In the last year we’ve seen new efforts to capitalize on fan fiction’s popularity; FictionPad.com, which appears to have been started this spring and opened this summer, is one of the newest.
The site's home page is very spare, stripped down as if it was built from a free template in a matter of an hour. I didn’t register, though; perhaps there’s more backend, but the homepage is incredibly lean.
And then I noticed this next to the logo: it’s a beta. This is NOT a full production site. Why would fan fiction authors get excited about a relatively untried beta platform?
Many fan fiction writers migrated to Archive Of Our Own (AO3) last summer, when the mac daddy of fan fiction publishing platforms, FanFiction.net (FFn), started yanking down thousands of published stories for violations of terms of service due to reader complaints about mature content. AO3 was launched in 2009 as a nonprofit site, but it had been in beta for quite a long time and had not experienced an explosion of growth like that of 2012. Service disruptions happened frequently, which should be expected for internet sites with a sudden vertical growth curve. The disruptions aggravated a number of users, who had been used to the more stable and much older FFn; consequently, there has been a mild frustration among some fan fiction writers waiting to be relieved.
Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds (AKW) did not provide that relief at its inception earlier this year. It offers writers a chance to be paid for their works, but the range of content it permits is ridiculously narrow, based only on a handful or two of Warner Brothers-based programming. It’s not clear whether Warner Brothers will view content published through AKW as an informal slushpile that might be used for extending their franchises.
Wattpad, an online self-publishing platform encouraging both original and fan fiction, has also not satisfied the frustrated fan fiction faction. The site, launched in 2006 and funded by both advertising revenues and venture capital, appears to suit the needs of young authors focusing on original rather than fan fiction.
AO3 and Wattpad both, though, are seasoned now; they’ve been around a few years and have already weathered steep growth curves while responding to users’ concerns. AO3, as a subset of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works, also offers a commitment to furthering writers’ rights and their fan fiction craft through legal representation, a fanlore wiki, and preservation of other historical fan content. Wattpad has also encouraged indie writers through their Watty Awards; the backing of big name published author Margaret Atwood is manifest in last year’s Atty Award. While Wattpad’s emphasis has been on original versus fan fiction, their support for non-traditional online, serialized publication serves fan fiction writers.
Perhaps it’s merely because FictionPad is new that so many fan fiction authors have expressed interest in their platform. It is its newness, however, combined with little concrete information about the platform or its originators, which should give fan fiction writers pause.
Not only is the site in beta — not a robust, thoroughly-hardened, rapidly scalable site, though hosted on Amazon's AWS — but its newbie status shows.
The Terms of Service (TOS) also seem quite spare. There is no acknowledgement at the time this snapshot was taken that the owners/operators/developers do not own the content or any subsequent rights to the content.
This term, “You grant FictionPad the right to reproduce and distribute the content you post on this site” does not appear to exclude any other forms of publication, ex. appropriating original or fan fiction and publishing through an e-book platform like Amazon Kindle or Smashbooks.
The TOS also expect its registered authors to indemnify the site — pretty standard as terms go for online publishing platforms, but this is a wet-behind-the-ears beta site about which very little is known. Users should have some concerns about agreeing to indemnifying anyone about whom they are in the dark.
The lack of differentiation in the TOS between erotica and pornography — while offering a content ratings scheme and rejecting pornography — suggests the current policy of no censorship and self-policing by users may be a bit naive and eventually experience similar challenges FFn has already faced with regard to controversial mature content.
The domain is registered to a person who has a track record as a developer whose past work has been flipped to larger organizations:
Domain Name: FICTIONPAD.COM
Registrar URL: http://www.godaddy.com
Updated Date: 2013-05-12 12:03:59
Creation Date: 2013-02-26 14:13:34
Registrar Expiration Date: 2014-02-26 14:13:34
Registrar: GoDaddy.com, LLC
Registrant Name: Jonathan Berke
Registrant Street: 6153 Wolfstar Ct
Registrant City: San Diego
Registrant State/Province: California
Registrant Postal Code: 92122
Registrant Country: United States
Admin Name: Jonathan Berke
Admin Street: 6153 Wolfstar Ct
Admin City: San Diego
Admin State/Province: California
Admin Postal Code: 92122
Admin Country: United States
Admin Phone: (858) 452-8432
Admin Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tech Name: Jonathan Berke
Tech Street: 6153 Wolfstar Ct
Tech City: San Diego
Tech State/Province: California
Tech Postal Code: 92122
Tech Country: United States
Tech Phone: (858) 452-8432
Tech Email: email@example.com
Name Server: NS-296.AWSDNS-37.COM
Name Server: NS-1735.AWSDNS-24.CO.UK
Name Server: NS-1514.AWSDNS-61.ORG
Name Server: NS-578.AWSDNS-08.NET
(WhoIs information above obtained from Networksolutions.com/whois on 15-SEP-2013.)
Jonathan Berke appears to be the co-owner of a computer services firm, JayTu Technologies, LLC, which built road traffic monitoring platform Sigalert.com and sold it in 2010 to Westwood One, Inc. (Westwood One is a media firm with significant broadcast radio holdings;
Given Berke's experience and the spareness of the site, it's possible that FictionPad might have been built-to-flip. Is it reasonable for users to expect the same to happen with FictionPad.com in the future?
Which makes the question of original and fan fiction content ownership and rights even more sensitive: if Berkes flips FictionPad.com, will content ownership and rights also flip to a buyer?
FictionPad also indicates it is open to accepting advertisements, which is a fairly typical business model already seen at Wattpad and FFn. But will advertising revenue be enough to establish this platform, ensure it's competitive by offering more sophisticated services, ensure adequate uptime, and keep it running over the long run? Its much older competitor FFn, in business since 1997, operates on advertising revenue. FFn offers an extremely spare platform to an estimated 2 million registered users; volume of visitor traffic ensuring adequate income.
 Update: @JonBerke tweeted at 1:32 am EDT, "I started FictionPad after leaving Westwood One. Rest assured they have nothing to do with FictionPad."