The collective fandom groan that is Kindle Worlds (Amazon’s project to sell fanfiction) has picked up another author’s oeuvre– literary legend Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Let’s lampshade the irony of Kilgore Trout (perennially penniless sci-fi author who can only get his work published in porn magazines, recurring Vonnegut character, noted communist) being used to sell an open-exchange fandom’s work back to them for a profit.
Kindle Worlds works like this: Amazon approaches a series/franchise/TV show/et cetera, and makes a deal with them. Kindle Worlds will sell fanfiction submitted by fanfic authors and cut them in on a piece of the profit. The fanfic has to get the stamp of approval from the source material (so no E-rated smut here, folks), but once it does it will be marketed back to fans of the show, who pay a fee to read it.
The Vonnegut Trust made the deal with Amazon, meaning that they will be joining the likes of other Kindle Worlds-secured licenses such as The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and Gossip Girl. Not exactly the hardcore fandoms that produce epic works like The Shoebox Project and Redemption Road.
Somehow, I don’t think Amazon realizes just how off the mark their conception of the fanfic world really is. Based on how they are going about making Kindle Worlds, it seems like their conception of fandom is a product of 50 Shades of Grey‘s success and the dollar signs that came with it. Understanding the fanfic world using E.L. James‘ example is like trying to understand American culture by watching Jersey Shore. The way they are approaching the subculture betrays their ignorance, and is only serving to push the fans (who would be their clients) further and further away.
What is infuriating about the whole endeavor is the attempt to monetize a creative culture of free-exchange. Fanfic has always been a labor of love, and (generally) a meritocracy. By offering a fresh canvas for authors young and old, experienced veterans and novices alike, it has been a distinctly egalitarian subculture that serves more to critique and expand upon its source material than worship at its feet. The fundamental understanding of fanfiction as transformative work is missing from Amazon’s business plan. Making fanfiction creator-approved may sound like an exciting idea, but it contradicts the heart of the medium. We are not here to venerate what has come before. We are here to re-examine it, to improve upon it, and to challenge it with our own creative powers.
Fans may love your stories, but we don’t need your approval.