A major problem of managing creativity is determining what content receives ‘The Platform’ — the elusive mirage that haunts the starving artist. ‘The Platform’ is for legitimized content. It receives the many benefits of multi-channel distribution, marketing budgets, award ceremonies, and critical attention.
To manage the platform of distribution, many industries employ gatekeepers. For example, the publishing industry employs literary agents, editors, publishers, critics, and academics, to legitimize the sea of creative production. There are less intuitive examples of gatekeeping found in industries such as tech entrepreneurship. This industry employs venture capitalists, accelerators, and incubators to legitimize startup teams.
Some criticize the culture of gatekeeping. One of the most serious criticisms is the marginalization of minority social and economic groups. In some cases, gatekeepers aren’t required to monitor personal or cultural bias. They aren’t required to maintain open reporting standards or take further initiative to legitimize these underprivileged groups.
Gatekeepers build socio-economic consensus to support the creator’s value. This is done in many ways, but usually by co-opting already prestigious social groups. For example, those who possess University degrees, often a result of economic privilege, or those who have production credits, often a result of ‘who you know,’ are deemed more valuable than others lacking such social capital. Social capital can simply include geographical location, ‘being in the right place at the right time,’ or the savvy to sell one’s professional value.
We are transitioning to an economic order where the gatekeeping function is becoming the dominate mechanism to determine what content or who is allowed to participate. It is important to explore new models of decentralized gatekeeping that ultimately legitimize content producers based on the social value of their content not on skewed demonstrations of social capital. We must also maintain a critical eye to digital platforms as they become gatekeepers and legitimizers of expanding creative and knowledge based sectors.
One forward thinking initiative to create a democratic ‘platform’ of distribution is Kindle Worlds. It is a fairly new platform, launching in mid-late 2013. Kindle Worlds allows authors to sublicense their intellectual property or ‘worlds’ to anybody who wants to use them. The original license holder stands to generate significant passive income as the current royalty rate for sub-licensing is only 20-35% of the sale price. Original authors and Amazon receives the rest.
As a writer, I dream of writing about characters from a handful of different worlds. It might sound unconventional, but I would love to see stories like The Fountain mixed together with The Matrix and Cloud Atlas in a blur of history and cyberspace.
But why call it fan fiction?
Despite Kindle World’s bold initiative, the language they use to describe their platform is still reminiscent of the rhetoric used to justify an exclusive distribution process.
Kindle Worlds describes their platform as the following:
“Welcome to Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.” (Retrieved February 26, 2014).
I get that. It’s just what this type of writing has been called.
However, fan fiction has derogatory implications for both the contributors and the authors who are sub-licensing ‘World’ content. For the contributors, it implies content of lesser legitimacy than the original. The term fan fiction seems to imply almost a blind fanaticism. It implies a naïve process of creation like a child who might imitate her parent. It is not the term used to describe a legitimized author who spent hours of time developing a dignified story. Fan fiction represents something like babble, fiction that by definition can never share the prestige of the original.
The moment the author signs up to this relationship, she may lose credibility. She might find herself engaged in a parental role. Does she read their babble? Engage with their inevitable shortcomings? It is a relationship where the author must take a pedestal.
The mystification of creative genius, in part, may be the vestige of a gatekeeping process that profits by restricting content. In the case of Kindle Worlds, by defining this process as fan-fiction, they have created a content hierarchy that degrades contributors.
In an environment where only selected ideas are communicated or funded into development, despite legions of unemployed knowledge and creative resources, does Kindle Worlds really have to delegitimize honest attempts at creative production?
A better term for sub-licensing intellectual property, in Kindle’s Case, might be the term co-creator. This implies an equal relationship between the original creator and those using their content in a sublicense.
Amazon could empower those with and without legitimized platforms of distribution to engage in co-creation. An environment of co-creation could provide social and cultural value in a number of ways. An author engaging co-creators in meaningful discussion fosters an environment of self-reflection and legitimizes the imagination. This is vital to the creative act. A dialogue of co-creation also legitimizes youth. It legitimizes fallibility and failure as necessary road-bumps to popular or critical success.