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GigaOm is Wrong to Call Kindle Worlds a Bust

Amazon-Kindle-Worlds[1]When Amazon launched Kindle Worlds in May 2013 many people misunderstood the new service, and it appears that misunderstanding continues to sway journalists even today.

On Sunday GigaOm published an article describing Kindle Worlds as a bust. Working from a recently published research paper, Jeff John Roberts calls Kindle Worlds "a bust for fans, and for writers too".

While it is possible that KW is a bust, Mr Roberts doesn’t prove that argument. In fact, his approach is not just wrong but completely irrelevant to the reason Kindle Worlds was created.

Later in this post I will discuss my standards for judging whether KW is a bust, but before we do that let’s pin down exactly what we are talking about.

Far from being a portal for fanfiction, Kindle Worlds is a publishing imprint. Organizationally, it belongs to Amazon’s publishing divisions, and it is not part of KDP. This is an important distinction because had KW actually been about fanfic then it would have been announced as a self-publishing portal related to KDP.

Instead, KW is about copyright holders (movie studios, authors, publishers, media companies) choosing whether they wish to publish works by outside authors.


As Tobias Buckell explained last year, it’s about licensing, not fanfic:

It’s really a way for Amazon to disintermediate media tie in novels, where packagers and publishers approach authors to write in an established media universe.

Amazon is using some elements of fan fiction to do an end run around the existing publishing structure of it.

If you look at KW from the viewpoint of licensed content and not fanfic then Mr Roberts arguments tend to fall apart:

In the month of June, authors contributed 46 Pretty Little Liars works to Kindle Worlds, which sounds like a fair number — unless you compare it to the more than 6,000 such works that appeared during this time on two other fan fiction sites.

More broadly, on one of those sites,, fans posted 100 new stories every hour across all categories. And Amazon? Its entire output for all 24 “Worlds” of content, which also includes franchises like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, was just 538 stories over the course of more than a year.

He is simply wrong to say that "authors contributed 46 Pretty Little Liars works to Kindle Worlds"; that is the number published, not how many were submitted.

We don’t actually know how many were submitted; all we know is the number of works that made it through the process and were published. And that’s not the same thing.

I do not think counting the number of works produced is the right way to go about measuring the success of a program; if that were the case then a publisher which produces 10 titles a year is only a tenth as successful as one which produces 100 titles each year. (And heck, I know one author who only writes a single novel each year; by Mr Roberts' reckoning she must be a failure compared to authors who write 4 or more books a year, and not a financially successful author with a rabid fanbase.)

Bigger is generally better, yes, but I think a better yardstick would be to track the revenues and count the reviews.  If you can show me that authors and publishers aren’t making a lot of money from this, now that would be an argument that Kindle Worlds was a bust.

But Mr Roberts doesn’t have that data, so his argument is a bust.

If you have first-hand experience with Kindle Worlds, please let me know whether you think the imprint is making an impression. I don’t have any financial data, so I can’t answer that question.

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bangbango August 19, 2014 um 2:30 pm

As far as I can remember, his article was also about the community’s feedback. Sure numbers are misleading but it seems to me this feedback is quite important too as Amazon is actually betting on it. Sort of.

Too bad you did not discuss this point as it would be interesting to read the various viewpoints of those involved.

Nate Hoffelder August 19, 2014 um 2:35 pm

Yes, that is how he addressed it, but I disagree with his approach at a fundamental level. Community was never the point. The goal was to make money, and Kindle Worlds should be judged on that basis.

Felipe Adan Lerma August 20, 2014 um 5:45 am

I’ve stayed away from participating because I can’t get a good handle on how contributors are compensated, or profits shared for the input. Plus I "think" I would give up all derivative rights, which pretty much says I’d contribute a basic idea or character etc, and they could take off with it and I’d never see any benefit from it. If that’s not accurate, sure like to know.

Nate Hoffelder August 23, 2014 um 1:22 pm

You do give rights to any idea you contribute, yes. And from what I read the revenue is split three ways, with Amazon taking 30% and the other 70% split between the writer and the copyright holder.

Felipe Adan Lerma August 23, 2014 um 3:31 pm

Nate, the question in my mind is regarding derivative rights. If I come up with an idea for a Hispanic Santa Clause who speaks funny but is very lovable and very wise and became very popular anywhere in the world, I don’t believe (but am not sure) I would have any recourse from being compensated if the rights to that character were then sold to a third party or used extensively in new adventures by whoever I first contracted with.

I don’t think this is an Amazon specific thing, but rather in many many avenues. Even with ad enhancing services, gift cards, etc.

So, for now, I think for me it’s best I get my copyrighted material registered with the Library of Congress, and just stick with my own work.

But, and this is important, there are folk for whom that sort of arrangement is at least a door, and maybe worth the risk of losing any original creative spin-offs via the derivatives-granting clause.

JA Konrath Joins Kindle Worlds, Lets Contributors Keep More Control ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels February 26, 2015 um 10:30 pm

[…] has kept many authors from participating in KW. That includes JA Konrath, who held off in creating Kindle Worlds based on his works because […]

“Kindle Worlds”-Bilanz nach einem Jahr: Warten auf den Durchbruch » March 20, 2015 um 1:11 pm

[…] Digital Reader argumentiert jedoch, dass die Zufriedenheit der Community und die Anzahl der veröffentlichten Geschichten kein angemessenes Maß für den Erfolg der Plattform darstellen. Es sei Amazon nie darum gegangen, der Community etwas zu bieten, sondern vielmehr darum, neue Lizensierungswege für etablierte Marken zu erschließen und damit schlussendlich Geld zu verdienen. Auch Tushnett diskutiert in ihrem Papier die Ziele der Verlage und Amazon und unterscheidet dabei drei zentrale Aspekte: […]

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