OTW Fannews: Pushback on Kindle Worlds

  • The first wave of Kindle Worlds press coverage mostly quoted from Amazon’s press release with a few reaction links. Follow-up articles proved to be more critical and more aware of fannish perspective. The Millions asked Will Kindle Worlds Commodify Fan Fiction?. “It is fitting, perhaps, that the same week as the Yahoo/Tumblr acquisition, Amazon announced a project entitled ‘Kindle Worlds.’ It feels like more of a broader trend than a coincidence, because the Kindle Worlds endeavor is about an organization inserting itself from the top down. ‘Worlds,’ we learn, are Amazon-ese for fandoms.”

    By contrast “There is an enormously freeing diversity in the world of fan fiction. I don’t mean that the writers are diverse — they are mostly female, and surely there must be socioeconomic implications in the ability to sustain such a hobby…The possibilities spin off into exponentially increasing permutations, spurring weird stuff and beautiful stuff, quite often fiction that’s better written than the source material that inspired it, creating fandoms that are so broad and varied and encompassing that a person can usually find whatever they’re seeking within. If not, well, that person may as well just write it herself. If that’s not the most accurate reflection of the rest of the internet — the organic, cultivated internet, grown from the bottom up, with no contracts, no exchanges of cash — then I don’t know what is.”

  • The Guardian again tackled the topic, this time declaring How Kindle Worlds aims to colonise fan fiction The “colonization” term seemed deliberately chosen. “Fan fiction writers are, first and foremost, fans: passionate ones, sophisticated ones, and knowledgable about the culture they’re writing for and about. And while Amazon’s not-very-exciting payment terms might entice a few into the professional fold, many more will continue to write whatever they like online for the joy and social prestige of the thing itself. Nevertheless, the attempted legalisation and professionalisation of one of the weirder and most enjoyable subcultures of the internet marks a significant moment in the history of networked literature.”
  • Publishers Melville House decided to tackle the announcement in fanfiction form. “Jeff looked up from his arm screen to find that Damon had leaned in close enough that he could smell the cool death on his breath. ‘Glad to see you’re up to your usual business, Jeff—taking a happy and vibrant community and doling out a pittance to exploit and corrupt it.’ He placed his long-fingered hand on Jeff’s chest. Jeff heard himself whimper quietly from somewhere beyond his control. ‘And what about content, Jeff? I assume there are restrictions? You have to take the fun out of it somehow.'”
  • Geek Empire noted Amazon’s true target, professional writers. “In that regard, Kindle Worlds resembles nothing so much as another Amazon service, Mechanical Turk. There, business and developers commission small, iterative tasks that users can perform, often for remuneration as low as a penny. As Amazon would have it, Mechanical Turk gives businesses a “scalable workforce”—to which one might add, a workforce that is cheap and inherently disposable . That’s what Warner Bros. has gotten in exchange for the license to use its characters: a virtually free and disposable workforce.”
  • Investing site Motley Fool hosted a post which noted that the move was a way to create a longer revenue stream for content owners. “Partnering with Amazon in its fan fiction program would not only help media companies, which are looking for ways to promote their television shows and movies, but it would also help laggard book publishers such as Scholastic, which need new ways to profit from concluded franchises.”
  • An article in Chicago Grid reminded people that books aren’t all Amazon may be after. “And do remember that Amazon also has a TV production studio. The language on the Kindle Worlds page that describes the relationship between a Kindle Worlds author and Amazon is conversational; I’m certain that authors will be required to click through something more obtuse and comprehensive when the program goes live next month. But as-is, we can’t dismiss the possibility that Amazon (and its first-look production partner…yes, Warner Studios) is buying worldwide rights to exploit the author’s work across all media for the life of the copyright, for nothing more than the possibility of royalties for the ebook.”
  • A post at Tosche Station poked at all the problematic possibilities in Amazon’s announcement — such as rights granted upon submission, not acceptance, no legal protection if there’s infringement of non-partner brands, and “The net revenue is based off the customer sales price, not the wholesale price, which tends to be less. That seems okay, doesn’t it? It does until you read this: ‘Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories.’ Hm. So that means that your royalties and revenue could change in an instant, depending on how Amazon decides to price your story–and keep in mind, Amazon could decide to price it at zero, depending on how your contract is written.”
  • Another fannish blogger noted the problem with shared universes among fans — who really owns fanon? “Lastly, what about plagiarism between Fan Fictions? Fan Fiction writers inside of fandoms can and will borrow from each other. Sometimes an idea is so great that one person reads it in a Fan Fiction, thinks it’s actually canon that they missed, and puts it in their story. I’m guilty of that because the idea that Tycho Celchu was talking to his fiance when Alderaan was destroyed was a beautiful idea and I honestly thought it was canon. When I asked the writer, they also had thought it was canon then realized it wasn’t and unfortunately I was never able to trace back to the person with the original idea. But at least in Fan Fiction, it’s free and we can call enough other out on it without needing legal recourse. Now that we start making money off of the ideas? Oh boy…”
  • The UK’s Metro covered the bases with the pros and cons of fanfic as well as where best to publish it. “Tastes may be changing – Justin Bieber and The Hunger Games have made way for One Direction and Star Trek in the past year or so – but demand remains high – fanfic story uploads to the site [Wattpad] have increased by 60 per cent from 2012 to 2013, and this year is only five months old…The other issue is control –- [novelist Sheenagh] Pugh suspects that better writers will opt out to preserve theirs, particularly as Amazon would take ownership of their ideas. ‘I don’t think the best of fic will find its way on to Kindle Worlds,’ she said. ‘If the standard does prove to be low, that in itself will put off writers who care about their work, in the same way that they often won’t put their work on the FanFiction.net website because of its reputation for hosting acres of rubbish.’”
  • The Daily Dot also took note of the varied volume of content among fandom sites. “However, there is also the possibility that Kindle Worlds is aimed at a new generation of fans—ones who are growing up with the assumption that it’s completely reasonable to want payment for your fanfic. While popular Tumblr-based fandoms range from crime shows to young adult novels, and participants range in in age from 12 to 60, many are simply unaware of the seething underbelly of Wattpad-style fanfiction. On Wattpad, a One Direction fic written by a middle-schooler can receive upwards of a million hits. The fiction on traditional sites like Archive of our Own may be more tightly written, but the most popular story there only boasts a measly 360,000 hits. The question is, will the mostly teenage Wattpad audience have enough interest to pay for fanfic when you can already read ten stories on your smartphone every day, for free?”
  • At The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky uses comic fandom to suggest that there’s little difference between official tie-in works and fanworks. He asks “In terms of creative process and in terms of audience, does it really matter all that much if you’re writing about Kirk and Spock’s new adventures for free or for profit?” Then he dismisses one obvious difference with “Admittedly there’s not a whole lot of gay sex in super-hero comics… but that seems more like a genre distinction than an existential one.” Instead he suggests “If “fan fic” was the name of a genre and a community, it can now be the name of a marketing campaign and a marketing demographic. You could even say that Amazon is turning the term “fan fiction” into fan fiction itself, lifting it from its original context and giving it a new purpose and a new narrative, related to the original but not beholden to it. Dreams come out of the corporation and go back to the corporation, fungibly circulating. Your brain is just another medium of exchange.”

What other discussions have you seen about Kindle Worlds? Write about it in Fanlore! Contributions are welcome from all fans.

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