Amazon and Warner Bros. go into fan-fiction business

A week that began with Yahoo's $1.1 billion deal for Tumblr got even stranger this morning with Amazon Publishing's announcement of Kindle Worlds, billed as the first commercial publishing platform for fan fiction. In short, fanfic writers can now earn royalties for certain corporate-sanctioned stories.

For the launch, Amazon Publishing has secured licenses from Alloy Entertainment, the book-packaging division of Warner Bros. Television, for Cecily von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl, Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars and L.J. Smith's The Vampire Diaries -- all bestselling young-adult series that have spawned hit television shows. More licenses are expected to be announced soon.

While that initial offering is limited in scope, Amazon clearly has big plans for Kindle Worlds, which it touts as "a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games." If Warner Bros. is willing to open the door to "official" fanfic for its YA cash cows, how long before writers are encouraged to tackle DC Comics' superheroes (or at least TV properties like Smallville and Arrow)?

Plenty of creators, publishers and studios have embraced fan fiction -- The CW's Supernatural has based episodes around it, and in Japan it's practically its own industry -- but this may be the first time rights-holders have attempted to profit from it, at least on a large scale.

As Amazon Publishing breaks it down in today's announcement, for works of at least 10,000 words, authors will receive 35 percent of net revenue (based on sales price rather than the standard, but lower, wholesale), paid monthly. There will also be an experimental program for shorter works, between 5,000 and 10,000 words, which will be typically priced under $1; the author will receive a digital royalty of 20 percent.

Licensors will provide content guidelines for each "World," which must be followed; in addition, Amazon won't allow pornography, offensive content (including racial slurs and excessive foul language), "poor customer experience" (including poorly formatted stories and misleading titles), excessive use of brand names, or crossovers.

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