Amazon has just announced Kindle Worlds, a new licensing initiative that will enable stories written by fans to be published in the Kindle Store. The stories will be authorized fanfic, and Amazon has already signed up a partner.
Update: I have a new take on Kindle Worlds now that Amazon has convinced 2 of their authors to sign up.
Warner Brothers' Alloy Entertainment is the guest of honor at today's feast. Alloy is the book publishing division that coordinates with WB tv show production depts, and they have agreed to license Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and Vampire Diaries. The press release also mentions that more license deals might be in the works.
Did I mention that the fanfic authors are going to get paid?
Amazon will of course have to pay Alloy Entertainment, but the author of the fanfic will also be getting 35% or 20% of the net sales revenue. Stories over 10,000 words will be paid at the higher rate, while short-short stories will be paid at the lower rate.
In exchange for the royalty, the authors will agree to sign over their rights to Amazon Publishing. Yes, this isn't a KDP program but an expansion of Amazon's more traditional publishing effort. As such, Amazon Publishing will be picking which stories to publish and setting prices.
The program will officially launch in June with 50 titles. You can find out more on the Kindle Worlds webpage.
So is anyone surprised that Amazon was the first to come up with this idea? I'm not.
First of all, Baen Books is already using a crowd-sourced fanfic model to generate new content for the Grantville Gazette, the anthology series set in an alternate history universe. Baen has been publishing GG since 2003 (according to Wikipedia), and Baen has just released the 47th volume in the series.
But that was a small scale example; so far as I know Amazon is the first to commercialize fanfic on a large scale, and that doesn't surprise me. Fanfic has been a well-established literary form for decades (modern fanfic dates back to Star Trek or Sherlock Holmes stories, take your pick), but my guess for why it hasn't been widely commercialized is fear.
It's not that publishers or creators didn't want to make money (even off of fanfic). No, the problem was that their lawyers had convinced them of the terrible possibilities of what might happen to the original copyright. Ask a lawyer specializing in IP and they can spin a worst case scenario that might occur if a fanfic were even acknowledged (much less authorized).
I've heard a dozen different authors express more or less that same fear over the years, and I would expect that Alloy Entertainment's lawyers raised the same objection.
Amazon was probably the only one who could break through the fear. They're big, rich, and have a convincing track record for making money in markets that largely didn't exist before Amazon entered them (Kindle Singles, ebooks, etc). And Amazon may have also paid a hefty license fee in advance just to sweeten the deal.
Kindle Worlds is probably going to make Amazon a lot of money in the long run. But more importantly, it's also going to legitimize a new segment of publishing that has been quietly ignored for decades. And that is the larger story today.
Amazon has just expanded the publishing industry beyond legacy publishers, self-published authors, and indie publishing. Now fanfic authors can go legit, and that is going to have an interesting effect on the rest of publishing.
Remember when self-pub was synonymous with vanity press and was a sign of an author's failure? That's no longer true, and 5 years from now writing fanfic will probably be considered just as legitimate.
And that is what Amazon did today.