The Internet (and my inbox) has exploded over the last day or so as people took notice of Amazon/Kindle’s latest venture: Kindle Worlds. Amazon says excitedly, “Get ready for Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.”
What have we here? Why, it’s the latest attempt* by content providers to monetize fan labor. As far as that goes, it may be the best deal I’ve seen. Wannabe writers may write in one of three fandoms/properties: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries (more are promised). All these are owned by Warner Bros. Naturally the requirements are pretty stringent: no explicit sex, no crossovers, etc. (author guidelines here).
I’m not exactly filled with horror about this, because if you define fan fiction as “derivative texts written for free within the context of a specific community,” then this isn’t that. True, they are fans. And they write… fiction. But what Amazon Worlds is doing is extending the opportunity to writers to work for hire by writing, on spec, derivative tie-ins in a shared universe, under terms that professional writers would be inclined to reject. However, “work for hire, on spec, for certain tie-ins” doesn’t really have the ring of “fan fiction,” does it? By using the term fan fiction, they are shorthanding their future writers as well as their perceived audience.
Fans rightly look askance at content providers who extend such opportunities, because usually the content provider offloads all the risk and takes all the revenue. So Kindle Worlds, by getting the content providers on board, explicitly setting out the rules, and stating the royalties up front, is already doing some things right. In addition, the “Worlds” thing is key to Kindle Worlds:
Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.
One traditional aspect of fan fiction is its place within an active community. Amazon taps into this by explicitly permitting authors to riff off each other’s work. I like that they get that.
Fans won’t stop writing fan fiction: the restrictions for writing for Kindle Worlds may be too onerous for what many fans wish to write. The joy of fan fiction is that you can write whatever the hell you want, and someone is there to read it and love it. In addition, many fans are already professional writers, and they may not want to write tie-ins under terms that they would not accept for their professionally written work. And lots of fans are simply not interested in going pro; they are happy to write works to distribute for free to their community, and they don’t see writing fan fiction as something they want to monetize.
But that said, for those fans who do wish to give this a go (I would be interested myself, except… then I’d have to watch the shows), yes, you’re being exploited, but I anticipate that Kindle Worlds (if it doesn’t fall under the onslaught of fan fury†) will end up with a stable of steady writers who create their own (gated) fannish community, with cross-references and cross-writing. That would be interesting to see. But those who wish to break into freelance writing ought to brush up on what terms the industry thinks are acceptable. And maybe they should join a union.
* Remember FanLib?
† Remember FanLib?