Amazon seems to be on the verge of doing something really clever with its new Kindle Worlds program. It looks as if it has found a genuinely new way of developing, creating and marketing tie-in fiction, and also a method of making fan fiction profitable, not only for Amazon, but for the fans and the creators of the worlds those fans write in.
It’s early days yet, of course, and we have not really seen any of the final product but what it appears to be is a system similar to Kindle Direct Publishing which will allow fans to upload their stories and create ebooks set in the worlds of those creators who have agreed to participate in the program. (At the moment there are Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and the Vampire Diaries. Apparently there will be more.) The writers will be able to give their work covers using a library of relevant stock art and then have them distributed through Amazon’s Kindle publishing system.
I’ve been involved in the tie-in industry for almost 25 years and I confess I thought this is genius when I read this. It’s so simple and so obvious once you think of it, and yet no one has previously tried to do it. For good reason too, for once you start to wander into the realms of intellectual property development you enter a legal minefield.
The benefits to Amazon are self-evident. It gets a mass of new products with an enthusiastic fanbase that are exclusive to Amazon’s distribution system. It is breaking into an entirely new market. In truth, it is boldly going where no one has gone before and in a way creating that entirely new market.
The benefits to the creators are equally obvious. They get to share in the revenues of the fan-created works. They get a whole new revenue stream from the crowd-sourced creations. They get the benefit of a massive community with a financial interest in promoting their franchise.
The writers get a very decent royalty– 35% — for work they were previously doing for free. Any copyrightable elements of their stories that are not already part of the franchise become their’s although they do grant the licensor the right to use them as part of the franchise. I am not a lawyer but this seems to me in some ways to resemble the Open Gaming License that Wizards of the Coasts used when it revived D&D. It should avoid any in-fighting over who can use what although I imagine there is still some possibility of nasty squabbles arising.
If you are at all interested in writing fan-fiction set in the universes that Amazon has licensed, what is not to love about finding a global audience for your work at a 35% royalty. I can envision people using this as a springboard to other things.
I can’t really find any for Amazon. It has already created the distribution and payment systems needed to make this work. Presumably its lawyers have been hard at work on the legal framework.
For the creators? There is the very strong possibility of brand dilution if too much sub-standard work is produced. There is also the possibility of some legal squabbling if a smart lawyer finds some way to exploit the setup. Also I can’t imagine any companies who want to have total control over their IP would sign up for this program. For one thing, you have the problem of what is canonical and what is not arising very swiftly as people add new stuff to the background and other people build on it. This system of crowdsourcing seems much better suited to some types of IP than others.
For the writers? Well, you are giving Amazon exclusive distribution rights for the duration of copyright. That is pretty restrictive but it’s certainly no worse than if you were signing a work for hire contract. The royalty rate appears to be based on net rather than gross which may not be very generous if Amazon decides to define net the way some film companies do.
For the community in general? One springs to mind. By allowing the monetisation of something that was previously free, Amazon is giving the copyright holders an incentive to come down on the people who still produce things for free. Whether the right’s holders would actually do this and face the inevitable backlash from the community remains to be seen.
Right now none of the IPs in the program really interest me but there are some I would very seriously consider writing for if they became available.
Anyway, these are just my initial thoughts based on a very cursory reading of the press release and the front page Amazon has put up. I would write more but I am having real trouble accessing Amazon from my office today. I can’t even get through to copy the links to the Kindle Worlds page. Doubtless I will have more to say in the future.
What are your thoughts on this matter? Are there any franchises you are just champing at the bit to write in?
Addendum: Matt Forbeck addresses a lot more points in far more detail here. What Matt has to say is very much worth your time if you have any interest in this subject.