Robot 6

Amazon and Warner Bros. go into fan-fiction business

kindle worlds

A week that began with Yahoo’s $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr got even stranger this morning with Amazon Publishing’s announcement of Kindle Worlds, billed as the first commercial publishing platform for fan fiction. In short, fanfic writers can now earn royalties for certain corporate-sanctioned stories.

For the launch, Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Alloy Entertainment, the book-packaging division of Warner Bros. Television, for Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl, Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars and L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries — all bestselling young-adult series that have spawned hit television shows. More licenses are expected to be announced soon.

While that initial offering is limited in scope, Amazon clearly has big plans for Kindle Worlds, which it touts as “a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.” If Warner Bros. is willing to open the door to “official” fanfic for its YA cash cows, how long before writers are encouraged to tackle DC Comics’ superheroes (or at least TV properties like Smallville and Arrow)?

Plenty of creators, publishers and studios have embraced fan fiction — The CW’s Supernatural has based episodes around it, and in Japan it’s practically its own industry — but this may be the first time rights-holders have attempted to profit from it, at least on a large scale.

As Amazon Publishing breaks it down in today’s announcement, for works of at least 10,000 words, authors will receive 35 percent of net revenue (based on sales price rather than the standard, but lower, wholesale), paid monthly. There will also be an experimental program for shorter works, between 5,000 and 10,000 words, which will be typically priced under $1; the author will receive a digital royalty of 20 percent.

Licensors will provide content guidelines for each “World,” which must be followed; in addition, Amazon won’t allow pornography, offensive content (including racial slurs and excessive foul language), “poor customer experience” (including poorly formatted stories and misleading titles), excessive use of brand names, or crossovers.

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13 Comments

This is the path by which commercial prose publishing become indistinguishable from comics long history of predatory WFH contracts.

If Siegel and Schuster were alive today, and DC Entertainment had a deal like this for the DCU, Jerry and Joe could do a story about a new character called “Superman” who lives in that setting, get paid a percentage for the sales of that story… and then Warner could exploit the character in radio serials, TV shows, movies, video games, action figures, and underwear without paying them anything more.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, eh?

Except that Siegel and Shuster would have worldwide exposure thanks to the Internet. Fans would know who they are and what they wrote and drew. Then they could run off to Image or IDW or Dark Horse and create their own properties which they own 100%. I’m not saying work-for-hire is fair; it’s not and never will be. But anything on Kindle Worlds will open doors outside of WFH for creators looking for paying gigs that they can put on their resumes and use to help them get their creator-owned work published elsewhere.

One the one hand, it could present a great opportunity to discover some great writers and be much cheaper and less ‘vote’em off the island’-ish than some contest. On the other hand, I would have to read the agreement very closely if I were going to participate, as I my first question would be, “who is the actually owner of the work?” I mean, WB’s characters, my words and scenarios, at the end of the day who has the ownership of the overall piece? If this gets opened up to DC properties, things could get interesting.

“If this gets opened up to DC properties, things could get interesting.” 100% agreed. It’s going out of left field here, but look at what being a 7th place loser on American Idol did for Jennifer Hudson’s career. She won an Oscar. Any entertainment company that offers aspiring talent a chance to show off their skills is going to inadvertently create a few superstars in the process of exploiting their work. Ed Brubaker created the Winter Soldier and he gets zero $$$ for Marvel Studios use of both the story and the character in Captain America 2. But he walks out of that situation having made a very big name for himself that opens all kinds of doors for him to create properties he owns 100% and doesn’t have to share with anybody.

We’re only speaking hypothetically, of course, and the legal teams @ WB/DC may never allow DC properties to be farmed out to Kindle Worlds. Still, even the possibility itself is rife with opportunities for amateur creators aspiring to go pro. There’s more upside for aspiring talent than down in this as I see it.

Guys, come on. No one is going to “discover great new writers” because no one is going to pay for this stuff. Seriously, if it’s free, that’s one thing, but I really can’t see individual sales being a factor for any of the writers. The rights holders will make a little off every sale, so why should they care? The fanfic writers will get on facebook and peddle their work as if it was a real actual thing, and sell some copies to their Mum and Auntie Viv, and the rights holder will get paid for every sale made… but would even the biggest fan of a property spend actual money picking up random work by writers they don’t know? I think this is a good move for rights holders who aren’t that particular about diminishing their brand because it allows them to monitize something that is happening anyway, and that they don’t have to pay to create, but that’s about all it is.

Just use existing characters and don’t do stories that alter the status quo.
Those are usually the same criteria as writing a comic book/tv series-based novel.

And don’t forget, Kindle Worlds lets you play in someone else’s sandbox. This is licensed material that you’re allowed to use, this is very different thans a Siegel and Schuster WFH deal, no new character development is needed. If you choose to create your own characters for use in this scenario, you are probably giving it away.

Ohh snaaaappp! Time to dust up my unfinished 50K Clark/Chloe fanfic!

Certainly a positive more than a negative

Why do this? I think it’s a mix of Amazon seeking more untapped talent laced with a bit of exploitation. Their previous move of helping some get published online was a cool move and they want to build on that. Some good will come of it.

Obviously its also motivated by the success of 50 Shades, which was previously a fan fic. I feel they should give writers a better deal though, as it seems like the rich exploiting the poor at times. Yes, you may get a deal and more exposure, but be sure to read the small print before signing.

leavingthishere

May 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Warner Bros. is very vigilant with their IPs. They cut out DVD bootleg auctions by putting up the Warner Archive. Now they’re out to regulate fan fiction to make their properties look good. Keep up the good work, Warner. Cleaning up the Internet community from scumbag fandoms.

How do you sign up for this?

“but would even the biggest fan of a property spend actual money picking up random work by writers they don’t know?”

Sure, why not?

People are always trying original books and stories by writers they don’t know, so why wouldn’t they also try something featuring a character they love by a writer they don’t know? How many comic or movie fans have been familiar with every single writer or director who has tackled their favorite characters? I sincerely doubt the audience for Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man was made up solely of people who were fans of Rex Mantooth.

Fans are always giving new writers a chance if those writers are working on their favorite characters. I’ve bought novels by authors I’ve never heard of just because they were novels based on my favorite comic characters, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I could easily see lots of people browsing the Kindle Worlds section on their Kindle, seeing something featuring their favorite character, and paying the few bucks it costs to read it.

If you’re worried about signing away the rights to your original creations, then don’t use your original creations. The late, great Mark Gruenwald had a philosophy that if you had a story in mind and needed a character for something, it was better dust off an old one instead of creating a new one. If Kindle Worlds does get the right to license stories featuring comic characters, there is an almost-limitless supply of characters that could be used for these stories. I guarantee you any villain a potential writer might create for a potential Batman story will not be so original that the story couldn’t work with a pre-existing character.

This could both be a great way for underused or abused characters to get some more exposure, as well as unknown writers getting their name out there, while still making money. Is there an exploitation aspect to it? Yes, but isn’t there also an exploitation aspect to all work-for-hire agreements?

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