May 22, 2013
Amazon tries to monetize fan fiction; I freak out – UPDATED
This morning I woke up to the news that Amazon was about to launch “Kindle Worlds,” a New Publishing Model for Authors Inspired to Write Fan Fiction.
My initial reaction: WTF?!
I read the press release, and then I read the Kindle Worlds for Authors guidelines and this is what I’ve concluded: This isn’t Amazon figuring out how to make money off fan fiction; this is Amazon entering into a partnership with media properties to crowdsource officially licensed novelizations.
Officially licensed novelizations are already old hat. Here are some examples:
There are a lot of things that are unclear from the initial guidelines. These things jumped out at me:
“When the Kindle Worlds Self-Service Submission Platform opens, you will be able to upload your story easily” — except “World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines.”
My question: Who’s going to make sure that writers follow those guidelines?
“All works accepted for Kindle Worlds will be published by Amazon Publishing.”
My question: What does “accepted” mean? Really. Again, is someone going to vet those stories to make sure they don’t violate the guidelines?
“You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”
So, who gets to decide which elements of your work are “original”? And dude, the World Licensor, e.g. Alloy Entertainment, gets to use those elements without paying you for them even if they’re original?
And I didn’t even get into the whole “Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.” So many issues right there.
And yet despite all these potentially problematic business issues, I think my biggest WTF moment with this comes from a fan perspective.1 Amazon’s content guidelines do not allow pornography, offensive content, “excessive use of brands,” crossovers, illegal and infringing content, or “Poor Customer Experience”: “We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.” What does that mean?
Fan fiction is for fans; it’s done for the love of a TV show/movie/book/whatever. It’s not done for money. When it’s done for money, it becomes officially licensed tie-in media. It’s regulated, and it takes the fan out of fan fiction: it basically turns you into a work-for-hire writer. This is fine if that’s what you want. I know writers who make good livings doing that, but it’s not about being a fan. It’s about a job.
Fan fiction is based on (let’s face it) doing what the original author(s) would probably not do: slash pairings, crossover stories (who doesn’t love a crossover?!), hot steamy sex, etc. Some of it is really incredibly well written; some of it is crap. Will Amazon actually succeed in getting anything good out of this? I don’t know. I know that when I’ve read fan fiction, I’ve read it for all the things Amazon is not going to allow.
I think I’m mostly offended by the idea of monetizing fan fiction from a symbolic perspective, not even the legal mumbo-jumbo I picked out above. If you want to write fan fiction, I say do it, but do it for the love.
UPDATED 4:25 PM: Many more people have posted about this today, and I wanted to draw your attention to two links in particular:
- John Scalzi’s “instant thoughts” on the issue, in which he goes into a lot more detail than I did on what “Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories” actually means.
- Gwenda Bond points out that Amazon’s initial deal is with a book packager, something that I didn’t note when I linked to Alloy Entertainment above. Basically, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Gossip Girl were not created by one individual author; they were created by a media company and meant to be developed across different formats (TV, books). So while those books have a single author’s name on the cover, they were not necessarily developed by that author, which makes this whole thing rather different than it would be if, say, Stephen King authorized Amazon to sell fan fiction based on his books. But it doesn’t change my initial assessment, which is that this is an effort to crowdsource writers for officially licensed novelizations.
- I used to read a lot of fanfic for my graduate school research on X-Files fandom. [↩]
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