If you haven’t already heard of Kindle Worlds, it’s “a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games” and get paid for your work. Amazon have partnered with the copyright owners of certain titles and created a place where you can legally get paid for the fan fiction you write. The titles are only available through Kindle, of course, but when a title you’ve written sells then you get paid, the copyright owner gets paid and Amazon take their percentage.
There are a few comic titles participating, but most interesting is that Warner Brothers have launched with a selection of their shows. These include Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. Presumably the planned spin-off of the latter, Ravenswood, will either be included in this deal or will be imminent; both shows exist in the same universe and have some character cross over, so it’s hard to imagine how a separation would work from the perspective of fan created content.
It will be interesting to see what resources Warner Brothers put into fostering a writing community on Kindle Worlds, or whether they’ll let it grow or die organically. It looks like they’re already supplying the basics for consistent covers, such as a series footer and title fonts, but how far will they go in providing additional content for Kindle World creators, and how involved will they become in promoting the work of the community?
There’s an excellent post on Transmedia fiction and it’s importance to a franchise by James Waugh that talks about just this. Content that is ‘in world’ and across multiple media types has been an integral part of building narrative-based brands since they began producing Star Wars toys in the late seventies. Centered around the movies, that brand now also spans multiple comics, novels, computer games, cartoons, collectables, playing cards, theme park rides and who knows what else, as well as non-canonical cross branding with other popular products such as Lego and Angry Birds.
Some people view these cynically; opportunistic deviations from the core product that make a quick buck but cheapening your brand in the process. They’re actually critically important for a narrative brand to sustain long term. Feature films are hugely expensive, and there’s a limit to the number that can be made around a single narrative world; It would only need one or two films in the franchise to not make the expected numbers and investors would begin to look elsewhere, plus there will be a natural rate of attrition in the audience.
Through extending the brand across a diverse range of media (all of which are cheaper to produce and market than a movie) they create multiple touch points with their core fan base and the opportunity to explore stories on the periphery of the main product. These touch points retain the importance of the brand for the user in the times between movie releases, keeping them engaged and excited.
The titles that Warner Brothers have launched with in Kindle Worlds don’t have the fan base or (I would wager) the longevity of a brand like Star Wars, but if they succeed in engaging fans (who are either creating on-brand content or consuming that fan created content) it will make the platform more appealing to the owners of other, larger brands.
So, if you have ten years worth of Star Wars fan fiction you’re itching to monetize, your hope rests with the success of fan fiction for Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl.