The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Kindle Worlds
Posted On: 2014-03-05
by: Mercedes Tabano

05, 2014
Fanfiction is a booming phenomenon. Superfans, upset to see their favorite book/television series end, create more stories about their favorite characters and give them their own unique twist.

The legal complexities of fanfiction are far from settled. Fans claim fanfiction falls fair use, while the copyright owners claim that fanfiction is a gross violation of copyright infringements.

This is an area of the internet and publishing law that is so gray that even Disney refuses to challenge these fanfiction authors. After all, until very recently there was little money in fanfiction. An overwhelming majority of all fanfiction work is given away for free. Fanfiction authors historically have not profited from their efforts, and this is the very reason that many major license holders (Disney, Universal, Paramount, Scholastic, etc.,) pretend they don't' know what's going on and turn a blind eye to fanfiction.

From their perspective, since fanfiction authors are simply writing stories so that they and others like them can revisit their favorite stories and characters, they aren't really an economic threat. In fact, fanfiction keeps the target audience interested in the original story, so fanfiction enables license holders have a prolonged engaged audience. This is great for selling other original story-related goods like movie sequels, movie prequels, book anthologies, book-specific encyclopedias, and fan merchandise.

Amazon's new Kindle Worlds seeks to change all that. Economic advantages for fanfiction authors are finally entering the picture (thereby disrupting the normal fanfiction is for free status quo); it is worth considering if writing fanfiction via Kindle Worlds is a good publishing path for you.

What is Kindle Worlds?

Kindle Worlds is Amazon's attempt to lead fanfiction out of the (unprofitable) darkness and into the (profitable) light. They accomplish this by teaming up with both the copyright holders and fanfiction authors. Amazon pays a fee to license the characters from the copyright owners. Then Amazon allows authors to use these licensed characters for Kindle stories. Once that fanfiction Kindle book sells, the author, Amazon, and the licensor all get a cut.

On the surface it sounds like a great system...but is it?

The Good

There are many pros with Amazon's new Kindle Worlds system, including the potential for a big payday. This is something not possible with traditional fanfiction as almost all of it is given away for free. Becoming successful via Kindle Worlds can also help you build a recognized name in Amazon's non-fanfiction related realms. You can leverage your success as a Kindle Worlds author into your own books and characters, separate from Kindle Worlds. This can help you make a lot of money later.

Of course, since search engines love Amazon, your work also has a better chance of being on the front page of search results when someone types in the name of that world or its characters.

Best of all, you are protected from legal internet publishing uncertainties. You don't have to worry about major companies like Paramount or Disney objecting to your piece of fanfiction because they are essentially getting paid by Amazon not to object. For any author concerned about lawsuits or copyrights, that in itself is quite valuable.

The Bad

It's important to note that since Amazon is a mainstream company it focuses on more recent properties. For example, you might find Harry Potter, The Vampire Diaries, or even Pretty Little Liars on Kindle Worlds, but when it comes to older franchises such as Gargoyles or Bonanza, these are conspicuously absent.

Another issue is the type of story you are allowed to write. The copyright holders fear losing control of their brand. Therefore, there are certain situations you can't write about; if you decide to write fanfiction using Kindle Worlds, please note there are limits and prohibitions concerning foul language, sex, illegal drug use, or anything that strays too far from the character's norm.

The Ugly

By far the ugliest part about Kindle Worlds are the fuzzy rights spelled out in the contract especially if your fanfiction becomes immensely popular. Amazon claims that you keep the copyright to your work. This is partially true since you created it using licensed charters, but you are not allowed to sell it anywhere else. A Kindle Worlds book stays on Amazon/Kindle, period.

Another potentially troubling aspect about the Kindle Worlds contract states that the copyright holders are permitted to mine your book for ideas without credit or further compensation. In other words, if your book becomes the next big blockbuster movie, the copyright holder is not legally bound to disclose it was your book that provided the inspiration (though the internet has a way of uncovering these things, so you'll still likely get some publicity for it). More importantly, if your piece of fanfiction is used in another medium - let's say it becomes a movie - the copyright holder is under no legal obligation to give you even one penny of the profits. You could probably hire a lawyer and rattle your sabre a bit and probably get some kind of payoff from the movie studio, but that is definitely not a guarantee. Copyright holders can even borrow a character that you originated in your fanfiction and use it freely.

These are some weighty matters to consider, so think it over carefully before you commit to publishing a Kindle Worlds book.

So Is Kindle Worlds Right For You?

It depends on your passion and your ultimate goal. If you're just getting into fiction but are passionate about a world on Amazon's list, it's worth checking out if only to sharped your fiction writing skills (and gain exposure in the process). Writing for Kindle Worlds gives you a chance to write a book with a ready-made audience, and it is a great way to sharpen your writing skills before writing your own fiction book. Knowing the good, the bad and ugly of Kindle Worlds can help you decide if it's right for you.

Until next time...
Mercedes Tabano and Ashley Zee