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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kindle Worlds Lets Authors Make Money From Fan Fiction - But Only If They're American!

This week Amazon announced a new publishing initiative called Kindle Worlds.

This is an opportunity for authors to make money by publishing their own fan fiction on Kindle.

Amazon is arranging licensing deals for the books, films and TV shows concerned, so it's all above board. Fan fiction authors will share any royalties generated with the rights holders. Amazon has secured licenses for Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, with more on the way according to the launch announcement.

The Kindle Worlds project has generated much discussion in the blogosphere, with some enthusiastic, but others - such as Cortnee Howard on the Best Damn Creative Writing Blog - arguing that it is simply encouraging plagiarism.

Personally, though, I don't buy that argument. As I see it, if Amazon have licensing deals in place and royalties are divided between authors and copyright-holders, surely it's a win-win for everyone?

TV shows like Star Trek, Buffy and Doctor Who have had spin-off books published under license for many years, so I don't see anything radically different about Kindle Worlds. Obviously, there will be issues about quality control, and probably the rights holders will want to issue guidelines about what types of plot are and are not acceptable to them (they might want to exclude hardcore sex scenes, for example). Again, this has happened plenty of times in the past - with Virgin Publishing's series of Doctor Who books, for example.

Some commentators seem to be concerned that fan fiction authors will be passing off such books as (entirely) their own, but I don't see that for one moment. It will be quite obvious that any such book is fan fiction - indeed, that is the main reason it will sell. The author will deserve a credit, of course, but that doesn't mean they are claiming to have invented the original concept. Personally, if a share of royalties was on offer, I wouldn't even mind if my name wasn't mentioned on the book at all!

What does disappoint me, however, is that Kindle Worlds is restricted to US authors. Non-Americans aren't even allowed to sign up for email updates on the project.

This seems a perverse decision by Amazon to me. Obviously, the first three franchises are all US TV shows, but considering they are broadcast in many other countries as well, I don't see why that would be any obstacle.

I can accept that, for licensing reasons, Amazon might want fiction under the Kindle Worlds banner only to be available in the US initially. But still, why discriminate against non-US authors? Writing nowadays, more than ever, is a global industry, and it's perfectly possible for non-US authors to create work that would be enjoyed by a US readership (the opposite is manifestly the case too).

So I really hope that Amazon's decision to limit Kindle Worlds to US authors is just temporary, to simplify the admin, rather than a long-term strategic decision. That being the case, I think they should at least make updates and information available to non-US writers immediately, and open it up to writers from anywhere in the world as soon as humanly possible.

That's my view anyway, but what do YOU think? Do you welcome Kindle Worlds, or think it is a step too far by Amazon? And what about their decision to restrict it to US authors? Please post any comments below!

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