Kindle Worlds And The Problem Of Quality Control

You want to get paid for writing my stories? I wouldn’t mind being paid for you writing my stories, either. Nor would Amazon. But of course Amazon would also like to cut publishers out of the deal and set themselves up as a monopoly provider and monopsony buyer of written fiction.

That’s why their fan fiction initiative might hit a wall before it gets started.

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On the face of it, Kindle Worlds is a brilliant idea. As Amazon describe it:

Kindle Worlds is a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.

The oceans of fan fiction are vast, deep and largely uncharted. Some authors hate it, but most of us recognize the compliment paid to the worlds we create when a reader takes the time to create their own stories within them. 

I’ve always wanted to ‘license the universe’ with both the Axis of Time and Disappearance trilogies. It’s not just a business decision. I loved working in both of those worlds and, just like a fan, I’d like to see more stories in them. Just like a lazy writer, however, I don’t have unlimited time or even a business case to write endless stories set in those worlds. That’s the appeal of fan fiction to me; reading more stories in a world I enjoy.

Techcrunch has a pretty comprehensive writeup of Kindle Worlds, where they reveal that:

the idea is to let fans create stories around original properties from other authors, offering them up for purchase on the Kindle book store. Amazon then pays out royalties to both the original rights holder, as well as to the fan fiction author, with the author making around 35 percent of all net revenue for works over 10,000 words.

That makes it seem as if the Beast of Bezos is looking to publish small standalone fanfic titles. That would certainly be a lot easier from an accounting perspective than, say, publishing anthologies of stories. But it’s the anthology idea that most attracts me.

Unfortunately as soon as you start getting into higher-end, more “commercial” properties like edited anthologies, the legacy publishers of the original work are going to want to buy into the process. Because what Amazon is doing is siphoning their gas.

The publishers are still getting a piece of the action, of course. But nothing like the original cut, and on the face of it they’re also ceding control over the published work. One of the things that separates the freebies and ninety-nine cent shockers on the Kindle store from even the worst published works, is that at least the latter had a publisher who waved the manuscript past an editor and an art department at some point.

The fanfic in Kindle Worlds will go out into the world with the implied imprimatur of the publisher but without any of the quality control.

It’s possible that the old publishing houses, so traumatized by the erosion of their traditional business, might just leap upon this new income stream anyway. An unknown, but surely significant number of authors, will want them to. And the legions of unpublished — or at least nonprofessionally published — fanfic writers will be straining at the leash to get going.

I would love to see it happen, because I’d love to read some more stories set in my fave worlds, including my own, and get a payday for doing nothing. But I think I already know how my publishers are going to react to the idea of letting hundreds of unsupervised fans loose in World War 2.1.