The Unnecessary Elevation of Fanfiction: The Announcement of Kindle Worlds

So Amazon has stooped to a new level of illiterate thuggery, and is now looting the corpses in a way both blatantly ruthless and pathetic. With the introduction of Kindle Worlds, Amazon is now allowing people to write and sell fanfiction for three different, equally vapid series (Gossip Girls, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars). 

Some people would say (and they would be wrong) that fanfiction authors should have the right to earn money off their work, and they might also (wrongly) suggest that the fanfiction will only bolster the licenced properties in question and therefore generate more money for everyone. Everyone goes home happy and the Internet is better off for it, etc. Except that this is probably one of the worst (and most meta) examples of a poor author-publisher relationship ever. People more studious than I have taken a magnifying glass to the terms offered by Amazon to fanfiction authors, and have found the contracts fairly restrictive, and in some cases outright exploitative. The most excellent John Scalzi has scoured through the terms, and found this little nugget:

As a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit: “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.” i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of moneyeven, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

And as he goes on to explain further:

“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.” Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.

Again, we are seeing Amazon trying to create not only a new publishing playing field, but eroding the rights of writers that have been so hard-won over the years. So many authors are already getting scammed out of their money by vanity presses or traditional publishers with watertight, author-unfriendly contracts – it doesn’t help that the behemoth that is Amazon is further contributing to this increasingly unfair market. Sure, the fanficcers may be earning money they wouldn’t have before, but at what cost in the long term? Like Scalzi mentions,

If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.

How many other big licences are going to take advantage of this? I am curious to see how many of them do. Clever authors have made sure to maintain all their rights, and I doubt that any of the really big author-created franchises (Game of Thrones, The Avengers) will follow in this path.

Secondly, how successful can this really be? Does anyone really want to pay for fanfiction? It isn’t clear if there will be a stringent editorial process – as far as I can tell there isn’t much of one on Kindle Direct Publishing and it is unlikely that they would have the people required to proofread the mountains of drivel about to descend on Kindle Worlds. And sure, the fanfiction will probably only cost $5 or so (like most self-published drek) but nonetheless people are accustomed to paying sweet fuck-all for fanfiction. And not only that, but they have been able to get it in a variety of communities, ranging from the infamous fanfiction.net to livejournal,  tumblr to AO3. Many of these websites have become sophisticated platforms, throwing in gifs and deviantart.com-sourced jackets, fan-mix soundtracks and more, all for free. So why pay for it, and be forced to read it on a Kindle anyway? Most Kindle users don’t have the ridiculously priced Kindle Fire, so off it is to dreary e-ink land and no more pretty gifs or fun formatting.

And even worse: who is going to want to buy fanfiction that isn’t allowed to have sex scenes in it? Isn’t that the point, after all? To slash that which has not been slashed before? To have characters bonk boldly where none have bonked before?

And the third (and the worst): why are we even legitmising fanfiction in the first place? I’m sure some people are celebrating this, thinking that now fanficcers can ply their craft in public, like real authors do. And while fanfiction has its place, that place is not on the level of original work. I may not be a fan of his books, but I am a big fan of what George RR Martin has to say about fanfiction:

 I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

His blog post is a fascinating look at what fanfiction/plagiarism has cost authors in the past, and the importance of defending their copyright. It has cost authors entire novels, caused lawsuits and even affected their livelihoods. Now I know that the Kindle Worlds have been authorised, and I know the authors have ceded (in part) their control, but nonetheless it is an attempt to monetize and legitimize fanfiction and I am really, really uncomfortable with that. If I published Savant (hahaha, NO) and I came across a fanfiction of it, I would probably be more than a bit pissed off that my years of work had been used by someone else to for whatever strange reason. It is teamwork, but the person who does the most work is still getting screwed and is expected to be grateful for the attention during the unasked-for screwing. And after all the work an author has done, it seems grossly unfair that anyone should dare to profit off their efforts and imagination. Like Martin says “No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me“.

More tasty links:

What Famous Authors Have to Say About Fanfiction (Flavorwire)

How Kindle Worlds Aims to Colonise Fanfiction (The Guardian)

‘Kindle Worlds’ Lets Authors Publish Fan Fiction — At Dubious Cost (Wired)

Fan Fiction Is Finally Legitimized With Kindle Worlds (Forbes)

Amazon launches Kindle Worlds allowing authors to publish fan fiction

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