Amazon has announced the Kindle Worlds program, wherein they will acquire the licenses to various IPs, and then publish for profit genuine fanfiction using that IP. They currently have Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girls and Pretty Little Liars, all from the same IP owner. They will sell it and pay royalties to the fanfic author and the IP holder. There’s links and stuff below.But I also wanted to collect some of my thoughts posted in various places into one location. Sorry if it seems disorganized.
I feel…. a little unhappy about this.
(On how it’s different from current tie-in work) It’s shotgun approach. Star Wars and Star Trek novelizations are commissioned and read and approved individually. Amazon is going to publish everything that checks the ‘Vampire Diaries’ checkbox and the ‘Yes it complies with your list of requirements’ checkbox and then only cull the ones that get complaints or that their automated systems flag as questionable. There’s going to be guidelines for what’s acceptable, of course (and porn won’t be). The difference is that if I wanted to write a Star Wars novel I’d have to write a proposal and get the proposal in the right hands and get the proposal approved and then I’d write it and they’d copy-edit it and promote it and sell it and so forth. If I want to write a Gossip Girls novel, all I have to do is write it and then pull the trigger myself when the Kindle Worlds system goes live. The unhappy-causing part of that is when you consider it on a major scale. When you consider all the old tv-shows licensed by Netflix and Amazon Prime may also soon be available for commercial fanfiction, and when you consider that when you reward a behavior more people engage in it, and when you consider what Amazon Self-Publishing alone did to the book marketplace. Whether or not it affects me or anybody or any story I care about, within the Amazon marketplace and among the fanfiction and self-published community the effect is going to be phenomenal.
We already lose great writers of original work to TV and teaching and other better forms of income. Fanfiction has a vast reach. Some old readers won’t pay. Many new ones will. Suddenly there’s less and less fiction that isn’t, in one way or another, hugely mainstreamed. And so much ends up belonging to the corporations, rather than the individual creators.
I’m not prophesying DOOM TO LITERATURE, for reference. I’m complaining about increased corporate control (and demand for profit margins) over what is published, along with professional authors with mouths to feed leaving their own work for better paying jobs. That isn’t a new phenomenon but if you’ve never had a world you enjoyed abandoned because the author wanted to write for TV or movies where the money was better, you are lucky.
I’ve encountered more authors than I can count who are published by Big Corporations and have had series they’ve been writing cancelled or suspended indefinitely because the series wasn’t selling enough to meet the profit margins required by the company. But ‘selling enough’ is variable depending on the overhead; a big company requires a lot more sales to justify a product than a small one. I don’t want to get into it about whether Big Publishing is All Bad (because I don’t think it is) but they do exert a lot of semi-arbitrary influence over what their writers produce.
With this move by Amazon, especially if they can get a lot more old properties, a lot of writers who aren’t already in the corporate-influence sphere (other than using Amazon as a platform) are going to move into it. It won’t be the same relationship, but– even though the fanfiction author retains copyright over any individual original elements of the fanfiction, they can’t ever take those elements outside of Amazon. Things like that. Plus, well, golden handcuffs.
Definitely not the end of Literature As We Know It, and it might even have good ramifications for the professional-caliber indie authors who stick it out, as they might stand out better in a smaller marketplace. My unhappiness is for the individual authors who find themselves under even more pressure to stop writing something that they love and their fans love because they just can’t justify doing that rather than something else any more, whether those are indie authors or midlisters under the big houses.
I do think this is probably going to hurt not-for-profit fanfiction of those licensed properties since Amazon is not a fan of competition.
And it isn’t that I strongly value original world-building particularly. I value authors not being angry and bitter because they were pressured to give up doing something they loved, or to write something they’re not enthusiastic about because they need to earn a living. I value things I love not being abandoned, too.
I don’t mind normal fanfiction; a strong fanfiction community is a great sign that you’ve not only arrived, you’re established. It’s just the paying for fanfiction suddenly attracts professionals and wannabe professionals who want to be paid, while solidifying the grasp of corporate control over entertainment. Fanfiction seriously has huge reach and a number of youngish authors got their start in fanfiction and then when they did produce original works, that start helped them succeed. So fanfiction has been influencing the market long before 50 Shades appeared, in a more subtle way. This is just going to change things in the most overt way yet.
Full disclosure: I toyed with making Nightlights a Bleach AU. It started out as Nightlights but was inspired by some things I liked about Bleach, after all. And if I just changed a few names and terms, whoa, INSTANT HUGE AUDIENCE. I didn’t, because…. it was a little too manipulative for me. But I did consider it. Because the vast audience available to fanfiction authors writing for Big Properties is very tempting. (It’s true that fanfiction suffers even more from the All The Shitty Indies phenomenon. But it was still tempting.)
Links and commentary on links:
http://www.forbeck.com/2013/05/22/kindle-worlds-worlds-burning/ Thoughts of a professional tie-in writer.
A bright side is that this could totally resurrect beloved but dead properties. Possibly as zombies, admittedly. But if they get licenses for all sorts of dead properties, people can bring what they’ve loved back to life and prove there’s money in it (if there is) and then the rights holder can take their ideas and sell them to everybody as a new movie/tvshow. I mean, none of it will be canon until the rights-holder says so. Why not sign up your dead IPs for it? Crowdsourcing! I mean, do you have some kind of ideals about what that rotting carcass of an IP should be that trump free money?
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/05/22/amazons-kindle-worlds-instant-thoughts/ Thoughts of a highly successful SF writer.
Amazon (and maybe other companies who think in terms of publishing platforms) wants to disconnect the writer as person from the product (yes, product) they create. Crowdsourcing content. Content creators. We want your ideas, but we don’t want you.
And finally: I know that old school fanfiction has a strong not-for-profit ethos. I think this evolved because that was, well, illegal. Even if it’s settled into the general mindset, I have low expectations that any philosophy can stand up to MONEY, unless there’s also money behind the philosophy. I don’t think the old school tradition alone is going to stop this from happening to old school IPs.
And now, well, new comment game: Hey, are you a writer? What IP would you write commercial fanfiction for? What IP would you give up your current project to write commercial fanfiction for? You can bet I’m thinking about that… Because you know, we don’t have a family income right now and Nightlights and Matchbox Girls aren’t doing so well…