Photo Courtsey of Jemimus Attribution 2.0 Generic
With books like Fifty Shades of Grey flying off the shelves, the question of the commercialization of fan fiction is once again at the forefront. While fan fic authors have been steadfastly devoted to their art since before the Internet, emerging technologies have brought about new scrutiny to what this community really means for traditional media giants and who, if anyone, should be able to profit from fan fiction.
About a year ago, Jeff Bezos decided to set aside some digital real estate just for the fan fic community. Amazon’s Kindle Worlds is an e-book publishing platform for fan fiction, and works like this: Amazon partners with copyright owners, like Alloy Entertainment, who license to Amazon its fan fiction publication rights. These licensors are known as “World Licensors,” and by licensing their “World,” fans can create and profit off of their fan fiction through a royalty system.
Among the first “Worlds” that made up this new universe were CW’s Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and Pretty Little Liars. Kindle Worlds has since added G.I. Joe, Veronica Mars, and seventeen other Worlds. The question is, why would readers buy works from Amazon when there is an endless supply of free fan fic from other Internet sites? Fanfiction.net, for one, is the world’s largest fan fiction archive and forum where writers and readers come together to do just this. The recently launched Archive of Our Own (created by the Organization for Transformative Works) is another space online where fans have come together to share their fan faction and other original fan works in a non-commercial space.
The difference of utilizing the Kindle Worlds platform has been boiled down to three main points: (1) monetization for authors (each e-book costs between $0.99 to $3.99, but this is set by Amazon); (2) does not require constant Internet connectivity; and (3) a minimal level of quality that Amazon ensures by having final say on what will be made available. See Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement Section 7(c).
On that note, we’re going to get real with the Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement. Here’s what we found to be important to keep in mind if you are, or are considering to become, a Kindle Worlds author.
The Benefits and Disadvantages of Using Kindle Worlds
Exposure to Amazon’s User base. As a fan fic writer on Kindle Worlds, you get exposure to Amazon’s vast audience and user base. That said, you cannot market and promote yourself as being affiliated with Amazon or the original licensor. Also, make sure you’re only including up to 20% of your creative work (for free) on your website or blog to promote yourself as an author on Kindle Worlds. See Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement Section 10. If you don’t abide by these rules, do not be surprised when Amazon ceases publication of your work (or removes it altogether).
Opportunity to earn money. By submitting a creative work to a World(s) of your choice, Amazon will pay royalties to you for all copies sold. The standard digital royalty rates are broken down between works of over 10,000 words (35% of net revenue) and short works of between 5,000 – 10,000 words (20% of net revenue). Net revenue is based off the gross amount Amazon actually receives from the sale, less returns, half of Delivery, and other factors. See Section 5(a) for the full definition. Also, if you have a problem regarding the royalty payments, make sure to speak up within six months after the date the statement is made available; otherwise, you may not be able to resolve past royalty mistakes. See Section 5(e).
Quality control. As a Kindle Worlds author, you will be held to Amazon’s quality control regulations. This means making sure there are no typos, and ensuring correct alignment, formatting, and linking across Amazon’s many products and services, i.e. Kindle devices, Amazon.com, iOS, Android, and reading apps. It’s easy to submit your stories online, and you have access to Amazon’s free programs and services to design covers or enhance your work’s quality. Keep in mind that each of your submissions will be additionally subject to that particular World’s guidelines. See Section 7(a).
Amazon usurps all your creative rights. By submitting a story to Kindle Worlds, you grant Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to your work for the term of the copyright. This includes global publication rights on any new elements you’ve created. Amazon can then use your ideas to make more money, i.e. licensing your work to others for a fee, and does not need to compensate or even notify you of this Further, Amazon has reserved the right to create movies, TV shows, games, merchandise, and other works based on your Kindle Worlds submissions. If such a future deal is struck, you’ll simply continue to get royalties from sales of your fan fiction but not these other deals. See Sections 4(a) & (b). Keep in mind that because this right is exclusive, you will not be able to create anything associated with your work other than more written fan fiction; this includes any related merchandise, outside fan art, and even YouTube spin-offs!
No crossovers allowed. Although you may have written an epic Veronica Mars/Gossip Girl crossover, you won’t be able to publish it on Kindle Worlds for now. Amazon is currently trying to get content owners on board with the idea of mixing and matching across Worlds, however, so stay tuned.
Amazon can use your name and “likeness.” Depending on who you are, this may be either a benefit or a disadvantage. In any case, it is worth noting that by using Kindle Worlds, Amazon may now use your name, information, and “likeness” worldwide for any purpose in connection with your work and participation in their platform. For example, say Amazon wants to promote its fan fic platform and your work is particularly popular and representative of its success. Under this provision, it can now blast out your name and photo in its newsletter or post a video interview of you on its website.
You waive some other pretty important rights. In order for Kindle Worlds to function the way Amazon ideally envisions it, participants must waive any legal claims that pertain to their rights being infringed from any use of their work. See Kindle Worlds Publishing Agreement Section 6. Translation: don’t complain how Amazon, copyright owners, or other fan fic authors use and contribute to your work because you have essentially contracted away the right to fight back against any reuse of your work that you don’t like.
Key Points to Consider Before Entering this Alternate World
As an author of Kindle Worlds, you are promising that you are the sole owner of all rights to your work and that none of it violates any law or regulation. See Section 12(a)(1)-(3). By extension, if a third party brought a claim against you, saying that you did not have all the rights required to make your work (because so much of it has been “borrowed” from people other than the original content creator ), this will all be on you. Moreover, Amazon may hold all royalties due to you until such issues are resolved, and if necessary, require you to return any applicable payments. See Section 5(f)(2).
If Kindle World’s limitations and regulations don’t stifle creativity by their mere breadth, they can be seen as a careful, first step toward clarifying the role of commercial fan fic in society. But like many first steps, Kindle World’s isn’t without its stumbling points, points which can hopefully serve as lessons for future creators and entrepreneurs in this space.
Irene is a second year law student and is based in San Diego, California. She received her BA in Media Studies at Scripps College and her MBA at KAIST Business School in Seoul, South Korea, with an emphasis in IT & Media Management.