Amazon announced Kindle worlds a few weeks ago, and I took some time to talk about why I felt like the salivating hordes might want to hold their breaths when it came to the question of, “How long till Harry Potter?” Alloy, I pointed out, has always been a media packaging company; aligning with Amazon via Kindle Worlds is very much inside their wheelhouse. If Alloy was a trailblazer towards legitimizing fanfiction, it was because the company had positioned itself uniquely with successful series and television transfers like The Vampire Diaries, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars.
On Monday, Amazon announced that the newest Kindle World open for play was Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga. Who’s Hugh Howey, you ask?
Hugh Howey wrote WOOL, a self-publishing phenomenon. And now, Hugh Howey is the first major independent self-published author I’ve heard of whose work is being served up by Kindle Worlds.
What does that mean? Howey will get a cut of every piece of Silo Saga fanfiction that sells via the program. Howey will likely never have to work again in his life. (Not that he won’t – a counter on the sidebar of his blog lets readers know what’s coming next, and how far off it is.)
With their announcement (which took place on Monday, via email), Amazon blew a whole new field of income open for those one-in-a-million writers who strike it big in new genre fiction. They also widened the playing field yet again: shifting fanfic, e-publishing and traditional media closer to a truly collaborative model.
An issue I’ve had with entertainment technology in the last few years, but never really verbalized outside of long bull sessions with friends, has been its shift towards top-down creation of media and the machines we use to make it. From hardware to content, tablets to televisions, the evolution of leisure and technology have edged away from the low-barrier Super 8 and VHS camcorders of the 80s and 90s and towards more sophisticated digital editing and filming technology – with far higher financial bars to entry (up until the relatively recent prosumer-level cameras available on some of today’s handheld phones). Similarly, while a laptop’s primary function is as a mobile data entry station, tablets are designed for the intake and consumption of media: at least when it comes to writing something longer than a grocery list, would you rather type on an iPad or the $100 keyboard peripheral you bought to go with it? While peripherals adapt the workspace to be more creator-friendly, they allow technology’s default to be one of consumer, rather than creator.
Since its inception, publishing has been a top-down business whose profitability has been in the consumption of media, not in its creation. (In fact, take a look at the number of public-domain works available as self-published books to get an idea of how necessary a living creator is to the process of publishing novels. It’s much easier to make money off writers after we – then our copyrights – are dead.)
The default mode of interaction in most media has been set – for a long time – to consumption.
On the other hand, Western civilization has a terrific history of derivative artistic creations. An overwhelming amount of paint has gone into creating fan art for the Bible, for example, and the plays of Shakespeare can be seen as fannishly adapted by every theater company that re-stages them.
By choosing to take a self-published writer and open his sandbox – and the earning potential of his work – to other players, Amazon (who, yes, is definitely an invested player in the equation) is levering “their” phenomenon to a playing field equal to Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries, not to mention sci-fi’s own more traditional-media representative Neal Stephenson. While E.L. James and the Hollywood adaptation of “50 Shades” stretch self-publishing in one direction, Kindle Worlds – and Howey’s inclusion in it, alongside the other creators of the featured worlds – push it in another.
Which widens the playing field for everyone else, and opens a new arena: fans who don’t just read, but contribute. Who become collaborators in the worlds they love.
That’s a level of involvement that reaches a step further than the world that came about when the first writers of Kirk/Spock sat in their basements with their typewriters and mimeographs of the 70s, and it means that this landmark announcement from Amazon is one that self-publishing writers should take notice of.
Like Amazon, I have a foot in the game. Check out my Amazon Author page for information on my plays and short stories.
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Edit: I shared this blog with Howey this morning (8/1/2013) and he had this comment: