Earlier in the summer, Amazon launched Kindle Worlds, a platform for fanfiction writers to publish and make money from their works. It launched to skepticism within fandom communities, with many fans giving the service a firm “thumbs down.” There was a lot to “meh” over with Kindle Worlds, with a limited selection of titles and fandoms to choose from being at least one big problem.
The main criticism is that Amazon simply didn’t understand the non-commercial motivation that is the cornerstone of most fan communities. The idea that Amazon seeks to capitalize on the – “near-bottomless supply of written content” for “easy cash” – as TechCrunch rather crassly put it – misses the point. Most fans are writing not to become the next Cassandra Clare or E.L. James, but to share their love of a fictional universe or characters with others. Fan love is its own currency and attempts to monetize or professionalize are routinely met with resistance, despite a few outlier examples.
I recently had a thought about where there might be a happy medium between profit motive and fan inspiration, in a way that is (less) exploitative for fans and perhaps beneficial for all: copyright holders, production companies and fan creators alike. What if Kindle Worlds (or a similar licensed fan works publisher) specialized exclusively in fanworks for dormant or dead fandoms? Cancelled shows, older films, etc. Working with the license holder for said show and coming up with a partnership to create “semi-canonical” fan works for sale. It keeps interest in a fandom alive for fans but also keeps interest in a media franchise alive for media owners. It would be America’s equivalent to Japan’s (mostly) live-and-let-live approach to dōjinshi. Or akin to the semi-canonical Star Trek fan-fiction anthologies that Paramount Pictures allowed in the 1970’s, post original series and pre-film. Now it’s probably obvious that I am no copyright scholar, and I am sure TLF’s resident copyright expert will have some comments about this approach. I’m honestly coming from it at a place of fandom selfishness because I want more Pacific Rim and I want it now.
I was one of about 15 people in the U.S. that saw Pacific Rim and became obsessed with it. Reading fan-fiction, poring over the Pacific Rim wiki, all of it. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about why I thought the film wouldn’t fly in the U.S., and I was right for the most part. The film cost $200 million to make and only made about 90 million in U.S. box office, a huge flop by Hollywood standards. It performed better overseas, but probably not well enough to merit a sequel or even official licensed novels, which of course fills me with sadness. I want to keep the universe of Pacific Rim alive, and I’m willing to pay for it. Considering that Hollywood will likely abandon this universe and presuming there are fans willing to pick up the story and run with it, why not give fans the opportunity to do so without getting in their way about copyright and licensing.
I wrote a TLF post a couple of years ago that mentioned that there would be a point where commercial media owners/producers understand the value of fan communities on an economic level. While that appears to be happening, there’s still a tension between fan communities and media companies when it comes to the transmedia storytelling vs. fan-focused “viral “marketing. Studios are eager to leverage fan labor for the latter but wary when it comes to viewing fans as partners in creating the former. Firefly fandom was a particularly messy situation; one of the first examples of a marketing “partnership” between Universal studios and fans that turned into an ugly copyright battle around the presumed ownership of the Firefly franchise.
There are numerous examples of fan communities that keep a media franchise alive when its official incarnation goes dormant, often despite the efforts of media owners’ legal departments that attempt to shut such fan works down. The Kindle Worlds approach to fan-fiction licensing mostly benefits the license owner but offers very little incentive for a fan community to participate outside of compensation, which isn’t the currency that motivates here. But by focusing on dormant fandoms, the incentive on both sides seems pretty clear to me.
What are your thoughts?