It sounded like a good idea: fans of cultural figures like Kurt Vonnegut and G.I. Joe get permission to use their favorite characters to create new stories under the umbrella of Amazon, and everyone gets a cut of the profits. So how it did turn out?
So far the results of the project, known as Kindle Worlds, appear lackluster at best. Take the popular series Pretty Little Liars, which became available as an Amazon-licensed fan fiction title last year.
In the month of June, authors contributed 46 Pretty Little Liars works to Kindle Worlds, which sounds like a fair number — unless you compare it to the more than 6,000 such works that appeared during this time on two other fan fiction sites.
More broadly, on one of those sites, FanFiction.net, fans posted 100 new stories every hour across all categories. And Amazon? Its entire output for all 24 “Worlds” of content, which also includes franchises like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries, was just 538 stories over the course of more than a year.
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According to Tushnet, a big part of the problem is the creative limits that brand owners impose on the use of their work. In the case of G.I. Joe, for instance, the villain can’t wear a Yankees cap. Characters in other works can’t use drugs or employ profane language. And gay, bisexual or deviant sexual behavior might be off-limits too.
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Add it all up, and the fields of imagination and community in Kindle Worlds feel barren next to the rollicking, ribald world of the purely fan universes. The sanctioned space, it turns out, is just not as much fun as the unofficial ones. One fan fiction enthusiast cited by the paper likens Kindle Worlds to a playground of “five quiet, clean, polite children carefully playing together while helicopter parents hovered overhead … Whatever Amazon has created there is no life in it.”
For Amazon and its partners, it will be difficult to overcome such perceptions since the underlying problem is not just about licensing terms, but something more fundamental: the impossibility of having it both ways, of fostering maximum creativity while wielding maximum legal control.
Link to the rest at GigaOm and thanks to L for the tip.