As an author who is also a digital innovation strategist, and, perhaps most importantly, an avid fan fiction reader, I was intrigued when Amazon announced Kindle Worlds two weeks ago.
If you missed the May 22 announcement, Amazon struck a licensing deal with Alloy Entertainment, a subdivision of Warner Brothers that co-produces some of the CW Network’s most popular television shows. Kindle Worlds will let writers create stories about certain shows with the same characters, setting, plot points, and story universe, producing original derivative works of fiction. Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici cleverly calls it, “an API for IP.”
The first three “worlds” to be licensed are The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl, and Pretty Little Liars. Writers who want to participate in the program are invited to submit their work in the Kindle Worlds store. Accepted stories must be at least 10,000 words long. Participants who follow the guidelines (more on those in a minute) can earn 35% of every sale. Authors of works 5,000 – 10,000 words long will be compensated 20%. Alloy Entertainment, which retains the rights to these franchises, will also take a portion of every sale made.
Amazon has already engaged several prominent authors, including New York Times best-selling author Barbara Freethy, to write inaugural pieces to help promote the platform set to launch in June. Once the program goes live, anyone has the ability to submit their work for review in order to support the program.
Kindle Worlds is just the latest in a string of innovations emerging from Amazon. Kindle Singles lets writers self-publish short pieces such as essays, memoirs, narratives, and short stories ranging in price from $0.99 to $2.99. Kindle Serials are ongoing stories published in episodes. Authors create episodic narratives and lead lively discussions with readers on Amazon’s online forums. And the Kindle Direct Publishing program promotes authors who want to cut out the publisher middleman by self-publishing and delivering directly to readers.
Suddenly, writers have access to a global distribution platform, 24-hour turnaround from file upload (as opposed to months bringing a book to market), and 70% royalties. It’s a seductive offer, especially with success stories like Amanda Hocking, an unknown who became a millionaire selling 1.5 million copies of her self-published paranormal fiction novel last year.
Amazon in the past has clashed with traditional publishers over digital book prices, distribution, and the introduction of new business models such as on-demand printing. In 2010, the online retailer temporarily removed all books published by Macmillan to protest the American publisher’s demand that ebook prices be raised from $9.99 to $15. Amazon wants to eliminate its dependence on traditional publishers by creating alternative channels that it can control and easily scale.
With Kindle Worlds, Amazon seeks to monetize a market with an active and devoted audience.
Traditional publishers have also been scrambling to take advantage of the fan fiction space, especially with the runaway success of “50 Shades of Grey,” the terribly written but popular erotic fiction trilogy that started out as an Edward/Bella Twilight fanfic and outpaced even my beloved Harry Potter (for shame!) as the fastest best-selling book of all time. (For a hilarious series that encapsulates why I despise the trilogy, check out Jenny Trout’s blog.)
People write fan fiction because they love the characters so much they don’t want to let them go. Amazon may create a vast pool of stories that aren’t limited by timeline or the episodic nature of traditional storytelling. Fan fiction extends the life cycle of consumption exponentially. It grounds a story with enough background to make it familiar, but frees readers to engage with characters over and over again—like an unlimited number of outtakes or deleted scenes included in a film’s special edition DVD.
This move will have implications for everyone in the content ecosystem. In another installment I’ll delve into the ramifications of the program on authors and fan fiction readers.