Amazon Looks to Monetize Fanfic with Kindle Worlds

kindleworldsshowsIf you were anywhere near geeky social media circles around the middle of last week, you may have felt a great disturbance in the Force. Amazon (yes, that Amazon) announced the creation of Kindle Worlds, a new platform that will let writers legally publish fan fiction (yes, that fan fiction) and get paid for it like professional writers (more or less). From both the fanfic camp and the professional writing camp came a resounding cry of “…say what again?”

vampirediarieslogoIn short, Kindle Worlds will act roughly like an open call to write a tie-in story for a fandom (or “World”) for which Amazon has secured a license from the copyright holder. Amazon’s first deal is with Alloy Entertainment for its popular book series Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, with more licensing deals to come. Fan writers can submit stories, and if they pass muster with Amazon and Alloy, they might soon be earning real money for their work, all on the up and up.

No one quite knows how this will play out, but it’s fair to say that capitalism and fan culture are about to clash in a big way. Paying for fanfic is really not a new concept (once upon a time, buying a fanzine was the only way you could get your fic fix, and they weren’t cheap), but making money from it is. Fanfic writers (and I’m among them) write for love, not money, which is somewhat of an odd concept these days.

prettylittleliarslogoFanfic skates a thin legal line around copyright infringement; copyright holders generally ignore us because we don’t make any money and we don’t cost them any money. All we get out of it is the pleasure of the story, and if we’re lucky, maybe a few coins thrown into our hats in the form of comments from readers.

Now Amazon is inviting us, one World at a time, to step into the light, monetize our hobby, and allow ourselves to be monetized in return. From a writer’s perspective, it’s weird, but not totally unappealing. I mean, if I had a dollar for every story download, one of these years I might actually make it to Comic Con. But we can’t forget that Amazon’s purpose is to make money for themselves, not to enrich fandom’s wallet or culture. The business end isn’t great, as a number of writing business pros have already pointed out, but it’s the creative side that concerns me more.

gossipgirllogoFanfic has long been the red-headed stepchild of both the fandom and writing worlds, but for those of us who love it, it’s an art form of its own. We write fanfic for many reasons, but at the most basic level, we write because we see more stories inside the fictional worlds we love, and we’re eager to tell them to somebody else who cares as much as we do. Quite often there are things we want from the original text (character relationships, plotlines, crossovers) that we know we’ll never get unless we write them ourselves.

This is especially true since media tie-in novels, with a handful of exceptions, have become quite restricted in the kinds of themes they can explore, the places they can take the characters, or the changes they can make in the universe. If you’re used to the free-for-all of real fan fiction, pro tie-ins can be nice, but a little unsatisfying.

kindleworldslogoAmazon’s version of fanfic already has restrictions, with more to come. No graphic sex (understandable, though one can’t help thinking they’re missing out on the big money there!), no crossovers, and unspecified “content guidelines” that will come from what the owners of each licensed universe feel is appropriate for their property. It’s all perfectly logical from a corporate perspective, but restricting fanfic creativity doesn’t benefit the readers or writers at all. What it does do is take us another big step into the commercialization of fandom.

So what happens next for fan fiction? Will the best writers start writing only to sell to the Amazon market? Will the infinite variety of fanfic turn into one standard tie-in novel? And what will happen to the rest of us once a giant like Amazon has a financial interest in controlling our hobby? What happens when they decide they’d make more money if they were the only game in town?

Only time will tell, but let’s just say I have a bad feeling about this.

Guest Reporter: Cori Lannam

Cori Lannam has been reading and writing fan fiction since the mid-90s. She does not plan to publish with Kindle Worlds, but may be willing to set up some kind of barter for the extra Wii controller sitting in her Amazon cart.

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