In the past, there has been no question — a group of fans is called a fanbase. However, in recent years, the term “fandom” has risen to popularity.
Do not stop reading now! I have looked into it, and there really is a difference. The terms might refer to the same idea — a group of likeminded fans — but they describe different attitudes, age ranges, and levels of involvement.
I have gathered together some information to give you the basics on this evolving term, and why it matters for fans of every stripe.
There’s a fanbase out there for everything imaginable.
Pick something, and I can bet that out there somewhere there are at least a few people who like that thing and would call themselves fans. A fanbase is just a group of people that like the same thing, and are willing to say they like that thing.
The members can have various amounts of involvement in the fan community, from attending cons — fan conferences that can be as big as San Diego Comic Con [a broad convention for all kinds of geeky stuff] and Otakon [a popular anime convention] or as specific as BotCon [Hasbro’s Transformers franchise] or SteamCon [general steampunk] — and producing fanart or fanfiction to just watching, reading, or consuming whatever they’re a fan of. It’s an easygoing kind of fan group, with the big discussions being Kirk v. Picard or Wars v. Trek. In general, no one fights much, and fanbases keep pretty self-contained — no crossing over with other groups.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the fandom.
Not everything with a fanbase has a fandom, because a fandom is a group of committed fans who are always vocally interested in their “thing,” usually expressing that on a social website such as Tumblr. Just because you’re a fan doesn’t mean the fandom will accept you. You have to be opinionated — which character is your favorite? Which is the best incarnation/series/season? Most importantly, who do you want to be in a relationship?
Because a huge part of fandom is deciding which two characters should be dating. In fact, if you don’t ship (short for relationship) what the main group does, you might even be ostracized by the group.
Fandom can be alienating; their undying love for the source material is enticing at first but can be frightening after a bit of time. Participation is mandatory — if you can’t create, you have to involve yourself in some other way, like blogging about the source or buying fan materials.
Fandoms love crossovers, one of the most popular and dominant being “SuperWhoLock”, a mashup of the CW’s Supernatural and BBCs two popular shows Doctor Who and Sherlock. This group is so popular and so powerful in its sphere of influence that it has driven others to delete their blogs and claims to rule Tumblr. Fandom provides a sense of belonging through their obsessive love for whatever they focus themselves on.
There’s no reason to try to decide which one is “better,” as they each have benefits and disadvantages.
Fanbases are very inclusive, but they don’t offer many opportunities for involvement in a community; fandoms can form rewarding relationships but can become poisonous when someone deviates. It’s up to every fan how far they want to go when it comes to involvement in a fan community.