OTW Fannews: Kindle Worlds edition

  • Amazon’s announcement earlier this month that it would be launching Kindle Worlds as a way to capitalize on fanfic writers didn’t just get a lot of attention among fans and online discussion sites it also launched dozens of related articles ranging from tech publications, business publications, publishing sites, entertainment sites, journalism sites, fan-oriented media and mass-market media, in the U.S. and internationally, as well as individual responses by authors. We thought we’d take a look at some of the issues raised in this coverage and what the media was focusing on.
  • One of Forbes‘ articles on the topic pointed out that the content restrictions imposed by Amazon’s terms mean that the juggernaut hit that was Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t have been able to be published through this program. Writers using this program won’t be making that much either. “The revenue split is considerably less generous than authors who use their own characters enjoy, with Kindle Worlds writers keeping 35% of the net. That’s for works over 10,000 words; for shorter ones, the rate is an even lower 20%. Ordinarily, writers who self-publish e-books through Amazon keep 70% percent.”
  • Author John Scalzi also looked critically at Amazon’s terms and what a bad deal it is for fanfic writers. “Essentially, this means that all the work in the Kindle Worlds arena is a work for hire that Alloy (and whomever else signs on) can mine with impunity. This is a very good deal for Alloy, et al — they’re getting story ideas! Free! — and less of a good deal for the actual writers themselves. I mean, the official media tie-in writers and script writers are doing work for hire, too, but they get advances and\or at least WGA minimum scale for their work.”
  • Scalzi’s comments about how Amazon’s move was more likely to replace writers of tie-in novels with cheap, unedited writers, tied into Forbes contributor Suw Charman-Anderson’s comments about how Amazon’s move was yet another example of a slow-moving and risk-averse traditional publishing industry. “How many more business opportunities are Amazon going to create from things that the publishing industry has ignored or rejected? Publishers cannot allow themselves to be pushed constantly onto their back foot by Amazon, they can’t let outdated attitudes towards copyright, licensing and creativity define their future. They need to do what Amazon does only too well: Find under-served communities and then give them the tools to write, to create and to make money from their work.” Megan Carter at The Daily Beast also looks at the matter from a publishing perspective, saying “The interesting thing about the Kindle Single is that it isn’t just changing how long people write, but how people write. The books can be written much faster–you say as much as you have to say, and then you stop. Then if they do well, they get turned into a hardcover, which can be revised and extended based on the commentary the ebook received. ”
  • Some, such as Matt Carter, are concerned about what this will do to professional writers. “The joy of fan-fiction for some has always been the pleasure of writing for the sake of writing, and then sharing among like-minded friends. The concern here is twofold in that the original author of, say, a “Vampire Diaries” script could feel slighted if a fan-fiction author suddenly pulls in more money than them, and that there will suddenly be authors who will actually take to writing fan-fiction rather than trying to create original worlds of their own, thus setting a limit on future creative projects.”
  • Carina Adly MacKenzie at Zap2It pointed out what Alloy is. “It should be noted that Alloy is a book packager, so the three available properties aren’t the brainchild of specific authors, but of a sort of brain trust of creative types and marketing geniuses. Alloy has a team of people who sit down and come up with plot ideas that they believe will make profitable franchises, mostly directed at young women. Then, they hire an author to write their previously outlined stories. This means that Alloy retains the creative rights to the “world” in which the books are set, because Alloy came up with it, which makes something like Kindle World a lot easier. Whether this sort of system would work with content that emerged in a more traditional way — from the mind of one writer or producer — is yet to be seen.”
  • TechnoBuffalo raised a concern likely on many fans’ minds — what comes next. “One lingering question from this project, however, is if the studios that license the properties will continue to allow fans to publish their works for free around the Web. In theory not much should change, but there is now a financial stake in this sub-section of fandom where companies can earn money from the work of others, so there might be an incentive to drive people towards the pay version of fan fiction. We reached out to Warner Bros., the parent company of Alloy Entertainment, for comment on the matter, but had not received a reply by publication time.”
  • One concern about the Worlds program may not be as restrictive as people think. “Fan fiction has never been about money. Inhabiting a beloved world and bonding about it with other fans is what’s kept people publishing thousands of words for free. Doing so for dollars but being limited by Amazon’s terms (one of which is no pornography, of which a sizeable amount of fan fiction is comprised) may turn many off. However, when asked if Fifty Shades of Grey would violate the “no pornography” clause, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Fifty Shades of Grey involves consensual sex between adults and does not violate our content guidelines.” So how Amazon defines pornography is definitely somewhere outside the “I know it when I see it” dictum.”
  • However, others are more concerned about what this development will mean for fanfiction communities, though the less they know about them, the more likely the think of Kindle Worlds as a great development. “Most fan fic authors would jump at the chance to legally write for their beloved franchise, but with a possibility of getting paid and perhaps even recognition from the creator? It’s going to be an instant, phenomenal success.” Others are less sanguine: “Fan fiction is a place of wing fic…and Mpreg…You can’t package up a place like that and sell it. And telling and retelling stories, however we want to, is bigger even than a giant like Amazon. Fanfic existed before the internet and it will still be around when we live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. After all, it’s created enough of them.” And one commentator proposed the idea that Amazon spaces will become community forums for fanfic writers. “‘I think it just builds the network effect, which is one of the cornerstones of Amazon’s competitive advantage,’ said R.J. Hottovy, senior ecommerce analyst at Morningstar. ‘The more people use (the platform) and discuss, the more powerful it is for people who sell things.'”
  • Some outlets contacted the OTW for comment, such as Wired: “Indeed, given the limited licenses, draconian content guidelines, and dubious contracts, it’s hard to imagine fans abandoning open platforms for a far-from-guaranteed paycheck. While Kindle Worlds is sure to attract a fair number of fan writers excited at the prospect of working under official license and maybe even making a buck or two off their stories, for many, the most appealing route to publication will remain the one taken by Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James: just file off the serial numbers.”
  • At least one likely outcome to widespread media stories on fanfiction will be the continuing practice of spreading confusion about fanfiction terms and practices due to a lack of fact checking or research, including being able to accurately determine the number of Vampire Diaries stories at Fanfiction.net. But at least fanfiction readers can rest easy that fanfic’s already been easily available for their Kindles since 2010.

