Is Kindle Worlds just kindling a storm?

Yesterday, Amazon announced that it’s starting Kindle Worlds, “a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.” Naturally, people have thoughts about this. I’ve seen opinions ranging from “Yay, this will totally legitimize fan fiction!” to “Boo, this will totally destroy fan fiction!” to “… what’s fan fiction and why should we care?”

I have a few thoughts of my own; the first of which is, this is not fan fiction. Despite the label Amazon is trying to put on it, fan fiction is by definition unlicensed and unpaid. The fact that these stories will be both licensed and paid makes them, by definition, NOT fan fiction, regardless of whether they started out that way.

What it does make it is licensed, work-for-hire franchise fiction–the same thing as all of the tie-in novels you see on the shelves for Star Trek, Star WarsDoctor WhoBuffy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The writers who produce those books work for very similar contractual terms and with pretty much the same guidelines. Back in my fan fiction days, I was interested in breaking into the tie-in novel market, and I sent away for the submission guidelines for Buffy, and also checked into the guidelines for Star Trek. What I saw then is pretty much the same thing I see here: don’t deviate from canon, keep it family-friendly, no cross-overs, etc., and whatever you write becomes the property of the franchise, to be used as they see fit with no further compensation to the writer.

The big differences are these: one, whereas for years fanficcers have argued that professional tie-in novels are nothing more than paid, legitimized fan ficiton, Amazon is coming right out and calling it that. And two, the traditional method of obtaining licensed novels involve paying hand-selected professional writers a sizable advance for their troubles that is in keeping with guidelines established by the Writers Guild of America. By lowering the bar for entry to amateur fanficcers, Amazon (and the licensors they’re working with) are able to get away with paying less than the going professional rate.

Do I think this is rather sneaky? Yes. Do I think it’s inherently evil? Not really. I think it’s a smart business move, and just another way that Amazon is pushing against the traditional publishing mold and trying to maintain their lead in shaping the future of publishing. I think they’re a little wrong-headed in the way they’re going about courting the fan fiction crowd, but I understand their reasons for doing so.

Do I think this will endanger the online fan fiction community in any way? Nope. I do understand that fear–that the production companies licensing this fiction might see this as a way to put the fans on a leash and give them more legitimacy for cracking down on unlicensed fan fiction; but, well, they don’t really need more legitimacy to crack down on fanfic if that’s what they wanted to do. And licensed fiction already exists. This is just a way for Amazon to profit directly from it by making a large portion of it exclusive to the Kindle. This is, first and foremost, about Amazon shoring up a market share where they see a potential for profit. They don’t really care about quashing or regulating fan fiction. What they care about is giving the fan fiction crowd a reason to buy Kindles.

Agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this development in the comments.