Author's Note: This Gossip Girl fan fiction was inspired by Amazon and Alloy Entertainment’s announcement that they will begin selling fan fiction on the Kindle beginning in June.
Barely audible over the din of the Upper East Side café, Dan Humphrey muttered to himself as he read off of his laptop. “’Frankly, Hermione, I don’t give a damn.”
Serena picked her non-fat, Splenda latte off the counter and carried it across the café to add a splash of half-and-half and a packet of sugar. As she tossed the dripping stir stick into the garbage she noticed Dan, shaking his head in self-reproach. “Oh my God! Hey, Dan! What are you doing?”
“Oh, hey Serena. Just doing a little work. Take a seat.”
She sat down next to him, narrowing her eyes as she read off his laptop. “Dan. Are you writing fan-fiction?”
Dan beamed. “You better believe it’s fan fiction. What’s more, when it’s done, Amazon’s going to publish it.”
Serena’s eyebrows peaked incredulously. “Amazon’s going to sell your fan fiction?”
“Yeah, they just announced it yesterday. It’s called ‘Kindle Worlds.’ I write the fan-fic, and Amazon publishes it for people to download on their Kindles and I get the royalties. Thirty-five percent if my story is longer than 10,000 words...”
“How many are you at now?”
Dan ignored her question, “...and 20 percent if it’s shorter. They’re only going to sell for, at most, like four bucks, so I better try for a long story.”
“Is this legal?”
“That’s the beauty of it! Amazon bought the license from Warner Brothers’s Alloy Entertainment—so, Pretty Little Liars and Vampire Diaries and, uh, one other big one—and they said they’d announce more soon! So yeah!”
Born a rich Manhattanite, Serena had no fewer than sixty facial expressions that said, “Are you serious?”
Dan was. He went on, “Look it’s not like fan-fiction was ever illegal before. You can do whatever you want, as long as it counts as ‘Fair Use.’ Since no one was making money off of fan-fic, it wasn’t really worth it for copyright holders to go after it. I mean, there’s commercial fair-use too, it’s just a little trickier. It’d have to be parody or commentary in some way.”
“I know. I heard that segment on On The Media, too.” Serena rolled her eyes and got out her phone.
Dan continued unperturbed, “But with Amazon paying for the license, these companies can profit off of something that’s already happening, and so can the authors. It’s pretty cool.”
Selena mindlessly scrolled around. “So you think people will want to read your story about the pranksters in Ravenclaw?”
“They already read tons of Harry Potter fan fiction!” Dan yelped excitedly, and pulled up a web page with over six hundred thousand non-Rowling Harry Potter stories. “I mean, just look at ‘em all. Still they’re not doing Harry Potter yet. And probably won't, since Rowling isn't crazy about fan fiction. Judging from who Amazon's already got, it seems more intended for franchises. I mean, it's no coincidence they chose books that already have TV shows, right?”
Serena sipped her latte. Something still seemed off. “So what if your book is a hit? Can you make a movie out of it?”
“Well, no,” Dan shrugged. “Amazon technically owns it, so they’ve got the global publication rights. In fact, I bet my contract is only good for Kindle stuff. If they decide to print it, or put in an anthology or license it for a movie, I don’t think I get anything. Plus Alloy Entertainment can use whatever of my ideas that they want.”
“Mm. Is that right?”
“That’s what it looks like. I don’t know all the details, since when I asked, they responded by sending me a link back to the press release,” Dan said, and Serena nodded sympathetically. “But I asked a friend of mine who works as an editor downtown what he thought of it, and he said it was a pretty shrewd move by Amazon.”
He said, ‘It's a great way to increase a revenue stream without much financial risk whatsoever,’ because the only cost to Amazon is the server space, whatever they’re paying the copyright holder and whoever’s policing the stories—I’ll come back to that in a second. My editor friend said he was surprised no one’s tried to monetize fanfic before. I mean, Amazon won’t have to spend any money on marketing; since the audience is already there.”
Serena rooted around in her purse for her compact. “Yeah, but the audience was reading that stuff for free. Amazon thinks I’m going to pay to read your take on the Vampire Diaries?” she asked.
“It doesn’t much matter to them, I guess,” Dan said. “Even if people don’t come to it in droves, it’ll still make money for them. Plus it’s another way to keep us always associating ‘reading’ with ‘Amazon.’”
Serena checked her make-up in the compact’s mirror, and swiveled it around to see her whole upper body. She glanced at Dan, then undid the top button of her blouse and fluffed her hair coquettishly. “Gosh, Dan. That fan fic can get pretty racy, huh?” Her foot found Dan’s calf, and began to stroke it back and forth, inching up to his knee—she licked her lips—then his thigh. Dan put his legs together and shoved her foot down.
“That reminds me. They have rules. It says right here: ‘We don't accept pornography or offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts.’”
“That’s pretty short-sighted. Isn’t 50 Shades of Grey the most successful fan fiction ever?” Serena rolled her eyes and redid her top button. With a start, she pointed to the sidewalk outside. “Oh my God, is that a vampire walking with an elderly Holden Caulfield and the prophet Muhammad?”
Dan looked out the window. “Definitely not. The other rules are no offensive content, no illegal infringement and no crossovers.” He looked out the window again. “How could you even recognize the prophet Muhammad if you saw him?”
Serena shrugged and stood up to go. “Well, you were going to write fan fiction anyway, right? Why not see if you can make a few bucks, right? Call me later.”
Dan smiled and watched as Serena put on big, expensive Italian sunglasses, while he mused that the Amazon rules also prohibit conspicuous use of brands. As she pushed the door open, he looked back to his laptop.
"So we beat on," he typed. "brooms against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."