Amazon has a plan to monetize fan fiction: It's called Kindle Worlds. On Wednesday, Amazon announced a new scheme in which writers of fan fiction can self-publish and sell that writing with the sanction of the original copyright holder.
The idea is that everyone, including Amazon, will profit. The fan fiction authors will get 35% of net revenue for full-length books; Amazon and the original copyright owner will split the other 65%, in terms that the company will not disclose.
Until now, fan fiction has largely been available for free; in the cases where it was not, sales definitely fell into a gray area. Could a fan of Harry Potter write and sell his own adventures of the boy wizard? He shouldn't -- but many did. If not entirely legal, the market for fan fiction was generally thought to be too insignificant to tamp down.
Then came "Fifty Shades of Grey." The erotic novel was the biggest-selling book of 2012 -- and it originated as a work of fan fiction.
Author E.L. James had posted a work of "Twilight" fan fiction online years before. She used -- and sexed up -- the characters in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series in an online serial that eventually became "Fifty Shades." "This did start as 'Twilight' fan fiction" her agent told Deadline, adding, however, "If you read the books, they are nothing like 'Twilight' now."In James' final version, the characters and setting had departed significantly from Meyers' original work. The question of just how much of "Fifty Shades of Grey" had derived from that original work of fan fiction was raised when the book became a hit.
If Meyer and James had both been part of Kindle Worlds, Meyer would have profited from James' success. As would Amazon, acting as both publisher and retailer of the fan fiction.
However, Meyer hasn't signed on -- nor has J.K. Rowling, who has encouraged Potter fans to explore their own fiction in her Harry Potter-dedicated website, Pottermore. In fact, no single author with a traditional publishing house has joined Amazon for the launch of Kindle Worlds.
Instead, Kindle Worlds is launching with three major properties that are owned by Alloy Entertainment: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and Vampire Diaries. Alloy is known for creating and packaging fictions that have the potential for broad popular appeal -- each of the above is also a television show -- and for paying authors on a work-for-hire basis. Whereas in a traditional publishing arrangement, Meyer owns the copyright to Bella and Edward, Alloy owns the rights to "The Vampire Diaries' " Elena, Stefan and Damon.
On her website, "The Vampire Diaries" author L.J. (Lisa Jane) Smith explains her working relationship with the company. "Alloy Entertainment Inc., which owns half the copyright and originally asked Lisa to write 'The Vampire Diaries' in 1990 as 'work for hire' has had the book ['The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters: Phantom'] completely rewritten by an anonymous ghostwriter. The credit on the book will say 'Created by L.J. Smith' Lisa will not be allowed to write further Vampire Diaries, although she has asked both Alloy Entertainment Inc. and HarperTeen to do so. The series is now in the hands of an anonymous ghostwriter."
And in the hands of fans, Alloy and Amazon.
Amazon has said that it will announce further partners in the Amazon Worlds fan fiction project in the future.