There have been through the ages many friendships which took place at long distance, through letters, for instance. Social needs and gains are still important even if they are being transacted digitally instead of in meatspace.
But...and here's the morning's big caveat: yesterday I came back from a job along the coastal highway, and I was reminded again of how incredibly scenic a place I live in. And reminded of how little time I've spent lately walking, exploring, sight-seeing, etc. around my own home town.
And I just spent the last few days cooped up inside mostly creating images for an online fan art site. Well, okay...I was too sick to go out on two of those days, and I'm still cash-strapped...but it is a good thing that I've already started to transition towards creating content that can be monetized instead.
(The title of this entry is taken from a short story I was working on, which involved uploaded brains in temporary bodies to work a physics experiment in the remote reaches of our solar system. My main output at Fanfiction dot net of late has been a Tomb Raider/Stargate SG1 cross-over, for which I've done a lot of amusing research. My Instructables have often been linked from this blog, but there will be no link or other outward connection to my Deviant Art work; some of it is a little kinky and that's not something I mean to share through this blog.)