Yesterday, Amazon announced the launch of Kindle Worlds, a new initiative aimed at letting fan fiction (sometimes falled fanfiction or fanfic) authors profit from some of their writing by making it available for sale in the Kindle store.
The idea is both simple and bold. Amazon has partnered with rightsholders in major properties and gets permission to publish and sell fan fiction written about their worlds and characters. The revenue from those sales are split between Amazon, the original rightsholder and the author, meaning that fan fiction authors can profit legally from their creations.
At launch, Amazon has signed three different licenses: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries.
For authors, the cut is 35% of the net revenue from the book if the work is longer than 10,000 works. For short stories, that amount is 20%. This amount is significantly lower than other books self-published on the Kindle. For those, the royalty is usually 70%, or twice as high.
Still, the royalty on Kindle Worlds fan fiction is better than the royalty most fan fiction authors normally earn, which is nothing. This is because of the bizarre copyright status of fan fiction, which is a technical infringement that’s widely tolerated by rightsholders when done non-commercially.
But could Kindle Worlds have an impact on fan fiction beyond just enabling authors to commercialize it? It’s hard to say. While it’s nice that it helps bring some legal clarity to the notoriously gray issue, the introduction of money to fan fiction could be an even bigger issue long term.
A Natural Pairing
For Amazon, rightsholders and fan fiction authors, the pairing is very natural. Fan fiction has been a presence on the Web for as long as there has been an Internet.
Rightsholders, for the most part, chose to ignore fan fiction. Though technically fan fiction is an infringement of the copyright of the original work (copyright holders have the right to determine who can create derivative works), since they were non-commercial works and helped keep fans engaged between new works, they were seen as more helpful than hamful.
Though some creators, such as Anne Rice, have been aggressive about stopping fan fiction works, most only stepped in when there was an attempt to commercialize a work, such as with the Happy Potter Lexicon case.
But still, that mass of fan fiction, which was being posted and shared for free, represents to rightsholders a potential commercial opportunity, countless works created using their characters, many both high quality and long enough to be commercially viable, that they can’t sell.
Likewise, fan fiction authors have no means of obtaining the needed licenses to sell their creations as they, almost certainly, couldn’t afford any required fees or the legal counsel needed to negotiate the terms.
With Amazon working as an intermediary, the two sides can be brought together. Similar to YouTube obtaining licenses from music rightsholders, an intermediary is sometimes needed to bring together a large corporation and the people who want to reuse their content.
The result is that the pairing makes sense for all three parties involved. Fan fiction authors can commercialize works that previously they couldn’t, rightsholders can get revenue from a previously untapped source and Amazon can sell more ebooks.
But then a difficult question gets raise: What happens to the fan fiction community?
The Money Element
Up until the launch of Kindle Worlds, there were three things that were more or less true about all fan fiction:
- Fan Fiction was Free: Since authors couldn’t sell their work, they gave it away for free online.
- Fan Fiction was Public: Most fan fiction was distributed publicly online. Though some fan fiction communities were and are private, within those communities the works were shared without restriction.
- Fan Fiction was By Fans: Authors, knowing they can’t commercialize their works, did it purely for the love of the world and for the chance to expand it and explore new possibilities.
However, with the impending launch of Kindle Worlds, at least some fan fiction works for these three licenses, will be paid for, behind closed doors and may increasingly be written by professional and semi-professional writers hoping to capitalize on the existing audience.
It’s unclear how and if this will change fan fiction moving forward.
What was once done purely for the love and excitement of an original work now has a commercial element in it. Introducing money is going to change how fan fiction authors behave and who writes it, especially if the idea becomes popular.
While this easily could encourage the writing more fiction that’s of a higher quality, it could also shift the focus of fan fiction communities away from publicly sharing new works to promoting ones for sale.
In short, it risks turning fan fiction from a shared hobby and love into a business. The impact of that will be both difficult to predict and interesting to watch.
A Question of Business
If you’re a fan fiction author, or even just a reader of fan fiction, you should watch closely what happens with Kindle Worlds, even if your area of interest isn’t included in it yet.
Other rightsholders will be watching it closely, using it as a way of gauging their own potential participation in it. If it’s a smashing success and it earns a good amount of revenue for all involved, expect Amazon to quickly snatch up other licenses and expand the program.
If it doesn’t work and either fails to attract authors or readers, it will likely be brushed aside as an experiment that failed.
It’s success or failure will hinge on a separate question: What is the commercial viability of fan fiction?
The truth is that no one knows for certain.
Fan fiction has never been made for sale so broadly. With so much fan fiction available for free or various sites, will Amazon be able to convince fans to pay for more? Will they be able to attract capable authors with a royalty rate that half of traditional self publishing?
I truly don’t know.
Fan fiction communities were born out of love for their topic. For Kindle Worlds to truly work, both readers and authors of fan fiction will have to change their perspective on the subject and that is easier said than done.
Still, neither Amazon nor the rightsholders are risking much with this experiment and, if it does work, the effort has the potential to be beneficial to all involved.
No matter what happens in the long run to Kindle Worlds, fan fiction is going to change.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Kindle Worlds isn’t the product itself, but the idea that it brings with it.
When 50 Shades of Gray, which started out as fan fiction for Twilight, became a commercial success, people have began to realize the potential commercial value for at least some fan fiction.
Other authors have been doing it for public domain works, but the idea of commercializing fan fictions of current, copyrighted works has always been taboo. For example, in 2006, when an author attempted to sell a work of Star Wars fan fiction on Amazon, it wasn’t just pulled down for copyright infringement, but decried by the community as being against their code of ethics.
Now, with at least some rightsholders giving approval for limited commercialization, that conversation is going to change. How and where is unclear since the dialog has just started. But even if Kindle Worlds is a miserable failure, the idea will be out there and can’t be revoked.
Fan fiction, for better or worse, is going to see changes from this and it isn’t just the communities for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries that will see the impact.
Just what that impact is will be an interesting experiment to watch unfold.