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Kindle Worlds = Worlds Burning?

BY MATT FORBECK

Amazon just announced a new program called Kindle Worlds that allows writers to sign up for no-mess licenses for established fictional worlds to self-publish stories in them. In essence, they’re letting fan-fic writers (amateurs who write such stories for fun) make money off their work. As a writer who’s made a good chunk of money writing official stories for such things, this is a brain-busting concept. So let’s break this down a bit.

So far, they only have a few worlds available — Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries, all from Warner Bros. — but let’s assume they have more in the wings. Also, if any of this takes off, we can expect a deluge of such licenses.

As a writer, I can write whatever I want in these worlds, within certain limits: no pornography (no Fifty Shades of Gossip!), no excessive violence (interesting to see vampires get around that), no crossovers (Patton Oswalt won’t get his Avengers/Star Wars/X-Men crossover this way — yet), etc. For longer works (10,000 words or more), I get 35%, half what Amazon normally pays for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. For short stories (which will be priced under $1), I get 20%, which is more than half of the standard 35%. The licensor (owner of the original world) gets the rest of the royalty — whatever that is. Amazon doesn’t say.

As a writer, it feels like splitting the royalty on the book with the owners, which seems fair. Standard royalties on work-for-hire tie-in novels range from 8% all the way down to nada. Of course, those contracts come with an advance, which Kindle Worlds (like all self-published Kindle books) doesn’t offer.

There are some catches:

The books are exclusive to Amazon, which owns all publishing rights. Seems like a fair tradeoff for getting the licenses set up. When you write official tie-in books, the owners of the world get those rights anyhow, and that’s probably what Amazon is sealing up here.

Royalties are based on what Amazon gets for the books, which is standard for self-publishing but not traditional books. Fine.

Other writers can build on your material just as much as on the original material. That’s fair.

The real kickers:

“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.” Which means you give up all future rights to your work. If you come up with the basis of the next film set in that world, thanks. Hope your book sells a lot more because of it. Still, this is the same arrangement as with traditional tie-in work.

“Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.” This takes a bit of the control out of the writer’s hands. You can’t charge a premium, and you might wind up getting paid a quarter of what you’re hoping for.

They can also nix books for things like copyright or trademark violations, excessive use of brands (which they likely mean from outside the world in question), and “poor customer experience” (which means badly made e-books, but could be broadly interpreted).

So what’s all that mean? To me at the moment, nothing. I don’t have any interest in writing for the worlds they’ve lined up so far. They’ve promised a lot more of them to come, but we’ll have to see who signs up for such things. At the moment, it looks like they’ve convinced Warner Bros. to dip their toe into the pool, but it may be that other creators/owners will want to wait to see what happens before they jump in, too.

For the publishing industry, it could mean a lot of things.

Is it the death of tie-in novels? Maybe. For owners interested in conscientious and purposeful brand extensions (like Blizzard is with the StarCraft story I wrote), I don’t see them wanting to dive into this.   

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