Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Traditional Publishers, Tremble Before the Foresight of Amazon

A few Christmases back, I got the 30th Anniversary edition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of my favorite films.

Though it was made in the era before swarms of camera-toting morons followed the film’s every behind-the-scenes move, the film came with a good selection of extras to help fill the empty void in my otherwise dull life.

With one glaring exception: No copy of Closet Cases of the Nerd Kind.

This is old-school fan fiction of the lovable sort. And should have had a place on any anniversary or collector’s edition of the satirized film.

Amazon gets that, and is about to do something that ought to make traditional publishers tremble: It’s going to provide a place where fan fiction can be published and monetized, both for the original author and the fan boy or girl.

In other words, Amazon is going to monetize that fan-artist connection in ways that traditional publishers from the closeted avenues of New York to the Motion Picture Association of America have never done – and they’re going to laugh about it all the way to the bank.

Behold Kindle Worlds. In the words of Daniel Etherington from TechCruch:

[Kindle] Worlds joins Kindle Singles and Kindle Serials as a way for authors to earn money from digital publishing, and the best part is that in this case you don’t even have to be all that creative – 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.

Here’s Amazon’s press release.

Fan fiction has long been  a phenomenon, one I became aware of as the nascent web brought together fans of Robert C. O’Brien’s “Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMH.” Shortly after I established a NIMH website on servers belonging to the Univeristy of Idaho, a network of O’Brien (and Don Bluth fans, creator of the film based on the book) emerged. I fell into a world of fan art and fan fiction (most of it crappy, yes, but some of it good; some of it far better than the NIMH sequels penned by O’ Brien’s daughter, Jane Leslie Conly. I’m sure the thought of getting paid to produce fan fiction – written within rules set by the original authors, as Amazon outlines, would have made these rabid NIMH fans drool.

And it should make traditional publishers shake in their boots.

Why not feed the fan base and make money off what they produce? That’s quite the opposite of what most approaches have been to fan fiction – the inevitable cease and desist letter. This is going to be powerful mojo for any authors lucky enough to produce a universe that spawns imitation, and has the potential to be big bucks for Amazon. Capitalizing on a loyal audience, that makes good business and creative sense.

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