Amazon is moving forward on an interesting new product, which monetizes fan fiction. Kindle Worlds, set to launch later this year, will allow writers to pick up the errant threads of existing works of fiction and spin new stories from them, then sell them in the Kindle marketplace. It’s an interesting idea, which might only go somewhere depending on what characters they’re allowed to license. Judging by the size and scope of the Buffy and Supernatural communities, for example, getting those characters would mean a market chock filled with vampire lust and uncomfortable family dynamics.
They have begun licensing the rights to some currently running shows, such as Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries. They expressly prohibit crossovers, since properties that might be reluctant to jump on this particular boat like Firefly would frown on seeing how let’s say Damon Salvatore fares against Captain Mal. After all, the corporate interests behind the unlicensed shows have had no problem slapping cease and desist orders on people selling knitted hats. They’ve also built content guidelines to limit graphic violence and pornographic sex, so whatever ideas you had about the pairing I mentioned above, stop it. This pretty much rules out wide swaths of what’s currently out there in fan fiction, but plenty of writers can certainly adapt to those terms if they’re willing to trade some creative freedom for a small percentage of sales revenue.
All the copyright wrinkles aside, I think this isn’t a terrible idea. The fan fiction community is actually huge online. It’s an entire world of people who’s imaginations have been so fired by certain characters they just can’t leave them alone. They have to continue exploring them, mixing and remixing them to create something new from existing properties. And just as musicians and visual artists remix other artist’s media to create new, dynamic art, why shouldn’t writers have the same opportunity? In effect, now authors can share the experience John Deacon came to terms with, when their particular “Under Pressure” is interpolated into a fan’s “Ice Ice Baby,” and they can then watch it rise in sales.
Certainly, there’s the grouse that these fan fiction writers should create their own characters, but countless artists honed their craft playing with existing properties before venturing out on their own. Mimicry is an excellent way to learn the bones of writing before you find your own voice. The online communities where writers share their fan fiction are great places for nascent authors to experience putting their creative output in front of readers who have no qualms about telling you what they think of your work. And now, if they have to pay to read what you created, they’ll definitely have no problem tearing into you in the comments. Fun, right?
Then of course there’s the issue of the rights fan fiction writers will have to their material. Writers imagining this as a path towards the kind of career E.L. James or Cassandra Clare forged out of the their respective online communities will need to tread lightly, as Amazon and the original character license holders will hold the rights to what they approve to sell in the marketplace. Like any other of the new outlets available in this heady digital world, it’ll be up to writers to weigh whether it’s better to shoot for some percentage of sales now in exchange for all rights to your work, or keep honing your craft via unpaid forums and blogs and retain the right to convert your output into something original later.
It’s impossible to see what’s going to be a lasting venture in the midst of the churn of how publishing is changing. Looking at the restrictions that seem to close off a significant portion of the existing community, and the legal rat’s nest of who owns what rights (not to mention making sure fans know their Kindle Worlds Vampire Diaries book isn’t written by either L.J. Smith or the show’s screenwriters), it’s hard for me to see this as anything that’ll last long term. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, anyone else have any predictions?