Kindle Worlds: Amazon mainstreams fanfic
Characters live in our heads.
Not just characters we create, but ones we encounter when we read (or watch TV or a movie, play a game, and so on).
Imaginative people have always thought about what those characters do outside the story they’ve seen.
Some of those “shared dreamers” have written the stories down and made them available to other readers…even though the stories aren’t authorized by the rightsholders.
That’s part of what has made fanfic (“fan fiction”) complicated.
You do not have the legal right to publicly distribute stories about characters that someone else owns (especially if those characters are trademarked, but that’s not required).
However, people do it anyway.
Some rightsholders have tolerated it, even practically encouraged it within certain guidelines.
J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame has done that…no explicit sexual relations between the characters, but fanfic has been okayed by the author.
One of the biggest sites is
It covers many, many properties, but a search for Harry Potter gave me 65,678 results just now.
Some fanfic authors put a lot of time and energy into it…for no pecuniary compensation. While not charging for something doesn’t exempt you from copyright (as some people seem to think), you are clearly more likely to draw the wrath of a rightsholder if you do get paid for it.
So, there have been a few conflicts here. One is rightsholders wanting to protect the characters. Another has been fanfic authors who may be really good, but aren’t able to financially benefit from that…which might be reducing their output.
Getting permission from a rightsholder to do an authorized work has been very complex.
Amazon, demonstrating their remarkable innovativeness, is about to change that.
I was sent a press release about it, which is now available at the official:
Here’s how Amazon has changed the game.
The “fanfic” here will be licensed, approved by the rightsholder.
The rightsholder will get paid by Amazon…and so will the fanfic author.
This could be extraordinarily significant.
Why does it matter so much?
Part of the information for authors reads
“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.”
Let’s lay this out a bit more.
There is a creative work (TV show, book) that has an intense fan following. The fans want more than what they can get officially.
A fan writes a new story. That fan follows the guidelines provided by the rightsholder.
The fan publishes the story through Kindle Worlds.
Other fans buy the story. The author gets a royalty…and so does the rightsholder.
The only place you can get that story is from Amazon.
Typically, Amazon’s independent publishing platforms have not involved Amazon having the exclusive license for the content*: this does.
Tie-in novels, which are authorized by a rightsholder, have been big business (think Star Trek, Star Wars, Monk, and many more).
There could definitely be a market for this. Part of that is going to depend on the licenses Amazon can negotiate. They are starting out with Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and the Vampire Diaries (all held by Warner Brothers). I think that will rapidly expand. Other e-tailers might try and set up similar programs…but very few will have the clout and willingness to spend the money on this to make it happen.
One neat thing Amazon has done is gotten established authors to write in Kindle Worlds. Barbara Freethy, a #1 New York Times bestselling author, has written a Pretty Little Liars piece, for example.
Of course, not everybody submitting stories will be that quality. That’s going to be a risk: if the stories are bad, does it damage the brand? I think not…it’s so clever that Amazon will label these as to show that they are non-canonical (not part of the official oeuvre), so I think the main universe is protected. Think of it like “plausible deniability”. ;)
Another question will be if authors will embrace it. I think they will. You can earn royalties, even on very short works. That’s a new piece of this as well: a separate (lower) royalty rate for short shorts (5,000 to 10,000 words). Authors are fans, too…they’ll want to do this without the complication of getting their agents involved (although they agents might not like that part). Sure, some people will continue to do fanfic outside this system for free…partially because they like that community feeling, and partially so they don’t have to follow the guidelines. They’ll risk legal action doing so, as they do now…and that prosecutorial attitude may increase, since there is a legal way to do it now that benefits the rightsholder.
Oh, and Amazon is going to pay the royalties monthly! That’s another attraction for writers.
Would I do this personally?
Quite possibly. As regular readers know, I have written parodies here. You don’t need permission to do that (in the USA…interestingly, that’s different in Canada, which I hypothesize is one reason we get a lot of Canadian comedians here). However, that requires that you are using your piece to point out flaws in the original, and, well, it would be nice to write something where that wasn’t the case.
I have started scripts for shows I liked at times, intending to submit them through the proper channels…but the shows always got canceled before I finished, so I started to worry if I was the cause. ;) I had a nice one started for the Planet of the Apes TV series, for example.
I’ve also written in the style of public domain (not under copyright) works…and was really pleased when a site that matches your style to famous authors’ styles did say I wrote like those authors.
This may also be a great launch platform. Somebody who writes a terrific Kindle Worlds piece may be contracted by rightsholders to write something in the actual world…contribute a novel or a script to the official series. It’s happened before (at least that a fanfic author has added to the canon), and this makes sure the work would get noticed.
This sort of thing is why you can have faith in Amazon’s future (knock virtual wood). Their future isn’t tied up in having the next best hardware…it’s in having the next best idea.
Will there be pushback? Absolutely…”Amazon is turning a labor of love into sell-out commercial hackwork”…”Why do I get paid less for 10,000 word than for 100,000 words?”…”Why do they consider what I wrote pornography?”…”Why did they do that to that character?”
However, I think for the vast majority of authors, rightsholders, and readers, this is going to be a wonderful opportunity.
What do you think? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.
* The exception to indepedently published exclusivity with Amazon is when a book is part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). Amazon also makes exclusive deals with some tradpubs (traditional publishers)
Update: I just want to say, I’ve been thinking about this and talking with people about it. I think that, if I was the rightsholder for some older properties, I would jump on this. For example, people would want to write Dark Shadows or Man from U.N.C.L.E. fanfic. Thundarr the Barbarian and Thundercats also come to mind. Yes, there are or have been updates to those, but I don’t think any of them are literary revenue streams to any great extent right now. Putting them in KW (Kindle Worlds) would generate both income and interest…which might lead to more opportunities.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.