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Kindle Worlds: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

Kindle Worlds

Amazon Publishing announced “Kindle Worlds” on Wednesday, which they say will let fan-authors write novels, novellas, and short stories based on the books and characters created by original authors and media companies which agree to license out their properties to Amazon for this purpose.

Kevin Melrose posted this description of the new service on the Comic Book Resources website:

A week that began with Yahoo’s $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr got even stranger this morning with Amazon Publishing’s announcement of Kindle Worlds, billed as the first commercial publishing platform for fan fiction. In short, fanfic writers can now earn royalties for certain corporate-sanctioned stories.

For the launch, Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Alloy Entertainment, the book-packaging division of Warner Bros. Television, for Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars and L.J. Smith’sThe Vampire Diaries — all bestselling young-adult series that have spawned hit television shows. More licenses are expected to be announced soon.

While that initial offering is limited in scope, Amazon clearly has big plans for Kindle Worlds, which it touts as “a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.” If Warner Bros. is willing to open the door to “official” fanfic for its YA cash cows, how long before writers are encouraged to tackle DC Comics’ superheroes (or at least TV properties like Smallville and Arrow)?

CNNMoney reports: Amazon plans to add more licensed titles soon. Authors will be able to submit completed works beginning in June, when the Kindle Worlds store will launch with 50 titles Amazon commissioned from successful authors including Barbara Freethy and John Everson.

Some authors have already responded in a positive way, jumping on the bandwagon and welcoming the news as an opportunity for their fans to earn money (and for them to earn money too) by selling works that are wholly based on their original characters and settings. Some media conglomerates have been first in line to offer their shows and movies. Most of the fan reaction online has been “I’m on the fence,” or, “I’ll wait and see.” It would be fair to say, that there’s been a definite lack of analytical thought regarding Kindle Worlds.

For one thing, “fan fiction” and “work for hire” are two different things. Fan fiction is written out of love, and is offered for free. It is one of the most democratic creative responses to pop culture. Everyone can participate. The very young, the very old, good writers, poor writers. Professionals are equal to the amateurs in their passion for a certain fictional universe, or particular fictional characters. Work for hire is what the biggest comic book companies do. Marvel, for example, owns the X-Men. The X-Men have a “continuity,” or internally consistent history and Marvel hires experienced writers and creative teams to produce comic books, and prose novels, about the X-Men.

Fan fiction writers who are hired, or given permission to write works that they can sell, are no longer fan fiction writers. They are work for hire professionals. You can see that Amazon has already hired established writers, not fans, to produce the “fan fiction” for Kindle Worlds’ initial releases in June. And that’s a sign of what’s to come. Fans are going to be competing with hundreds of writers who have sold a few stories, or a novel, and can’t make a living. These will be more than willing to take on the mantle of a “fan” and research their topic. Kindle Worlds will not be publishing “fan fiction” but professional adaptations of existing fictional universes and characters. In the same way that professional writers are hired to write Star Trek and Star Wars novels, and movie adaptations.

Big corporations like Disney, which owns Marvel, Pixar, and now Lucas Films, routinely hire their own writers to do adaptations. It seems highly unlikely that any of these companies will have motivation to let Amazon and Kindle Worlds choose the people who will use their properties to earn money, when they can hire their own creators and earn a lot more. Today, CCO of Marvel Joe Quesada confirmed to Project Fandom via email that Marvel will have nothing to do with Kindle Worlds:

Marvel currently has no plans to do anything like this.  As laid out and for many reasons, I don’t see this as anything (we) would ever be comfortable doing.

Will Warner Brothers let “fans” write stories about Batman and Superman? In respect to the DC comic book universes, it doesn’t seem likely. DC publishing has a hard enough time negotiating the rights of their Vertigo authors.

For example, SANDMAN fans have been writing fan fiction for years and years. And producing art, clothing, and music dedicated to Neil Gaiman’s magnificent comic book series. All out of love. All for free. I wonder if Mr. Gaiman would agree, even if DC did, to allow certain writers to be paid to write SANDMAN fan fiction using Kindle Worlds, profiting from his originality and creativity at the expense of other fans.

Fan fiction is a wonder. I support it wholeheartedly and love reading it. The rise of fanfic seems to have started in the 1960s. I was there in 1967, when a friend of mine showed me a secret packet of wide-ruled pages she’d filled with a “script” for her own Star Trek episode. We began exchanging Star Trek “stories” with one another, and a few other early “Trekkies.” We had no idea what we were doing, or that it was called fanfic. There was no Internet at the time. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, that fanfic writers from around the world began to find each other online, and congregate and share.

Fan fiction arises from the people. There is an element of anarchy, a challenge to the establishment, in fan fiction. Amazon’s Kindle Worlds is trying to get control of this phenomenon, and milk it for a profit. Some writers and media companies see this as a way to make more money. And that’s what will happen; they’ll make a lot of money. Do the math. The Kindle Worlds author will receive 35% of sales for any work over 10,000 words. The original author or license holder will receive an unknown percentage, and Amazon pockets the rest. All concerned will be motivated to make sure only professional or semi-professional authors are hired for these gigs.

Fan fiction doesn’t need justification when it’s free and created out of passion. So I find it amusing when authors who are happy about Amazon’s new money-making opportunities, try to rationalize fanfic by comparing it to Shakespeare, or any work or art that uses some pre-existing aspect of our culture. Shakespeare didn’t write “fan fiction.” Adapting source material from myths, legends, old plays, poems, and history, isn’t “fan fiction.” If that were the case, then every historical novel ever written would have to be reclassified as fanfic.

The dividing line is simple. Fanfic begins when a writer uses wholly derivative ideas, characters, and settings that still legally belong to someone else. A writer who uses source material that is in the public domain, or historical and cultural events, or myths and legends, and weaves all this into a completely original work of art, isn’t writing fanfic. An example of the latter is the novel “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire. L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” is in the public domain. Maguire took the same characters and used them in a remarkable way to tell an entirely new and fresh story. (Disney has acquired the rights to some of the Oz books, so authors have to be careful. And Turner owns MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” film, so Maguire couldn’t use such references in his books as the ruby slippers.)

Wicked Witch

Will Kindle Worlds be a success? Will more and more authors and movie studios and media conglomerates begin licensing properties to Amazon? I’m sure more and more will participate. Will this actually resemble genuine fan authors getting paid to write fan fiction? I don’t think so. Will bona fide fans continue to produce their own stories and art for free, from love, and post these online? And learn the discipline and love of writing, and perhaps go on to professional writing careers regardless of the existence of Kindle Worlds? Yes, thank goodness.

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About Rivka Jacobs (4 Articles)
Rivka Jacobs is an unemployed counselor and registered nurse who spends most of her time taking care of her cats or writing fiction. When she's not doing either of those things, she reads comic books, watches geeky and science shows on television, and spends too much time on Internet message boards. Rivka has published several science fiction and horror stories and is an active member of the SFWA, and an affiliate member of the HWA.

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