I’ve seen a good deal of reaction over the last couple of days to Amazon’s announcement of its “Kindle Worlds” program in which it aims to solicit and publish licensed (!) fanfiction set in a handful of franchise universes. Both the fanfic world and certain corners of the professional writing community are rising up in mutual astonishment, mostly to point out the holes in Amazon’s logic.
At the same time, both the fans and the pros seem cautiously convinced that the program is actually going to work — that is, that people are actually going to make money on the deal.
I’m not. I think the odds are against anyone — writer, licensor, Amazon — turning a significant profit on the venture. Let me explain….The project will need writers — but I expect most fan writers to balk at paying setup and administrative fees in order to post their work. Amazon is virtually certain to charge such fees (it has costs to recoup, about which more in a moment), but while fan culture might not blink at letting fanwriters make money at their craft, it will blink at Amazon taking a piece of the pie up front.
The project will need editors — because Amazon and licensor Alloy Entertainment have imposed content restrictions on what they’ll allow to be posted, and someone will have to see that individual works comply with those rules. That’s going to impose a cost on Amazon in addition to the usual overhead associated with self-publishing ventures, and the money to pay those editors will have to come from somewhere.
And the project will need readers — but the works posted on Amazon will be competing with free-access fanworks posted on sites like Fanfiction.Net and the Archive of Our Own, and the free-access works will offer greater variety and range (crossovers! smut! both forbidden by the licensors’ content constraints).
With only the licenses so far announced, I don’t think there will be enough material to kick Kindle Worlds over its critical-mass threshold. Fanfic casts a very wide net — but mostly it’s a wide net over a shallow pool. There are a very few mega-franchises in which there’s enough supply and demand for fanfic to generate a significant revenue stream — but those are exactly the franchises least likely to grant licenses for Amazon to open up their sandboxes.