Why Is Amazon's Fan Fiction Site Failing?

by Emma Cueto

It's true that fan fiction gets kind of a bum rap in the popular imagination — a disapproval that plenty of people have argued is pretty gendered. But it seems that one of the efforts to make money off of fan fiction anyway, the Amazon-run site Kindle Worlds, isn't doing so well. In fact, according to a paper by legal scholar Rebecca Tushnet examining potential replacements for "fair use" in copyright law, Amazon's Kindle Worlds is a pretty massive disappointment.

Kindle Worlds is unique among fan fiction sites in that it actually works out licensing agreements with franchises like Vampire Diaries or Gossip Girl before letting fans post stories. By doing this, Amazon can then make money off of the fan fiction posted on the site. But so far, it's hard to believe the venture has been very lucrative. Which, given the nature of fan fiction, might not be that surprising.

As Tushnet's paper lays out, hardly anyone is posting to Kindle Worlds. For instance, in June, 46 Pretty Little Liars fan fiction stories were posted on Kindle Worlds. During the same time period, on two other sites, 6,000 stories were posted. On alone, roughly 100 stories go up every hour, while the whole of Kindle Worlds only has a little more than 500 stories.

Tushnet theorizes that this is partly due to restrictions imposed on Kindle Worlds users by the licensing agreements — for instance, characters in most "worlds" of content can't use profanity or do drugs. Plus, Amazon bans users under the age of 18, who probably produce the most fan fiction of any age group.

Still, you'd think Amazon would have at least broken 1,000 stories.

The efforts to make money off of fan fiction or try to fold it into traditional content production systems has always struck me as pretty weird. The fact that 50 Shades of Grey went from Twilight to international phenomenon or that the One Direction fan fic After is getting a movie — it's all just bizarre. But even more bizarre is that Amazon seemed confident that they could make just plain old fan fiction profitable, no paperbacks or movie deals required.

Fan fiction is, at its heart, an outpouring of enthusiasm from fans. They enjoy a story so much it grabs hold of their imagination, and suddenly they have their own stories, too. And they take those ideas, write them down, and share them. Fan fiction sites are communities built on shared love and excitement. Such a phenomenon isn't something that naturally goes along with licensing agreements, or rules and restrictions, and it definitely isn't the sort of thing that can be forced.

There are lots of horrible fan fictions out there — ones romanticizing Rihanna's abusive relationship with Chris Brown, for instance — but at the end of the day, they exist because of people eager to share their passions. In other words, even if Amazon eased up on all their restrictions, they'll still run into the fundamental fact that fan fiction isn't produced for profit, but for love. And in this particular case, the two might not be compatible.

Image: ABC Family