Today Amazon announced Kindle Worlds for Authors, which is a self-publishing tool to allow authors of fanfiction to monetize their work as long as it adheres to certain guidelines, including no porn, no offensive language, and no crossovers.
It’s not the first time someone’s tried to make money at the corporate level off fanfiction and it won’t be the last. As a big believer in the idea that creative people deserve compensation for their creativity and that as a legitimate form of storytelling fanfiction should not be considered a pale shadow of traditional professional writing, I’m not even, necessarily, inherently opposed to the idea.
But Amazon’s project raises a bunch of compelling questions that we’ve been hurtling towards for a while now, especially as fanfiction has increasingly received positive, mainstream, and significant news coverage in outlets like Time Magazine and a property of The Washington Post.
Question 1: To what degree does Kindle Worlds suggest that fanfiction can only be legitimized through the eradication of fan culture’s gift economy?
Question 2: Fanfiction has significantly changed our media culture. Kindle Worlds isn’t just capitalizing on it, but arguably represents an attempt to shape it. Is this a feedback loop in action or an attempt to stop the catalyst that is fan work?
Questions 3: The contractual terms of Kindle Worlds are the sort traditional professional writers would be strongly advised against signing on to. Is fannish work worth less? Should it be?
Question 4: Fanfiction has, arguably, always been about the option to use use all the tools, particularly those often discouraged by corporate content production (e.g., sexuality), to tell story. If the toolbox is limited, whether a given writer would choose to use all the tools or not, is it fanfiction or is it some other form of derivative (vs. transformative) work?
Question 5: How will fan readers view/treat fan writers who use a tool like Kindle Worlds? And how does that impact our communities, hierarchies, and barriers to entry?
Please play in comments below.
10 thoughts on “Kindle Worlds: Not bigger on the inside”
Re: question 5. If fanfic writers want their work to become monetized, I would have a lot of questions, but at the end of the day, I would have no problem with that. That being said, I’d much rather the monetization/payment be handled through a fan-created source like AO3 than through a corporation that seems to be merely interested in capitalizing on one of the few forms of publishing they haven’t yet managed to monopolize. Basically, I would have major judge-y eyes for fic writers who go to Amazon to make money.
a corporation that seems to be merely interested in capitalizing on one of the few forms of publishing they haven’t yet managed to monopolize.
This was my first thought as well, and it remains my main one.
This is limited to licensed “Worlds.” I wonder how many franchises will allow their product to be licensed to have others write about them. It goes beyond tie-in novels.
Somewhat addressing question two, I don’t think fan work can be stopped. I don’t know how much of a fraction of it could be shaped beyond what constraints fic writers give themselves.
Many slash fiction writers could easily be published if they were writing original fiction m/m romance. Not only self-published, but published by romance publishers. The question there is if they want to.
My guess is that some fans would follow the writers they liked if those writers signed up to Kindle Worlds. Some would prefer to stay with free (and unconstrained) fic. Again it reminds me of the authors who went from writing slash fiction to original fiction m/m romance, and that’s a lot of the m/m romance authors. If they went with an e-publisher, there were some constraints on them, but not necessarily too many. They went from using characters their readers were familiar with to their own characters, but in some cases those original characters became much beloved by a number of readers.
So it’s happened that fan fiction writers moved to being published professionally. This time it’s again whether they’ll keep their audience when the audience needs to pay for it, although having characters the audience already likes and their own writing skills are starting places.
Presumably Kindle Worlds works would have DRM on them. That’s another limitation to consider. Some readers get books with DRM on them with the intention of stripping the DRM off. Some just go with it. But what fan fiction readers might think of as sharing, publishers think of as piracy.
There’s a lot to consider.
Like you, I believe strongly in the idea that fan fiction is (or can be, and has no intrinsic barrier to being) a fully legitimate creative work. Good writing is good writing.
I’m frustrated by the notion that a work that can’t be monetized is less worthy in some way. Not only is it empirically false, but I think it also contributes to the weird and unfair sense of shame that some people have about their personal interests. I have friends who are unwilling to write fan fiction under their own names, fearing that to be associated with such lowly screed will damage their careers, reputations, etc. If they were able to publish the same work within a formal framework, with the endorsement of a respected institution like Amazon, and receive royalties like a “real” author, that could turn the psychology upside down. Even if the majority of fanfic remains free and informal, the existence of top-tier authors being taken seriously for their craft would be an inspiration. I suppose this is kind of an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach, but it’s a place to start.
I’m actually not too worried that this would lead to some sharp, divisive stratification of the fanfic ecosystem, even if it were widely adopted. Fan fiction comes in such an infinite variety of forms. We have traditional short stories and serials, up to what can only be described as full-length novels; reactional drabblets and iterative prose experiments that are ephemeral by design; interactive roleplays and distributed collaborations that are constantly expanding and evolving without clear boundaries; multimedia projects that remix copyrighted materials; and crossovers that mash disparate intellectual properties together, sometimes with downright frightening degrees of exponentiation. Some of these formats are neat and tidy and Kindle-friendly; others can’t even realistically be consolidated into a product per se. And even if they could, the legal complexities of authorship and ownership will always more trouble than they’re worth to most would-be retailers. I expect that even authors who publish for money would do so in combination with other – shall we say, more Tumblr-friendly – pursuits.
And I think we can all agree that, until the day Amazon starts takes money for porn, this is all academic.
I don’t think any of the fandom authors I know would use a platform like this exclusively, because of both the limited toolbox and the gift economy. We are all so used to making things because we love it without monetary enticement; no one I know would react to the suggestion that they only write fic for money without some major side-eye and/or eye-rolling. Moreover, we are all here in fandom partly because we want a beach, not a sandbox. However, if someone in need of a financial boost who happens to have written fic that conforms to the contracts (or can easily be edited to conform), I won’t look down on them for using this platform. I just think that given the growing success of crowd-funding in places like Tumblr, said hypothetical author might actually find simply asking their readers to consider giving donations more lucrative.
The biggest concern I have is that the original author/creator should benefit from any income stream that is directly (or sometimes even indirectly) derived from their work. While Amazon Worlds as it now stands isn’t the best solution, it at least starts the conversation about how an author has the right to be compensated for their original work in an evolving marketplace. Creating a fictional universe is not an easy thing, especially if that world speaks to so many fans; leaving the author out of the equation might well put a damper on their support of fanfic communities.
Fanfic is becoming a solid form of writing and creativity, but the rights of the original creator must still be considered. If you’re going to make money off of someone else’s world, it makes sense that you’d have to buy a license to do so, whether in a traditional way like selling Edward vs Jacob t-shirts or a spinoff series like 50 Shades of Grey. For fanfic writers who do it because they love it and don’t plan to profit financially, by all means, go for it. It’s when someone tries to profit from what was originally someone else’s work or universe that makes this more than an issue of fans just using an author’s work to spark their own creativity.
I said it on Twitter, I’ll say it here – I think it’s sad that creative work isn’t seen as valuable or legitimate unless there’s a way to make money from it. And while it might be a good thing for some fanfic writers to get some material compensation for their efforts, it does sound like Kindle’s rules will suck a lot of the fun and real originality out of playing in other people’s sandboxes.
I am in the surreal position (which I know you experience much more often) of being Not Allowed* To Talk About A Thing while my friends are engaged in avid discussion and speculation.
That said, it is entirely possible that a little bird could bring important discussion points to the people making these decisions, should that little bird happen to read about them on the Internet.
* Distinct from “not being allowed,” which Tom Stoppard taught me is permission for the state of non-existence.