Amazon is Now Looking to Monetize FanFic & Once Again Disrupt Publishing
Hard-core fans have been writing stories about their favorite characters for nearly as long as books have been published, and now Amazon is going to help them get paid for their work.
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.
flyingtoastr May 22, 2013 um 11:33 am
Given that Amazon is going to be curating this ("picking which stories to publish ") it’s completely analogous to traditional publishing of licensed works – Amazon is just doing the work getting the licences instead of a different publishing house.
So no, nothing at all has changed, except for who is doing the middleman work.
Nate Hoffelder May 22, 2013 um 11:47 am
Maybe, maybe not. I’m betting that editorial control is actually going to be exercised by Alloy, not AP. The original copyright holder was always going to have to sign off on these stories, and I bet they refused to grant a blanket license. And I can see why they would want to do that, if only for creative reasons.
flyingtoastr May 22, 2013 um 1:58 pm
Right, but that again makes it absolutely no different than a normal licensed work through any other publisher. There won’t be a golden age of self-published fanfiction, it’s still going to be works that are selected and approved by a publishing company/editors/rights holders, just as it always has been.
I’m not saying it isn’t a cool development (there’s a lot of surprisingly talented fanfiction writers out there who don’t get much recognition), but it isn’t as paradigm-shifting as you make it out to be in the blog.
Nate Hoffelder May 22, 2013 um 2:05 pm
I disagree. It’s not the money or how many titles are published, but simply the fact that we can now say "Amazon is now selling fanfic" that matters. Fanfic is on its way to being legit, and that includes the unauthorized and unpaid works as well.
flyingtoastr May 22, 2013 um 2:46 pm
I draw a major distinction between what Amazon is doing and fanfiction. Fanfic is by definition not approved by the creators, it’s fiction in the same universe written by fans. What Amazon is offering is for self-published authors to submit their fanfiction to be approved by the rights holders and then be published – the exact same process that normal licenced works go through. Authors have always been able to do so without Amazon’s involvement, all they needed to do was contact the publisher or rights holder with their pitch (manuscript) and get approval.
So it’s not fanfiction publishing, it’s publishing licensed works.
If Amazon had a blanket licence that allowed anyone to publish in-universe fiction and make money off of it this would be different. But as it is this is simply another publisher getting into licensed works.
George May 22, 2013 um 11:40 am
And once they license some franchises people really care about, the dough will really be rolling in. Too bad, JK Rowling has never really liked fan fiction. Just think how much money everybody could make off of that alone.
fjtorres May 22, 2013 um 12:50 pm
This is wise.
Fans are gonna fic, no matter what.
At least this way the IP holder avoids legal fights over copyrights and trademarks, and everbody makes a buck or three.And Amazon Publishing gets to identify quality writers that might be capable of fully original work.
Very very wise.
And Tme Warner iss a good place to start. The CW sows draw really dedicated audiences.
A good next stop would be the BBC.
The Sherlock fanfic community produces some real top-flight work.
Heather June 14, 2013 um 2:31 pm
At the risk of sounding like a MeToo, that’s the first thing I thought when I heard about the Kindle Worlds. Sherlock FanFic.
Did you know that at a BBC event to do with Sherlock, 10K people applied to sit in an audience made for a hundred people.
Sherlock FanFic would be huge.
Nate Hoffelder June 14, 2013 um 2:35 pm
Yes, but Sherlock fanfic doesn’t need a license.
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