Uh-oh: Amazon announces Kindle Worlds

bad feelingClub Jade clued us in this morning to Amazon’s new plan to pay fanfic authors to publish their works via Kindle.  Introducing Kindle Worlds, which is getting around the fuzzy legal grey area of fanfiction by officially licensing these Worlds, and the first to sign on has been Warner Brothers’ affiliated Alloy Entertainment, who owns the license for Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, and Gossip Girl.

On the surface, this looks great.  Star Trek has been doing this for a long time–anyone who has ever submitted a story to one of the Strange New Worlds anthologies has certainly been aware of what has been, in the past, a relatively willing openness to fan work, and many fan writers have broken into professional publishing through writing for these anthologies.  It also seems like a way for fans to get generally professionally curated (?) writing for their favorite universes at a reasonable price.

But there is, I fear, a dark side to all the bright, shiny, happy togetherness Amazon is toting.

Let’s start here.

1. Once you start getting paid for it, it stops being fanfiction.  And for many people, that’s going to be completely okay, because this license is going to be a place where they can jump off into their own writing.  To a certain point, this makes complete business sense–get someone started reading a Vampire Diaries story that you read, then perhaps see if they’ll go read the original novel that you published via Amazon as well.  Amazon is essentially offering the indefinable Holy Grail of publishing–legitimacy.

But in that case, let’s call it what it actually is–media tie-in fiction, not fanfiction.  Sure, the authors might be fans, but the line between pro fic and fan fic is the almighty dollar, and that is a very clear, very well-delineated line.

2. Royalties actually don’t look all that bad.  Amazon takes care of all the payments of royalties to the license holders and to the author. For works from 5000-10000 words, Amazon pays the author 20% of net revenue; works longer than that get the author 35% (the shorter works get less profit due to credit card fees, etc.).  It seems reasonable.

That is until you look closer. The net revenue is based off the customer sales price, not the wholesale price, which tends to be less.  That seems okay, doesn’t it?  It does until you read this: “Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories.”

Hm. So that means that your royalties and revenue could change in an instant, depending on how Amazon decides to price your story–and keep in mind, Amazon could decide to price it at zero, depending on how your contract is written.

3. You get to keep the copyright for anything original that you put into your story.  That’s great, right?  Well, except for the part that while you have that copyright, it means less than nothing, because “When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story.”

The bold there is mine.  When you submit your story.  Not when it’s published.  When it’s submitted.  Whoa.  And oh, it gets worse.

“We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

Oh, no you didn’t.  What was that point of having a copyright again?

4. What if you screw something up?  Say there’s accidentally something that infringes on a copyright that has nothing to do with the license you’re writing for.  Well, according to the content guidelines, “It is the authors’ responsibility to ensure that their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights.”

Not Amazon’s responsibility.  The author’s responsibility.  So you screw up, Amazon will hang your butt out to dry.

5. What if it’s not very good? Who decides?

Amazon refuses to publish books that provide a “poor customer experience.”  What does that mean?  Well, it does say that “We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.”  This tells us nothing about the editorial process.  Not very helpful, guys.  Oh, and did we mention that you, the author, is on the hook for doing the formatting, cover art, and product description?  Yup.  All on you.

6. What does this mean for fanfic in these licenses?

No idea.  See, Amazon won’t take anything over PG, no crossovers, etc.  So what happens to all the Damon/Elena porn? (That is Vampire Diaries, right?)  Does that mean Alloy will start scouring the web to remove everything else?  Is AO3 going to start getting cease and desist orders for the Gossip Girl tags?  I don’t know, but this makes me think we might be at the top of a slope that’s just getting more and more slippery as the days go by.