Recently, Amazon has launched a ‘commercial platform’ for fanfiction, allowing users to download fics for a small sum. ‘Kindle Worlds’ will host fanfiction based on, at the start, three series: The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. Apparently, Amazon intends to announce more titles soon.
A percentage of the revenue generated from these downloads will go to the ‘original’ author and rights holder (I’m assuming the latter term covers both the author and the production house responsible for the TV show), the amount depending on the length of the work submitted. At first the platform will only host writing by already-published authors, but soon Amazon intends to make it accessible to more ‘traditional’ (read: unpublished save on the internet) fanfic writers as well.
What are my feelings on this? They are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, I think it’s great that these writers, many of them very talented, are getting recognition and some form of reward (one hopes). I have read fanfiction that is better written and more vividly realized than canon (Harry Potter fandom, I’m looking at YOU), and often wished that these writers could be celebrated for their talent (how many times have I whined to a like-minded friend, ‘Why don’t these people write original stuff so I could publish them?’).
On the other hand, the act of creating fanfiction is, in my opinion, one of the most generous and loving gestures one can make to an author/director/creator of a universe. You’re telling them hey, what you have done really affected me, and I’m trying to say something of my own in this space you created and gain nothing from it myself but the ability to say that I too have done my bit to celebrate this world. I am writing because of you. I am putting myself out there because of you and your characters. That’s how much you mean to me.
The addition or promise of money to any enterprise, unfortunately, often makes any enterprise and motivations for its pursuit suspect. It’s the tragedy (or hard reality) of the age we live in. As a working person myself, I know that you need it, and a decent amount of it, and have learned the value of it in the short eleven months that I’ve held this job. And yes, I would love to be paid to do something I love, but I also know that it would make me question myself and my regard for said ‘something’ in my darker moods.
Also, would I really want to pay to read fanfiction? Especially when I know that there’s so much more of it out there for free? And who’s going to filter what goes onto this platform anyway, super-fans? But how can they decide whether it’s worth ‘e-publishing’ on the platform? The beauty of the fandom lies in its unquestioning and easy acceptance of reams of fanfiction (especially in a huge, sprawling mega-polis like the Potter fandom)–literally anyone can put up anything, as long as you abide by community standards and those nebulous terms and conditions that we all agree to but have never actually read.
Also, are authors going to get insecure? Imagine if you are shown hard, statistical proof that some ‘random’ hack’s work based on your work is more popular than your original product. Would it not dented the strongest ego? I can also see this going the other way around–would a fanfic writer whose writing is considered (by himself/herself/others) ‘better’ than the rights-holding author be happy with the idea that a good portion of his/her revenue was going to said rights-holder? I may be jumping ahead of myself and reading too much into a purely commercial venture, but as a fan-fic reader, these are some of the first questions that came to mind.
At the end of the day, I’m no economist or risk analyst. I’m just a fanfic reader who likes to think that she has something, however small, to say about a venture that will (ultimately) affect her and others like her. Luckily the Amazonian arm has not openly touched the fandom I read in, and honestly, I cannot see Potter falling within its reach any time soon. Famous last words, perhaps.
For the full article on the Amazon venture, click here.