Amazon has taken a giant step in the world of digital publishing with the launch of Kindle Worlds, a platform specifically designed to publish fan fiction.
For a long time now the Internet has been bringing about profound changes in approaches to publishing. Among other aspects, publishing on the Internet means that just about anyone can create and adapt content, which in turn raises some important questions relating to intellectual property and authors’ rights. For example, it is becoming increasingly common for fans of a film or book to publish ‘fan fiction’, i.e. stories written by fans in order to prolong an existing story, propose an alternative ending, and so on. Most of these stories also take over the characters and the narrative worlds of the original content on which they are based, thus technically violating the author’s intellectual property rights. Digital book giant Amazon announced at end-May the launch of a new platform, Kindle Worlds, which is entirely dedicated to the publication of fan fiction, taking steps to protect and preserve copyright for the franchise holders – basically the author and the publisher.
New approach to intellectual property
Under United States law, writing fan fiction may in many cases constitute an infringement of intellectual property. However, this type of derivative work also represents a potential opportunity for the authors and publishers of the original works. Kindle Worlds is arriving on the scene not long after the colossal success enjoyed by Fifty Shades of Grey. This book, which started out as a piece of fan fiction based on the Twilight novels, has become a best-seller In the US and UK, selling even better than the Harry Potter series. Very often, the fans of an original novel are the ones most likely to read the ‘derivative’ work – an opportunity which a publisher might wish to seize. Authorizing the publication of such fan fiction stories enables the franchise holders to regulate and manage the practice, by giving the fan fiction writers a set of guidelines with which they must comply, and at the same time claiming royalties on the sales. This is what Amazon proposes to do with Kindle Worlds. The idea is to give fans an official space where they can publish their stories under an agreement with the author and/or publisher of the original work and seek remuneration. This means that the fan can obtain and monetizerecognition for his/her work, benefiting from the public recognition accorded to the original author, while avoiding conflicts with the franchise holders over intellectual property issues.
Opportunities for publishers and other franchise holders
In order to launch the platform, Amazon has set up partnerships with media giants such as Warner Bros Television and Valiant Entertainment, plus several best-selling novel authors, to allow new writers to create their fan fiction on the basis of licensed stories. From now on, writers will be able to go onto the platform and write fan fiction based on one of the licensed works. Amazon will then review the submission and publish the work once approved. It will also be put on sale via Amazon Kindle. Kindle Worlds thus constitutes a new digital publishing model, which enables anyone to publish content which is inspired by an original work, and to get paid for doing so. The books are sold in a price range from $0.99 to $3.99. The writer may obtain up to 35% of the sales income in royalties, the remainder accruing to Amazon and the licensing author or publisher. Kindle Worlds may well therefore turn out to be a real step forward in the world of digital publishing.