Wattpad is the world's largest online community of readers and writers. We interviewed Wattpad's Ashleigh Gardner about how the site's growth is creating opportunities for authors and publishers.
IPA: Let's start at the beginning. When Wattpad was founded in 2006, what was the big idea behind it?
Ashleigh Gardner: Wattpad's co-founders (Allen Lau, Ivan Yuen) picked up on two phenomena: the explosive growth of mobile, and the rise of user-generated content and social mediafactThe initial idea was actually pre smartphone, in the early days of social media. Wattpad was ahead of these trends, but also grew with the technology.
They wanted to create an easy way for people to read books on their mobile phones as well as upload and share original stories with others.
What motivates people to write on Wattpad? What are they seeking?
It's broadly similar to what motivates people to post photos on Instagram, where they don't aspire to be professional photographers, but rather want the possibility to share content and for their creative efforts to be validated through likes, comments, shares etc. In Wattpad's case, it's people wanting their story to be heard. It's about self-expression more than self-publishing.
What kind of writers and what kind of texts get most readers?
Fan fiction is huge. Wattpad is a broad platform, and people will automatically write about what they love. Genre fiction is very popular (romance, teen etc), including minority or niche genres like African-American romance or Muslim teen fiction.
In terms of format, serialization is very important. This isn't because readers have a low attention span or capacity for long-form reading (in fact, the average Wattpad reading session is 30 minutes) but rather speaks to the original mission of Wattpad being a place for mobile engagement. Our readers follow their favourite writers, commenting on and discussing each installment, getting push notifications when there's something new to read.
Do your writers seem motivated by the "traditional" publishing path? Are there examples of people who start a project on Wattpad and then sell it to a publisher?
Many aspire to be published professionally, and there are some great success stories. Anna Todd is a stunning example. She'd never written before, and two years ago began publishing chapters of After, a story about an 18 year-old college student, aimed at fans of One Direction. Her chapters have now been read more than a billion times on Wattpad. The book rights have been sold to Simon & Schuster and Paramount Pictures have acquired the screen rights.
The data and feedback which Wattpad authors receive allows them to demonstrate to publishers that there's a demand for their work, i.e. making a compelling business case to publish them.
And there are other ways for Wattpad writers to make money via the site. Brands are now starting to hire writers to help them tell their stories.
For Valentine's Day, food giant Mondelez ran a contest on Wattpad, asking users to write love stories. To help drive entries, they paid three influential Wattpad writers to write pieces
"Influencers are the new celebrities for teens, and have a much more authentic voice. We're putting our brand in their hands and allowing them to create on our behalf." Lauren Fleischer, Mondelez
What have you learnt about how reading habits change through mobile and digital?
There have never been as many people reading and writing as now. Mobile and social media has produced a generation which is comfortable producing content, sharing it and engaging with it. These are readers who are not just looking for a story, but for a relationship. They are not passive consumers. They don't view their activity on Wattpad as "reading books", but as engagement.
What message do you have for traditional publishers who are keen to work with Wattpad?
It's a great opportunity, not just to find and work with writers who have built massive reader platforms, but also to get established authors in front of this vast audience, whether to promote upcoming titles or their back catalogue – Margaret Atwood and Dan Brown have both published on Wattpad.
"In my view, Wattpad is not a replacement for publishers, but a gateway leading to them". Margaret Atwood