Unveiled in May, Amazon’s fan fiction publishing platform marks a turning point for the publishing industry, and makes a great inspiration for the entertainment sector. Kindle Worlds might look like yet another section on Amazon.com, but its potential goes way beyond the giant’s own e-commerce business. Instead, it offers IP owners and fan communities a framework for collaboration; shared vocabulary, a monetization model, a distribution channel and a systemic approach to copyrights and intellectual property. Based on open platform models usually found in the technology world, it lays the first bricks for a new approach to licensing that encourages co-creation and creates additional monetization opportunities for IP holders.
The model – APIs for stories
Several intellectual property owners – including Valiant Entertainment and Warner Bros – have licensed a total of 13 “Worlds” to Amazon – among which Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and the world of Kurt Vonnegut. Writers and fans are free to create stories based on featured licensed worlds. Authors can then submit their fan fiction piece for approval following a self-service submission model.
Amazon’s model takes a platform-approach to storyworld development. Much like Twitter allows external developers to use its data and API to create third party applications, Amazon lets external writers expand a storyworld by creating additional chapters, alternative endings, backstories sequels and prequels.
In this sense, Amazon offers to its “World Licensors” to publish embryonic forms of APIs that explain to external writers how to interact with and develop their fictional universe. Franchise owners can provide rules, guidelines and protocols about how to use the world and how new narratives are supposed to plug into the original one. Vampire Diairies, for instance, forbids the use of pornography, offensive content, and the excessive use of brands. Silo Saga, another featured storyworld, gets more specific: “The timeline can be subverted, and anyone killed or modified as the fan fiction author sees fit. (…) Sex between characters is permitted. Homosexuality and explorations of gender identity are not frowned upon in the least.”
While anyone is free to submit fan fiction pieces, all stories go through an approval process before being published. Submission only takes a few simple steps: uploading a manuscript, creating a book cover, providing a title and an editorial description. Once the story is approved, it is published in a dedicated section on Amazon.com and available for purchase in the Kindle Store – just like an app would be on different app stores.
The price is set by Amazon Publishing, and goes from $0.99 to $3.99 for a piece. In terms of copyrights, Amazon holds all the rights to the new story, but revenues are split between Amazon, the “World Licensor” and the writer, who typically gets a royalty rate of 35% of the net revenue. Distribution wise, Amazon requires exclusivity. Writers cannot publish their story anywhere else, and only have the option of making 20% of their text available on their own blog or website, for promotional purposes.
Monetization opportunities for “World Licensors”
Fan fiction is an online phenomenon. Fans create and share derivative work extensively, regardless of copyrights issues and intellectual property. IP owners can, of course, try to hold back by suing fan fiction writers. They can also simply ignore the phenomenon. Amazon invites them to embrace fan fiction and even see it as a business and a creative opportunity.
Every single fan fiction piece published online represents a monetization opportunity for franchise owners – if it good, obviously. Pieces that are currently dormant, buried in forums or personal blogs, potentially hold great new characters or story developments. Franchise owners only have to unleash this potential; and Amazon Kindle Worlds might offer just that. Fan fiction published through Amazon’s platform make additional revenue streams for franchise owners. Of course, unless a piece is truly successful, royalties earned by the World Licensor are insignificant. But who knows what best sellers might come out of Kindle Worlds?
A licensing model that fosters co-creation
Maybe more so than a revenue stream – at least for now – Amazon Kindle Worlds is a source of inspiration. If critical enough, the amount of stories contributed to the platform can become inspiring resource for World Licensors, and even inform future story or character development. The Kindle World licensing model was clearly created to encourage the circulation of ideas. “Kindle Worlds is a place to be creative and explore a popular World, but anything you create will become part of that World” the website explains.
Amazon has created a space to channel creative ideas based on existing stories. It is meant to be a source of inspiration for World Licensors, who are free to crowdsource ideas based on fan fiction published through Kindle Worlds.
“Amazon Publishing and the World Licensor may also incorporate your new elements into other works they create without any further compensation to you. Due to this, there are important things for you to know about how the rights work. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all of the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you grant Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all of the original elements you include in that story for the term of copyright. This means that your story and all of the new elements must stay within the applicable World, and you can use only this platform to write about them.”
World Licensors and Amazon Publishing reserve the right to create derivative work based on fan fiction stories published through the platform:
“In order to avoid any questions about the origination of story ideas, Amazon Publishing and the World Licensors have reserved the right to create movies, TV shows, games, merchandise, and other derivative works based on the stories and new elements published by Kindle Worlds. If a movie, TV show, or game gets made based on your story or elements in your story, you will benefit from the ongoing royalties generated from sales of your work.”
Take aways and food for thought:
Fan art and fiction are a reality and cannot be avoided.
Seeing stories as platforms…
- Allows IP owners to acknowledge fan art, channel it and monitor it.
- Preserves the original story and credits the author.
- Is a way to crowdsource ideas for story development.
Why not adapt the Kindle Worlds model to media franchises and entertainment?
Intellectual property owners should work on sharing more documentation on their APIs if they want fans to create quality content.