Caitlin Fitzsimmons Online editor

Caitlin covers social media, marketing and technology and is BRW's social media editor. She has worked as a journalist in Sydney, London and San Francisco, writing for titles including The Guardian and The Australian Financial Review.

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Expanded universe: Amazon spots business opportunity in fan fiction

Published 21 June 2013 16:27, Updated 24 June 2013 06:00

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Expanded universe: Amazon spots business opportunity in fan fiction

Science fiction fans are among the keenest writers of fan fiction, with many fan titles expanding the Star Wars “universe” first conceived by creator George Lucas. Photo: AP

For authors and publishers, fan fiction has traditionally been either the bane of their existence or a mixed blessing at best. Amazon has turned it into a business opportunity.

On Friday (Thursday US time), the online retail giant unveiled a major expansion of its nascent Kindle Worlds platform, a new publishing model for authors of fan fiction first announced in late May.

In a model described by publishing insiders as “innovative”, Amazon Publishing secures a licence from the copyright holder and then pays royalties to both the rights holder and the fan-fiction author.

The e-book market has enormous growth potential but it is also fraught with pitfalls. Australia’s biggest book retail chain Dymocks tried its hand at e-book publishing but struggled to get the business model right and closed its D Publishing venture in March this year after 15 months.

However, it is not just about size; one of the big stories in the e-book world is Australian-based Writers Coffee Shop, a small e-book fiction publisher that shot to fame with the success of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Australian online book retailer Booktopia has also expanded into selling e-books and founder Tony Nash says it is growing rapidly.

Amazon says the Kindle Worlds Store is due to launch later this month with more than 50 commissioned works, including Valiant-branded short fiction from authors Jason Starr, Robert Rodi, Stuart Moore and others. The Kindle Worlds self-service platform, where any writer can submit completed work, will also open later this month.

Amazon is to pay the fan fiction authors royalties of 35 per cent of net revenue for works of at least 10,000 words and the company plans to experiment with a digital royalty of 20 per cent for short stories, which are typically priced under $US1.

On Friday the company announced it had secured licences from comic book publisher Valiant and a number of writers, mainly science fiction authors, including Hugh Howey, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch and Neal Stephenson.

Amazon previously announced a licensing deal with Warner Bros Television Group’s Alloy Entertainment division for its book series Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard, and Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith.

The company is working on more deals across different areas of entertainment, including books, games, TV, movies and music.

Howey’s agent Kristin Nelson posted on her Facebook page, saying the deal had been months in the making.

“I have to hand it to Amazon,” Nelson says. “They are really innovating. Wish the Big 6 (soon to be big 5) were doing so as well.”

Howey’s first book Wool, the first in the Silo Saga, was self-published in instalments on multiple platforms and then later pulled off Apple’s iBookstore and B&N’s Nook store in order to join the Amazon Kindle Select program.

Howey now has interest from traditional publishing houses but is reluctant to give up the 70 per cent royalties he gets from Amazon in exchange for the 18 per cent cut in a standard contract.

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