Still, the idea of making any money at all through writing amateur fanfiction is a big change in how the fan community has traditionally operated. It used to be a cardinal rule that you never, ever monetized fanfiction, because that would be stepping on the toes of the original content creators, and their right to create derivative works like sequels and spinoffs. Now three Warner Brothers television shows aimed at young women, "Vampire Diaries," "Gossip Girl," and "Pretty Little Liars" are the first franchises to grant licenses to create legal fanfiction for sale though the Kindle Worlds platform. There have been officially sanctioned fanfiction and other fanworks for quite a few different properties over the years, particularly for contests, but this is the first time I've heard of anyone granting permission to go try and make a profit with them.
Now, is this a good thing for fandom? As always, it's very hard to say. The big worry is that if Amazon and Kindle do make money with this service, they'll have a better argument that non-licensed fanfic is infringing, and be more motivated take steps to shut down everyone else's fanfiction that isn't being written for profit. The worst case scenario is that your "Vampire Diaries" fanfiction, posted on Tumblr or Archive of Our Own, becomes viewed as a competing product, and suddenly there's going to be a real incentive to end the benign neglect that has allowed the fanfiction community to flourish online over the years. However, the argument can be made that it's in the best interest of the properties involved to keep turning a blind eye. Fanworks essentially operate as free advertising, and they're a part of the fandom experience that has become much more visible and accepted over the years. Also, enforcement has always been notoriously difficult, and risks alienating fans.
Fanfiction writers aren't the only ones who are going to be affected. A couple of years ago, I remember there was a notorious published author who would write up these spectacular, hyperbolic tirades against the existence of fanfiction. Lots of people poked fun at him, especially since his name was on several tie-in novels for television shows. Tie-in novels and fanfiction are essentially the same thing, except that tie-in novels are licensed and they're written by professionals. If Amazon and Kindle can start making money off of work that's being generated by amateurs, and get away with paying them less, where does that leave the pros? A lot of notable science-fiction writers depend on the money from tie-ins to keep them going during lean periods. Is the market for this kind of work still going to exist after legal fanfiction? The delineation between fanfic and pro-fic is going to get even blurrier.
Of course, this is all assuming that Kindle Worlds is going to take off, which is not certain at all. Fanfiction has been around for a long, long, time, and the readership is used to getting it for free. The culture around it has often been strongly anti-commercial, and that may be difficult to change. Personally, I can't imagine paying for fanfiction, especially the kind of safe, friendly fanfiction that Amazon and Kindle seem to be the most interested in. I prefer all the subversive, weirdo, boundary-crossing stuff that would never make it into print in a million years. As far as I'm concerned, that's the appeal of these amateur stories.
I may be the exception though. The nature of media fandom has changed considerably since I first got involved, over a decade ago. Fanfiction is slowly but surely becoming more legitimate content, and eventually people are going to find ways to use it to make money. Kindle Worlds may not be successful, but it's a pretty bold idea. Unlike past efforts, such as the short-lived for-profit Fanlib Archive, Amazon and Kindle are actively addressing some of those thorny legal issues and they're willing to share a piece of the revenues too. I never thought I'd ever see this happen.
Kindle Worlds launches in June.