If you know any writers, you’ve probably seen this spewed all over social media today. Well, it’s my turn to spew. Amazon is starting a new scheme, this one to sell fanfiction. For profit.
That’s right. Fanfiction. Making money off of it. This is a thing now. Well, it had the feeling of inevitability as soon as everyone realized 50 Shades of Gray was tarted-up Twilight fanfiction.
I have some very complicated feelings about this, both as an author and as a fan. The author gets to go first:
I had one moment of pants-shitting terror until I actually read over the terms. The fact that this for-profit fanfic will be limited to only properties Amazon has a deal with, and that royalties will be paid to the owners of that property soothes a lot of potential worries that I might have had, and goes a long way to explaining how this venture would even be possible. They’re not going to go selling fanfic at random. And there’s actually a lot of control by the owners of the original properties (from the Kindle Worlds authors page):
World Licensors have provided Content Guidelines for each World, and your work must follow these Content Guidelines. We strongly encourage you to read the Content Guidelines before you commit the time and effort to write.
So that’s certainly offering more control over content than regular fanfiction does. This means if the original property owner wants no slash, there will be no slash. (More on this later in the fan section.) Honestly, this doesn’t sound like fanfiction so much as a new model for writing tie-ins. So yeah, from the viewpoint of writing, it sounds like it could be beneficial – original property owners could make some money, starting writers could make some money for something they’d otherwise give away for free, win-win, right?
Hm, maybe. One of the major issues that’s making me feel uncomfortable with this scheme is right in the terms as well:
When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.
Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.
Emphasis in both passages added by me. First off, all rights for the term of copyright is something that had writers across the internet shitting their pants over the originally proposed contract terms for Hydra and its sister imprints. These are bad terms. The term of copyright at this point, with the ludicrous nature of copyright law, means “as long as we can squeeze even a dime out of your work’s rotting corpse.” Copyright effectively does not end as long as someone cares enough to renew it.
Add to that the other part. Basically, any original work you add in this for-profit fanfiction, be it plotline or world element or character effectively ceases to belong to you in any useful sense. If I’m reading this right, you can no longer use these original elements of your own outside of this fanfiction. And even better, the original owner of the work can use your story elements without so much as giving you credit. This may sound fair at first blush (this is fanfiction, after all, right? You’re getting paid, right?) but I’ve known a ton of people who write fanfic (including myself) who have gone on to use elements they first developed in fanfiction to fuel their own original endeavors. Come up with a cool side character that you can transfer into your own original universe and then write awesome novels about? Tough titties.
So that’s something I find incredibly worrying.
In a more abstract sense, I’d also like to throw in a little “won’t someone think of the children?” Part of what had people up in arms about the Hydra debacle was that it blatantly targeted struggling writers, because they were the most likely group to go for shitty contract terms and not know better. This has all of the same hallmarks, but potentially worse since the series in question could have a very teen-heavy fan (and writer) base. Get ’em while they’re young, eh, and then they’ll think term of copyright is a-okay?
It’s not entirely downbeat. I think this might be a shot for new writers to start building their own fan base, which could be useful when they branch off and start writing their own work. Hell, it could be a way for talent to get noticed by the people who run these properties. Who knows.
Though that does circle us back around to the question of quality control. Obviously there will be some, thanks to the “Content Guidelines.” But I’m curious to know how much editing will be done. How much will this be an opportunity for writers to actually improve their craft? I’ve already seen epublishing treated often as a “well fuck the editors they don’t see my obvious talent I’ll just self pub online” escape hatch by writers that honestly need more work. (Please note, I am not saying all self published work is like this. Some of it is phenomenal.) Will the Kindle Worlds get swollen with badly written works by writers who are not getting the necessary guidance to improve? Look at the internet, man. There is a lot of fanfic out there. And a lot of it is really, really bad.
Which brings us around to my much less mixed and generally less positive feelings as a fan.
Let me just put it out there that I find the idea of for-profit fanfiction thoroughly repugnant, as someone who has been writing fanfiction nearly her entire life. This is a little less so on the grounds that it’s done in concert with the creators, but still. In the depths of my fannish soul, I do not like it. Maybe I’m one of a dying breed.
Beyond that, there are two main concerns that I have as a fan:
1) If this becomes a useful revenue stream for the property owners, will this give them incentive to try to crack down on free fanfiction on the internet? While we know that fanfic has a way of surviving even when the holder of copyright doesn’t like the fact of its existence, this could make life very unpleasant for people. Obviously, this is a moot point unless the “licensed” fanfiction starts making a lot of money. But one does have to wonder, why bother paying even a pittance for fanfic on the Kindle when you can get it for free at AO3 or Fanfic.net?
Other than for the shiny badge of sanction, I suppose. Which brings me to point the second:
2) The “Content Guidelines” were mentioned before, but we don’t know why kind of things might be in them, other than no porn. How strict a control will there be on what is depicted in these stories?
While much of fanfiction is pure, joyful (and often badly written) brain crack, the one thing it can do, at times unwittingly, is give voice to viewpoints and characters that are marginalized in the original properties. For example, while a lot of slash can be porn for the sake of porn, it’s also there as a vehicle for depicting relationships between male characters where there wasn’t one in the series. While homosexual characters are becoming more common in the actual shows themselves, if you believed fanfiction you couldn’t throw a rock in a given episode without hitting a gay character. And while this may sound flippant or trivial to you, I believe it can have a profound impact. Frankly, yaoi and slash fanfiction were what started me as a teenager on my journey to realizing that gay people are (holy shit) people, and that I’m bisexual. Fanfiction can let side characters, often people of color, shine when they are given no opportunities in their original show. How will this work with content guidelines, and so on?
There’s a lot of fanfic out there. And there’s a certain magic to having to sort through it all to find stories you like. In the process, you’ll often find out that what you like isn’t necessarily what you thought you’d like.
A lot of this is just me spinning my wheels. Kindle Worlds is a thing that’s going to happen, and there’s no stopping it. There’s also no knowing how profitable will be. It could be a massive hit. It could be dead and forgotten in a year. We’ll find out. But while we wait to see how it develops, I can’t shake my feeling of profound unease.
While I’ve seen several blog posts that include, “If property X were in Kindle Worlds, I’d sure be tempted to write for it…” I’m not going to join that club. I have no interest in this scheme, not under those terms, no way, no how. Not even if it were Avengers. Because I do it for the love. And because some day I’m going to write the adventures of the little waffle iron that could.