A lot of people have asked me for my thoughts on Kindle Worlds
, since I (and my company
!) have a stated interest in this kind of thing.
For those of you coming in midway through this story, Amazon has just announced that they'll be publishing fanfiction for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars
, and The Vampire Diaries
, allowing the fic to be sold for money. The author will receive 35% of net revenue (for works of 10,000+ words) and royalties (unspecified) will be payed to the rightsholder of the fictional universe.
I think a lot of people have a kneejerk reaction to this which is strongly negative—"Jesus Christ, it's FanLib
all over again!" People also have the expectation that it will fail, that fans are not interested in selling their works. I don't think that all that negativity is entirely justified. Here's why:
- The success of Wattpad shows that younger writers especially are interested in self-publishing and that many of them view fanfic as a road to a self-publishing career. For writers who view fanfiction in this way, Kindle Worlds would seem like a godsend.
- Unlike FanLib, Kindle Worlds is not framed politically—as "freeing" fans in any shape or form. A lot of people were turned off by FanLib's rhetoric who won't be turned off by Kindle Worlds.
People who take part in Kindle Worlds will be signing away a lot of the rights to their stories. Most importantly, the rights you give up prevent you from ever "filing the serial numbers off" of your story (á la 50 Shades of Grey
) and selling it as original work. The rights also give the original world licensor the right to use your story ideas in the central series. I think that there are many people who will not mind giving up these rights, but there are many people who will—and there are also many people who will sign up for Kindle Worlds without fully understanding the rights they're giving away.
Still, I suspect that there is a large enough base of writers who would like to sell their fanfic for any amount of money that Kindle Worlds will not have a hard time finding authors. I'd bet that it will serve as a point of entry for people who were otherwise uninterested in writing fanfic, too. This is another way that they're being smarter than FanLib: instead of trying to appeal to fans who are already uninterested in their deal, they are introducing the idea of fanfic to people who might not otherwise have been interested, expanding their base, so to speak.
A larger obstacle are the content guidelines. Kindle Worlds does not accept pornography, "offensive content," "excessive use of brand names" or crossover stories.* Contrary to what many people say, there is
plenty of fanfic that falls within these guidelines and that I believe people would be happy to pay for. Take a look at the fandoms for One Direction or, yes, Twilight
if you don't believe me. Yes, these content guidelines mean that a large amount of fanfiction is excluded from Kindle Worlds. So what? Maybe there becomes a bifurcated fandom structure—people willing to write stories within Kindle's content guidelines, and people who aren't. Who cares? If anything, I suspect that the stories "too hot for Kindle Worlds" will be more
in demand, not less.
Generally speaking, I believe that fans are not too dumb to read a ToS. I believe that fans will choose to use Kindle Worlds if it works well for them, and they will choose not to if they are uninterested in its strictures. After all, nobody has
to submit their stories.
Or do they?
I worry that some people in the entertainment industry are viewing Kindle Worlds as a way to "control" fans. This is a tale as old as time, or at least as old as when rightsholders really, really wanted the Harry Potter
fandom to stop writing about Harry Potter being gay. (Yes, this was An Issue, long before Dumbledore came out of the closet. I swear to you, it was.) Can I blame them for wanting to control the stories they've told? Not entirely, no. I can't blame that impulse
, any more than I can blame the impulse of a novelist to yell at fanfiction writers for "messing up their world." The novelist invested their heart and soul, Warner Brothers invested millions of dollars, in either case there are these weird outsiders coming in and making the stories about something else, something they never envisioned. What will happen? What if Harry Potter
gets associated with gay porn? Then maybe audiences won't want to see it anymore! And then what?
But the thing about this view is that it's unrealistic. It does not reflect the realities of the internet, and it does not reflect the realities we've seen in the past ten years of fans interacting with corporations. Even though Harry Potter did
get associated with gay porn (well, slash fanfic, but it's the same thing in the eyes of the uninitiated), it didn't stop it from being profitable. Hell, fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
turned it into a megahit among the most unlikely audience—and among the audience that people most want to woo, 18-30 year old males! Nobody would be excited to find out that their show was getting associated with 4Chan, yet 4Chan made it a runaway success.
There's nothing wrong with Kindle Worlds as one possibility among many. It actually represents one good thing: the recognition that fans are doing work
for franchises, work which can and maybe should be compensated. That's a step that nobody has taken (outside of rare contests), to my knowledge. I know a lot of fans see this as cheapening their art by tainting it with commerce, but the fact is that the entertainment industry is all about making money, and unless fans are able and willing to talk in monetary terms, they will never
be taken seriously. (Actually, it represents two good things. In its terms, it admits that fans have rights over their own fanfic, rights that can be signed away when you take part in Kindle Worlds. This seems basic, but it is not always recognized.)
Where Kindle Worlds may go wrong is if it is viewed by the entertainment industry as the be-all and end-all of interacting with fan creativity. That would create a no-win situation for everybody. Many waters cannot quench fandom, neither can the floods drown it—a fact that companies are likely to learn if they believe that they can condemn works that are not published within Kindle Worlds, or if they believe that fans will stop writing their porn and run happily into Amazon's corporate arms.
In the meantime, the answer to Kindle Worlds must come from within fandoms. It must come from places like Organization for Transformative Works
, providing alternative spaces in which to share stories that are not within corporate boundaries. Everyone must educate themselves about what rights they hold to their fanfic, what rights they can choose to sign away, and what rights they have no matter what. This is not the end of a conversation. It's not the beginning of a conversation, either. We're in the middle of it, and we will be for a long time to come.*This is especially funny given that one of the fandoms they're allowing as a "Kindle World" is The Vampire Diaries. How can you possibly write a Vampire Diaries fanfic without depicting racism, and probably using the N-word? A significant chunk of the story occurs in the antebellum South! I suppose that the TV show does it, but one of the things fanfiction is best at is engaging with issue that network TV can't or won't. Sigh.
Edited to add: Another great response to this, from a different perspective.