This week Amazon announced another innovative market-making initiative: rights holders can offer writers the opportunity to make money writing books based on their stories and characters. Fan fiction is the term used to describe the writing Amazon is after and the most often cited example of success in this category is Fifty Shades of Grey. Amazon aims to legitimize—and profit from!—this type of writing and this new marketplace further establishes Amazon as the go-to place for anything you want to read.
Here are some essential contract terms for would-be authors (more information here):
- Your book has to be submitted for approval and Amazon will be the publisher.
- The royalty for stories of more than 10,000 words is 35%. (20% for 5k to 10k words)
- Amazon Publishing gets an exclusive license to your story. You won't get any compensation if the original licensor uses your ideas.
- Amazon sets the prices.
By submitting a manuscript for publication you will never be able to benefit from your work outside this arrangement.
So why do this?
If you are a serious author I think it gives you a chance to build your name, and platform. In other words, it's for marketing purposes. If you are not a serious author then what difference does it make? (In this case I imagine your goal is to be heard and chances are pretty good that will happen due to Amazon's market clout.)
What Amazon is doing is creating a marketplace that brings writers together with other writers and rights holders. A second marketplace forms from the product of this union, a marketplace of readers looking for the subject matter they enjoy.
This brings three similar ideas to mind. These aren't all from the world of writing, and they have nothing to do with fan fiction, but they involve one entity benefiting from another entity's intellectual property or IP.
James Patterson is one of the most prolific authors in the world and produces several books each year co-written by other writers. He develops a lengthy, detailed draft and lets them flesh it out into a book which he edits and re-writes. They in turn get featured on the cover of the book which seems like it would help their writing career.
Apple's iBooks Author tool allows anyone to develop multimedia titles for playback on Apple devices. You can give the title away for free on your website or via the Apple store. However, you cannot sell your creation in any other store besides Apple's where they charge a 30% commission. This may seem restrictive but it enables anyone to express their creativity—as long as Apple gets a cut. (Read the FAQ)
Sampling in music—whether using someone else's music or even spoken words from movies, TV, etc.—has been with us for years either legally licensed, or simply lifted. Remember Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby rip-off of Queen/Bowie's Under Pressure? It certainly made Vanilla Ice more famous than he otherwise would have been.
It strikes me that Kindle Worlds is simply another form of these three examples. I'm not saying the content will be worth reading, or it won't result in legal challenges, but it is a creative example of the power of online digital product marketing and markets at work.
For writers of fan fiction it may be a great way to get discovered. Think of the restrictions as a marketing investment rather than an excuse not to participate.
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