What additional views on Kindle Worlds have you seen? Write about them in Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

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News of Note
  1. John C. Bunnell commented:

    Ms. McKenzie — and various other commentators — are not entirely correct either in describing Alloy Entertainment as a book packager or in characterizing Alloy’s creative process as that used to produce the original Vampire Diaries books. Book packaging is one of Alloy Entertainment’s businesses, but it’s more accurately a multi- or cross-media entertainment producer. Alloy’s strategy is to manage a single story-universe across multiple media types — thus, for example, offering Pretty Little Liars stories in books, on television, online, and so forth.

    Alloy acquired the Vampire Diaries universe as a result of its purchase of Daniel Weiss & Associates, or DWAI (and its subsidiary, 17th Street Productions) around 2000. DWAI was a more traditional book packager, and had created 17th Street in 1997 to more aggressively develop its properties for other media. While some of the packaged series DWAI produced were conceived, developed, and outlined in-house, many of the books it produced — stand-alone and series — were conceived and written entirely by freelance writers, often on the basis of no more than a title. (I was personally acquainted with several writers who produced books of this nature, and stopped just short of producing one such series myself.)

    The Vampire Diaries books (and a subsequent Smith series, the Secret Circle trilogy) originated with DWAI rather than Alloy, and while I was never directly acquainted with L. J. Smith, I’m certain that Ms. Smith’s books for DWAI were her own original work rather than the product of any in-house brainstorming or story development process. It’s also important to note that Alloy, following the success of its TV spinoffs from both Smith series, has retained other writers to produce books more consistent with its TV versions of the franchise, with Smith no longer involved.

    One feature of DWAI’s contracts with its authors — unusual in packaging and in US work-for-hire publishing contracts — was that the books produced were often copyrighted jointly by DWAI and the author. (In most US work-for-hire contracts involving fiction, copyright is claimed wholly by the packager or franchise owner.) This may be one reason why new Vampire Diaries and Secret Circle books continue to appear as copyrighted by L. J. Smith, despite being actually written by others. [Whether Ms. Smith derives any financial or legal benefit from the copyrights is unknown.]

  2. Adam commented:

    While I do think there are some fan fics out there that should be made into TV shows or movies, I don’t think i’m going to partake of this, and hopefully no one else I know does either.