Amazon Jumps Into the Fanfic Business

Amazon announced Kindle Worlds today, describing it as “the first commercial publishing platform that will enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so.”

I didn’t know this was coming, but I’m not surprised, exactly. Amazon has been a very successful business, and if they see a potentially profitable area they can branch out into, they’re gonna do it.

I found out about this through Chuck Wendig’s post here, wherein he talks about the press release and proceeds to fragment his own brain into tiny, shiny pieces.

I’m still digesting and processing this, and I suspect some of it will boil down to having to wait to see how it all plays out. But some of my initial reactions are…

  • This isn’t a free-for-all. Amazon has licensed these rights from the rights-holders, and it’s for a specific and limited list of properties.
    • But wait, if they’ve licensed the rights, is it really fanfiction or is it an open call for licensed tie-in work?
  • They’ve got a no porn rule. Fair enough. If anyone’s going to write 50 Shades of Blue: A Goblin’s Erotic Awakening, I think it should be me.
  • My understanding of the fanfiction community is that there’s a strong value on not profiting from your work. This seems like a potential culture war between Amazon and the community they’re trying to court.
    • That said, no community is perfectly homogenous, and as a writer, I have nothing against getting paid for your work, so long as it’s done legally, which this would be.
    • Also, as someone who isn’t a part of that community, I could be TOTALLY AND EMBARRASSINGLY WRONG ABOUT THIS PIECE.
  • Who decides whether to license a work, the publisher or the author? Can DAW license Libriomancer fanfic without my approval? Can I do it without theirs?
  • Amazon takes all rights to your fanfiction story. Which isn’t entirely unreasonable in a work-for-hire situation, but will make a lot of folks uncomfortable.
  • Why would people pay for fanfiction when so much is available online for free?
    • Then again, why would people pay for licensed tie-in work when so much fanfiction is available online for free…
  • Should prolific fanfic writers look into getting agents? I’m not sure the benefit of an agent in this situation, but I also cringe at the idea of writers who aren’t very, very business-savvy signing contracts without someone else looking it over.
  • Does this mean fanfic could now qualify for SFWA membership?
    • Waiting for various heads to explode at that question…
  • Finally, Amazon is not pro-author, nor are they pro-reader. They’re pro-Amazon. (This doesn’t make them any worse or better than most businesses, by the way.) When Amazon’s interests overlap with those of readers or writers, great. But don’t lose sight of their bottom line, because I guarantee that’s what they’re watching.

I’m sure there will be many, many discussions and arguments about this, and I have no idea how it will all play out or whether or not it will work. But I do think it’s a fascinating step in the ongoing evolution of the industry.