Amazon's Kindle Worlds fan fiction publisher draws mixed reactions

Some see Amazon's Kindle Worlds fan fiction publishing platform as a great marketing move, while others are wary of Amazon's ownership of ideas.

Eric McCandless/ABC Family/AP
'Pretty Little Liars' is one of the TV shows that has joined forces with Amazon to allow fans to sell their fan fiction written about the program. The show stars (from l. to r.) Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, and Shay Mitchell.

The literary community seems divided on Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, a new platform that will allow fans to publish their fan fiction through the book giant.

Fan fiction has always been controversial, largely because fans are writing stories about characters that many see as the intellectual property of their creators: the original authors. In some cases, as with J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books, the characters are in fact copyrighted. 

But as the Monitor’s Husna Haq reported, Amazon is now acquiring licenses from original copyright holders, enabling Kindle Worlds users to legally write stories about the characters in some of their favorite books, TV shows, and movies. and then publish them via the Amazon platform.

But there's a cost for doing business with Amazon: Fan fiction writers will receive 35 percent of the profits (for stories which consist of 10,000 words or more) or as little as 20 percent (for a story that clocks in at between 5,000 and 10,000 words). The rest of the profits will go to Amazon and the company that’s behind the properties.

The only company that’s officially in the Kindle Worlds stable so far is Alloy Entertainment, which has given Amazon permission to have writers pen fan fiction about their TV shows “The Vampire Diaries,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “Gossip Girl.” (“Vampire” in particular is one of the most popular subjects on the fan fiction site FanFiction.net.) However, Amazon says more properties will be made available shortly.

No matter what other properties sign on, there are other rules for fans as well. Pornographic material is not allowed (sorry, EL James), and the popular “crossover” device often used in fan fiction – Hermione Granger from "Harry Potter" and “The Hunger Games” heroine Katniss Everdeen teaming up, for instance – isn’t allowed.

In addition – and most disturbing to some in the literary community – Amazon will own the text and any ideas introduced in a fan fiction piece once it’s in Kindle Worlds. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America president John Scalzi says he can't help wondering if companies might not simply use the platform as a mine for new ideas for their own narratives. 

“That really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made?” Scalzi wrote on his blog, clarifying that the thoughts were his alone and not representing the SFFWA. “If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you – which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.” 

Scalzi also pointed out that since Amazon will hold the rights to the work, the company could print a story elsewhere without compensating the writer, and wondered what this would mean in for paid tie-in writers, authors who are hired to write novels about characters from a movie or TV show. Examples include the multiple tie-in “Star Wars” books.

Atlantic writer Noah Berlatsky says that he didn’t see much difference between tie-in novel writers and those who would now be paid for their fan fiction.

“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?” Berlatsky asked.

The new competition could make a big difference, however, to writers currently making their livings writing tie-in novels. "If I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets," write Sclazi, "I would have some real concerns."

Huffington Post UK writer Laxmi Hariharan said that her thoughts on Kindle Worlds were split between her wariness of the program as an author and her admiration for Amazon as a marketer. (Hariharan is a fantasy writer who also works as a content branding strategist.)

“You also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you,” Hariharan noted. “As an author – my spider senses tingle on reading this. But as a marketer I wonder if this concept is not a bold, experimental move? ... At a time when marketers are pulling their hair out over innovative ways to keep viewers/ readers/ film goers/ gamers engaged with their brand – well here is a platform not only completely dedicated to that, but which actually officially enrolls its most vocal evangelists, as brand ambassadors to write about the characters.” 

No debut date has been set yet for Kindle Worlds, but one thing’s for sure – the discussion about it is far from over.

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