A store for every niche: Amazon is trying to support fan fiction, indie games, and offbeat television
Amazon is the closest thing we’ve got to an actual, modern-day genie. The service has everything, from books and television shows to diapers and shoes, and is simply waiting for your order to be placed. Do you want a roll of toilet paper that looks like a measuring tape? You’ve got it. Have a hankering to watch “The Avengers” for the fifth time this week? You’re all set. All you need to do is search for just about any mainstream or near-mainstream product, make a payment, and wait for the object to arrive at your doorstep or download to your computer, videogame console, smartphone, or tablet.
Now the company is starting to cater to niche audiences. (And, yes, apparently you can get more niche than people who order toilet paper from Amazon and want for that toilet paper to look like something else.) The company today launched the Kindle Worlds marketplace, a storefront that allows writers to sell books within established properties — beginning with series like “Pretty Little Liars,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Shadowman,” among others — and earn a percentage of the revenue. If you’ve ever wanted to read novels based in the “Pretty Little Liars” universe (and I know two PandoDaily editors who just might) and wanted to support the author producing such riveting copy, well, now you’ve got your chance.
Amazon is, as The Verge notes in a report arguing that Kindle Worlds “misses the point” of fan fiction, not the first company to try and build a storefront dedicated to the form. It is the first to offer authors legal protection against companies that might object to someone profiting off a brand they didn’t create, however, and also the company most likely to expose fan fics to a larger audience. Kindle Worlds allows Amazon to build something for incredibly niche audiences while also serving the mainstream and self-publishers selling original works through the existing Kindle Store. The company is already said to have 50 to 60 percent of the ebook market — embracing the fan fiction niche could help it maintain and expand on that dominance.
Kindle Worlds isn’t the only method through which Amazon is trying to appeal to niche audiences. The company announced the Indie Games Store, a marketplace through which Amazon’s customers can purchase independently-produced videogames, order “bundles” of pre-selected titles, and receive free games with each purchase, on June 6. Unlike blockbuster videogames, which are often developed with the intent of appealing to the largest possible market so the publisher can justify the many millions sunk into their development — which is why you’ll see a new “Call of Duty” or “Halo” game released almost every year — indie games are often made to appeal to a small subset of gamers.
All you’d have to do is watch “Indie Game: the Movie” to get a feeling for just how non-mainstream these games can be, what with the film’s focus on the teams behind “Super Meat Boy,” a game in which you play a skinless boy who has to battle a robot-clad fetus to save his girlfriend, Bandage Girl; “Braid,” a game featuring a suited man with the ability to reverse time; and “Fez,” a game named after a headpiece. These games, and many other games released by independent developers, are the poster children for the word “niche.”
“Game development is an art, like any other. It can be personally rewarding, and like other forms of artistic expression, great games can come from anywhere,” Amazon technical evangelist Peter Heinrich wrote in a blog post announcing the Indie Games Store. “Powerhouse game studios don’t hold a monopoly on inventiveness or creativity, and some of the best games of all time were created on a shoestring by two or three people with a shared vision.”
Then there’s Amazon Studios, the company’s original television and movie development studio, and the recently announced Amazon Storyteller storyboarding tool, could be used to cater to niche audiences. Many of the (horrible) pilots that have already debuted, from “Zombieland” to “Betas,” are niche shows that probably wouldn’t make it on mainstream television. Amazon Studios and the Storyteller tool allow these shows, which can be created by established teams or independent hobbyists, a shot at getting produced without worrying about whether or not they would directly compete with “American Idol” or other network juggernauts.
Kindle Worlds, the Indie Games Store, and Amazon Studios are all focused on independently-produced content made for niche audiences. They’re essentially micro-shops within Amazon’s larger storefront, similar to the mini-stores that have started taking over JC Penney and Best Buy. Amazon is already serving the mainstream, what with its ability to sell almost any product, whether it’s a physical good, book, movie, or television show, that your average person might want. These initiatives — which have all been introduced or updated this month — are about serving all of the people who might be looking for something a little more unique.