Today Amazon announced Kindle Worlds, a new platform for selling fan fiction (more or less). At this point there are three “worlds” for which anyone will be able to write: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and Vampire Diaries. These three properties are all owned by Alloy, a book packager. Amazon is looking for rights to other properties, of course, including “books, games, TV, movies, and music”. Writers who publish their fan fic through Kindle Worlds technically keep their copyright but surrender all their rights exclusively to Amazon in exchange for a modest royalty.
I think Kindle Worlds is not so much about authors at all, and I think there are some big questions unanswered.
Amazon’s looking at TV, movies, and games for Kindle Worlds. This makes a lot of sense. Bestselling books have thousands of readers (tens of thousands, hundreds maybe, and the Dan Browns hit the million mark), and that’s the market for those properties. TV, movies, and games, on the other hand, can’t be successful unless they have millions of viewers/players. A popular movie has a much bigger market than a popular book, so it’s a more attractive prospect for Kindle Worlds. I think we’re likely to see more Worlds based on non-book media. For the record, I would probably get excited about Bioshock fiction.
But that raises the question of how Amazon will handle Kindle Worlds. It’s definitely not KDP: Amazon Publishing publishes the work that is released to Worlds. Yet anyone can submit, and the restrictions are minimal. How much review will take place? Will it be a big slush pile or will they filter for stuff they think people want to read? Amazon stands to make more money if they take everything, but readers will likely respond better if the work is vetted.
Another big question is how Amazon will market Kindle Worlds. Where does a reader see it? How is it presented? Chuck Wendig talks about the importance of canon. How legitimate these works appear will be largely up to Amazon. The more they push it, the more likely readers are to adopt–but the more they push it, the greater the likelihood that the property’s core story gets diluted.
Amazon has made some big announcements in recent years: their own publishing imprints, kindle lending. They haven’t exactly shaken the foundations of publishing. If anything, these projects are slowly gaining traction. I think Worlds will need some time to find its feet. I do see some potential impact on authors, though. If an author publishing with Amazon hits big, will they be pressured to have a Kindle World? Will they be forced to? For other authors, I can imagine big publishers asking for more rights–although one would think the licenses at play in Kindle Worlds are already accounted for in most contracts. Any time Amazon starts making money in a new corner of the industry, however, people get nervous and look to tap into the same model.
And a final note for unpublished authors (or authors in general): everyone in publishing is talking about discoverability. To the point that you discover you kind of want to throw up. If you’re a new author, published or not, and you’ve got kickass storytelling chops, how do you get people to read your work? Well, Kindle Worlds is discoverability, tied up in a bow. Write for Vampire Diaries. Or Gossip Girl, etc. You’ve got an audience lined up and waiting for their next fix. Not all of them will convert to read your other stuff, but that’s a huge funnel, and there’s nothing else like it right now. Tying in to established brands is a great way to get noticed, and for better or worse Amazon is the only player who can hook that up for you. Not for everyone, but I can definitely see new genre writers breaking out this way.
And seriously, Bioshock. I’m already brainstorming “Tears of a Big Daddy“.