Amazon have announced Kindle Worlds, a new scheme whereby they intend to publish fanfiction in the Kindle marketplace for money. This will be with the agreement of the owners of the intellectual property, who will also get some of the royalties, but it means that for the first time fans can publish fanfiction and get paid for it, without having to either change all the names to make it look like original fiction, wait a few decades for copyright to run out, or make a deal directly with the rights holder.
Authors will have to meet content guidelines, such as a ban on pornography, extreme violence, and crossovers, and a requirement that the work does not give a “poor customer experience”. There is also a minimum word limit works under 5,000 will not be accepted, and those under 10,000 will receive a reduced royalty rate.
But if an author meets the guidelines, they could get paid 35% of cover price – which will be set by Amazon – in exchange for giving up global rights to the work, including print and digital rights, for duration of copyright, which includes allowing the original content rights holder to use the fanfiction author’s ideas and original characters without reimbursement.
For my part, I am divided. On the one hand I think this will be an exciting opportunity for those who already create a lot of fanfiction and are fans of the Worlds Amazon has and will in the future license. They will able to make money from their hobby where they have previously not been able to.
But as John Scalzi points out, this could seriously disrupt the writing world. When rights holders – big publishers like Warner Brothers, which owns the publishers behind the three Worlds licensed so far, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl – can find new ideas, characters and stories simply by reading what a fan has written and don’t need to pay either the fanficcer or a freelancer who would have otherwise been employed to come up with new ideas, characters and plots, then we could start seeing those writers facing difficult times.
For fanfic readers, this will mean that free selection becomes limited as some fanfic authors decide paid publication is worth it, and put all their best stuff into Amazon Worlds – or at least, their best stuff that doesn’t contain pornography, extreme violence or crossovers. But if readers then decide to pay for it, there is a question of quality.
While content will be subject to guidelines, it is unclear what Amazon will consider constitutes “poor customer experience”. While Amazon does mention formatting and misleading titles and covers, it also “reserve[s] the right to determine whether content provides poor customer experience”. One can assume that poor spelling and grammar will be rejected, which alone is more than fanfiction.net does, but how vigorous will Amazon be regarding characterisation, plot, quality of prose?
At this point I reserve my judgement. I don’t think there’s enough information yet, either about the scheme or in the reactions of those who could be impacted, to form a firm conclusion. I will say, though, that I don’t think it’s something I’ll be acting on for my own writing – I’ve got enough of my own stuff to write and don’t watch any of the shows so far licensed. If a show, game or story is licensed which I do have sufficient interest in to write fanfiction on it, then I might consider it, but I certainly won’t go out of my way to get involved.