So Amazon is going to be selling fanfiction.
I have a lot of feelings about this, many of which haven’t gotten any further in articulating themselves than WHAAAATAAARRGGHHHFFFFFFFFF, so let me link to posts on the topic by John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig, both of whom have slightly different and equally important takes.
For myself, yeah, I’ve pretty much tipped my hand to the fact that I regard this as almost uniformly a bad thing. I regard it as such as someone with a long history in and a deep affection for fandom; totally aside from how monetizing fic for profit is a shit in the face of communities that thrive on free exchange of labor for sheer love of the product, I don’t like it when I feel like The Man is trying to make my people suckers. Which I honestly feel is a serious danger here.
I’m going out on a limb with this but I’m thinking most fic writers don’t have agents. I’m guessing that a lot of them have actually never seen a standard publishing contract. This isn’t to say that fic writers are stupid, but I do think that a lot of them are probably ignorant of a lot of the nuts and bolts of the publishing business – why wouldn’t they be, if they have no professional reason to not be so? – and Amazon is counting on that. Amazon is counting on fic writers not knowing that they should SPRINT TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CONTINENT when they see something like “Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.”
Amazon is not in this for you. Amazon is in this for Amazon. No duh; they’re a giant company that operates to maximize its profit. But it’s just important that we’re all on the same page here: Amazon is not in this because they love fandom. They don’t give a shit about fandom. Probably most of the IPs who have allowed licenses don’t give much of a shit about fandom. This is exploitation. Now, it’s totally fine to be okay with being exploited – welcome to capitalism – but at least be aware that that’s what’s going on.
One of the things I love about fandom is the fierce resistance to monetization – fans in it for love of the thing of which they’re fans, in a community based not only around appreciation of a thing but around intense creativity regarding that thing. Transformative culture. I think not being in it for money is a lot of what’s made fandom so vibrant and wonderful. I’m torn in this, because I’m also a writer who gets paid and ideally I’d love to see all the producers of creative work get paid for good work… But Amazon?
Of course it would be Amazon.
And no, as Cecilia Tan pointed out on Twitter, I don’t expect the majority of fandom to embrace this. But the fact that a company like Amazon has formally recognized that there’s money to be made off the backs of fandom troubles me a lot. It troubles me as a writer of original fiction and fanfiction.
I have a lot more thoughts on this but as I said, they’re articulating themselves poorly because of RRAAAAAAAARRGHH and I need to get ready to fly to Madison tomorrow, so they’ll have to wait.
[ADDENDUM] I’ve seen a number of people laughing this whole thing off because, as I said above, most of fandom is unlikely to go for it (this is true), and previous similar enterprises have failed spectacularly (also true). Here’s why, although I’m not panicking, I’m not laughing anything off:
- Scalzi and Wendig both raise some important, not-to-be-ignored points. Read what they have to say if you haven’t.
- What worries me even more than the troubling contract terms is what this means in terms of precedent. Something doesn’t have to be a big deal at the time to be a big deal later. It doesn’t matter if Amazon’s venture is a failure; that they’ve done it at all matters a fuck of a lot in terms of how fandom is regarded by content-producing and distributing companies.
- Personally, I envision the past relationship between fandom and the companies that produce canon as a bit like the separation of church and state: they constitute the same society and people may have places in both, but the separation of both is good for both and protects both. Or at least it protects fandom. But if companies start blurring the line between official/licensed and unofficial/fan-produced, I think that opens an immense can of worms, in terms of fandom culture, in terms of legalities, and in terms of what everyone is prepared to accept and expect as appropriate. Fandom has been so robust and done so well precisely because it has fiercely protected autonomy. Companies have – until now – mostly shied away from butting in there largely because fandom was this bizarre unexplainable force of nature that they didn’t really know how to handle. Fifty Shades, among other things, helped to demystify it somewhat. I do not regard that as a good trend.
- It matters that it’s fucking Amazon.
- In my social theory classes in graduate school, I’ve been taught to ask one question above all others when considering something: Where’s the power? Put another way: Who benefits? Put another way: Where isn’t the power, and who doesn’t benefit? I think those are vitally important questions to consider here. And I don’t like the answers.
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