Amazon announced on Wednesday that they would soon be launching a new service called Kindle Worlds, which would allow fanfiction authors to publish their works on the Kindle store and receive royalties from sales. They’ve made deals with the owners of the original content (“World Licensors”) to allow independent authors to create their own stories and characters within that world and share the profit from their creations. Depending on the word count, authors can earn between 20 to 35% of all base net revenue.
A Great Leap Forward
This is an incredible, game-changing, home run of an idea, and it’s stories like this that make me appreciate how great crowdsourcing is. As I’ve mentioned before, crowdsourcing is often at its best when the controlling company taps into a crowd that is feverishly zealous about their passion, but has no official platform to share those creations.
Amazon recognizes that there is a huge base of authors who are wildly passionate about their fanfiction, and an even bigger base of readers who tear through the world-expanding content at a voracious rate. Kindle Worlds will be a great way for the World Licensors to expand their worlds, make further profit, and gain new ideas for official releases. Meanwhile, the fanfiction authors gain notoriety and actually receive compensation for their writing. And of course, the readers are thrilled to get new stories about their favorite worlds and characters, and their buying power will provide popular authors the incentive to crank out even more content. And thanks to the robust ratings system the Kindle store already has in place, the users can also contribute their ratings to ensure that quality stories get pushed to the top and poorly-written ones are buried.
There are, however, a few potential downsides. Amazon has rigid content rules in place that disallow pornographic or “crossover” stories. These are unfortunately both tools that fanfiction authors utilize with extremely high frequency. Crossover stories allow different fictional worlds to collide and interact, and erotic literature is often a staple for source content that doesn’t openly display the more intimate details of characters’ relationships. These restrictions aren’t deal-breaking though; the “no porn” rule simply relegates stories to the equivalent of R ratings, which is more than enough to provide sufficiently steamy content. And we may see the crossover ban lifted as Amazon gains the rights to more and more creative properties.
The major worrying features are that the World Licensors gain the creative rights to any new narrative elements that the authors create, and can then use them in official releases without compensating their original creator. I can see why they’d do this; the aim of Kindle Worlds is to collaboratively expand the Worlds and allow anyone the use of newly-created narrative elements. It still feels kind of shitty to not compensate the authors, though.
There is the additional issue that people already create, share, and read fanfiction for no charge on highly popular websites like Fanfiction.net. I see this is being a minor speedbump, though. People have proven through services like Netflix and iTunes that they are more than willing to pay for TV, movies, and music that they could have gotten for free if it’s the right price and the right level of accessibility. I don’t see a reason to believe that books will be any different.
Power to the People
Ultimately, this is a great idea that mines an underutilized resource to accomplish what is essentially a noble goal: paying people for their efforts. In this economy, where jobs are hard to come by and people make money where they can, I’d be willing to bet that some fanfiction authors are currently jumping up and down in excitement at the prospect of finally getting paid for their work. Plus, bringing fanfiction into the public eye might change the general opinion that it’s all poorly-written schlock with no entertainment value.
Well done, Amazon, and please do hurry up on obtaining the licenses to as many intellectual properties as you can. The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl are cool, but they don’t exactly make me want to rush out to buy a Kindle.