Online fan fiction (or "fanfic") has long been a bizarre literary sideshow where crazy people go to explore completely impractical scenarios and insane sexual fantasies involving established characters from all the branches of the pop culture tree. All the branches. However, this darkened surreal corner of the Internet may soon find itself dragged out into the light of legitimacy. Amazon has announced that it is jumping into the officially licensed fan fiction business with its new Kindle Worlds publishing platform.
Amazon has partnered with Warner Brothers Television Group to offer aspiring fanfic-ers the chance to create original works based on the popular book-cum-TV series Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries and promises that additional "licensed worlds" will follow.
Accepted works can be as short as 5000 words and will be published for the Kindle platform with royalties being shared amongst the rights-holders and the fiction authors (fanfic authors will receive 35% of net sales for works of at least 10,000 words, and 20% for works between 5000 and 10,000 words). Aspiring authors will be able to upload and self-publish their own novels, novellas, and short stories directly through the Worlds site.
The 50 Shades phenomenon
For most of its existence, fanfic has occupied its own weird little corner of the Web and was, for the most part, allowed to wallow in its weirdness in peace. But then two years ago, something truly crazy happened. A sprawling piece of BDSM-soaked Twilight fic was scraped of all its copyright-infringing content and adapted into the mom-porn epic Fifty Shades of Grey. Against all good logic, the Fifty Shades series became a gigantic hit and would go on to sell more than 70 million copies in 37 countries.
(Warning: The completely relevant skit below may be slightly NSFW depending on your W.)
This unfathomable 50 Shades phenomenon was a blindingly bright light in what has been an otherwise dismal run for the book business. Like all forms of traditional media, the book biz has been forced to experiment as it attempts to find its way in the new digital landscape. Kindle Worlds is part of this experimental phase and will be a platform Amazon says will offer publishers a chance to further "monetize their valuable franchises."
This is a lesson particularly poignant for publisher Little, Brown and Company. While LB&C's Twilight book franchise has been astoundingly successful, neither the publisher or author Stephenie Meyer received any of the millions generated by the 50 Shades series, which began its life as a Twilight literary extraction.
So, instead of sharing in the wealth, the characters in 50 Shades were altered just enough and buckets of moolah were made for someone else. There simply wasn't a mechanism in place for this popular fanfic to be monetized. And that's the missing void that Kindle Worlds hopes to fill. This new platform is the publishing industry's stab at creating a legitimate system that will generate income based on the user-created content that already exists in unfathomably massive abundance. But will it work?
From what I understand, the 50 Shades books are completely dreadful--from a literary point of view. The series owes its success to the fact that it was able to eke its way into the mainstream as a permissible form of porn. But that's not the game plan that Kindle Worlds is going with it. Amazon has installed a strict no-nookie guideline for the new platform stating, "we don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts." While that language appears to be somewhat open to interpretation, the stance leaves me skeptical of Kindle Worlds' future. Shades was not adored for its insight or prose. After all is said and done, it may prove to be, in fact, little more than an erotic fluke. No other fan fiction has taken off with the public in a pay situation.
The Kindle Worlds store and self-service submission platform will open in June. Amazon will set the price for all Kindle Worlds stories with most being priced between $1 and $4. Time will tell if Kindle users will be willing to shell out even $1 to read some weirdo's take on a beloved character no where imagined by the original creator.