Amazon Presents: Fan Fiction

In the ever-growing push to monetize more and more of the written word, today Amazon announced a new arrow in their quiver: Amazon Worlds. The shortest explanation, the one getting the most play around the internet, is that Amazon is now getting into fan fiction. Which is close enough to correct that anything closer is splitting hairs. Perhaps one might look at these more as tie-in works, but what are tie-in works other than licensed and approved fan fiction and I’m getting ahead of myself.

Deep breath, try again.

It sounds like Amazon Worlds isn’t what most people think of when they think of fan fiction. For one, their first content guideline is “We don’t accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.” Their last, “No crossovers from other Worlds are permitted.” So good-bye slash fiction, random sexual romps, and crossovers, some of the pillars of fan fiction. It’s also not what most people think of as fan fiction, because it’s going to be officially licensed. Amazon has lined up the rights to three “Worlds,” those of Gossip Girls, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. Right now, that’s it, though they’re hinting more in the future. So for now, that Heathcliff fan fiction where he saves the world from an asteroid won’t be paying your mortgage.

Through the licensing of these worlds, it also means that the original content creators will get a piece of the action. How big of a piece, Amazon isn’t saying, which means it might be on a case-by-case basis, or they might just not feel that it matters to enough people. This is good. People getting paid for their creations is the basis of the creative industry. Always has been, always should be.

However…well, we’re creating now a situation where the canon lives side-by-side with the non-canon. Right there in the Kindle store, right there on your reader. Chuck Wendig, in commenting on this, says it perfectly:

Someone might read Book 3 of the Miriam Black series, The Cormorant, and say, “But this doesn’t refer to that time when she time-traveled back to the Old West in that novella, Booby Nuthatch.” And you’re like, “That wasn’t real, though, someone else wrote that.” But then they say: “I PAID FOR IT SO IT FELT REAL TO ME” and then they sob into your shoulder and you wonder suddenly how they got that close and should you call the police? Probably.

Now, there are theoretically going to be “content guidelines” offered by the original creators of these Worlds, “and your work must follow these Content Guidelines.” But these guidelines aren’t up yet. In theory they’ll create a sort of show bible under which the tie-in media is produced, but ultimately this is the creation of non-canon within an author’s world which is given a stamp of authenticity and sold to the consumer. At a reduced rate.

As this is opt-in, there’s no worry about this sneaking up and reducing someone’s brand. Anyone who wants their creation to be thrown open to the Kindle Worlds writers can freely do so, anyone who doesn’t…won’t. It’s potentially great for franchises that the author has reached the end of, as it wouldn’t create the canonical confusion that Chuck Wendig is worried about, allowing for a continued monetization of the world. I like the idea of authors getting paid.

It does create an interesting new twist to rights management. Over on Twitter agent Evan Gregory was kind enough to respond when I asked if this created a new right. He explained these agreements would fall under the derivative rights that are often reserved by the writer and bundled together as part of TV/film rights. “Though I suppose now, for a popular book series, those rights could be licensed separately.”

Welcome to the new frontier in control over rights: the fan fiction rights. Though I didn’t press further, I do wonder what implications there will be if this takes off. When digital published emerged there were a lot of questions about who controlled digital rights on contracts that were negotiated before that was a thing. This will be different. This will be a case of derivative rights being negotiated before a new market for them opened up. If the platform is successful, I suspect we’ll see at least one fight over this.

So…yeah, it’s an interesting platform. It’s opt-in, there’s no immediate sign that any rights holders will be begrudgingly opted-in, the original creator gets a part of the take. It’s an interesting experiment, just not one I see myself taking part in on either end. The only conclusion I think anyone can have right now is a resounding “we’ll see.”

Oh, and…

  • Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.

But that’s a matter for another day.

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